McLaren's X-1 one-off is an absolutely fascinating vehicle. It's exquisitely made, embodying almost all current advanced-technology methodologies and materials. It's the perfect expression of one very highly qualified person's conception of the ideal supercar. Unfortunately, that qualification lies not in design competence but in the ability to pay.
This is not a bad design, nor is the car ugly or awkward -- at least not Pontiac Aztek-awkward -- but nor is it beautiful, innovative, or groundbreaking. It's the personal compendium of various good and/or attractive ideas that appealed over a wealthy car lover's lifetime of automotive experience. There are elements of at least a dozen much better designs therein, but the amalgam simply doesn't work, because it can't work. There's no way to synthesize so many strong design themes into a coherent and convincing whole, as in Peter Stevens's original McLaren F1, which was a symphony of purposeful simplicity.
The X-1 reminds me of some owner-designed "dream homes," wherein the proprietors eschewed using an architect because they "knew" what they wanted. After all, they'd spent a lot of time looking at magazines and visiting open houses. They had no sense of structure, material flows in and out of a dwelling, all those boring details architects spend years learning and applying, while still sometimes making mistakes. In truth, designing critical constructs -- cars, homes, airplanes, suspension bridges, anything complex -- is not an activity that should be undertaken by enthusiastic amateurs.
It has almost always been possible to have a car made to your heart's desire, even in our troubled, bureaucracy-crazed times. All it takes -- all it ever took -- is money. A lot of money...and the right connections. The "Twenty Grand" Rollston Duesenberg cost as much as forty 1933 Ford sedans; Rust Heinz's 1938 Phantom Corsair cost a similar multiple. Six years ago (November 2006) we featured Jim Glickenhaus's Ferrari P4/5, built on a homologated Enzo chassis by Pininfarina. Ford sedans at the time cost about twenty grand, so the P4/5 was roughly 200 Fords' worth. The X-1? The proud owner shouldn't expect to buy so much as a small latte with the change from 500 of Mr. Mulally's midrange models, even with fleet discounts.
Was it worth it? Of course it was. Whoever ordered the X-1 got exactly what they desired and had the pleasure of working with some of the best designers and engineers in the world and the even greater pleasure of telling them what to do, even if perhaps against their better judgment. Remember that the above-cited ultraexpensive cars were originated by true professionals: Gordon Buehrig, Maurice Schwartz, and Pininfarina's Sergio Scaglietti and Jason Castriota. McLaren's Frank Stephenson and Hong Yeo are pros, too, but I can't help feeling sorry for them, obliged as they were to force-fit bits and pieces from too many intriguing past designs. The result is, as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was alleged to have said about Mozart's music, "too many notes!"
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 Touring-designed Alfa Romeo 8C 2900s sometimes had see-through holes in the fender skirts. They looked cool, so include it.
2 Tea tray on the back would be a nice place to put an al fresco lunch. Saw that in a magazine once. Build it in.
3 This turned-up-collar cuff effect looked pretty nice on the Pagani Zonda. Maybe we ought to include it.
4 Too-thick A-pillars make cars look tough and strong. Who cares if you can't see past it very well?
5 Wheelhouse opening doesn't quite fit within the Rolls-Royce-style contrasting-color side panel. We'll have to cut into the fender form, but who'll notice?
6 We could have concealed the windshield wipers, but they are visibleon airliners, so let's leave them apparent. Looks technical, doesn't it?
7 Headlamp clusters are unobtrusive, with bright metal trim inside the plastic cover to give a little eclat to the blank black bumper center. And radii at every corner, of course.
8 Chrome perimeter strip for the fenders looked really good on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird. Let's do that.
9 Having a full-length side panel leaning forward toward the bottom made the Maybach look expensive. So incorporate that. Combine a limo look with a sports car shape.
10 Let's add a little blip inside the wheel spokes so we require separate tooling for all four wheels. People will know we spent a lot of money.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
11 Ummm, we can't get the side window to roll down unless we have this useless little quarter window. Oh, well.
12 Concave backlights were cool on those Pininfarina Ferraris and Dinos. Let's have one.
13 No, it's not really a fin, but it's almost like one, isn't it? This will give a little American touch to the Rolls/Maybach sedan side profiles.
14 Concentric circular ribs over the engine will provide a lot of visual interest to the back end and keep it from being too simple.
15 A stretched-bubblegum concavity was really interesting on the BMW Z9 thirteen years ago. Let's use it, without the CHMSL, of course. We can put chrome on top.
16 Hey, boomerang-shaped taillights were big on Maseratis a while back. Maybe they'd be cool for this car. Add another bit of spice to the mix.
17 Why have exhaust pipes at the bottom? Let's put them in trapezoids above the license plate and be different.
18 Ribs are cool -- they make sure you notice the diffuser. And we can twist a couple of them up around the rear grilles and bring them back down to...more ribs.
19 Giant holes in the body sides are less noticeable in the rear three-quarter view.
20 Bright trim strip flares out into a big triangle at the front. Where did that come from?
21 Strange vent outlets -- like those in the MP4-12C -- look like last-minute add-ons projected into the dashboard.
22 There's nothing to distinguish this from an economy-car cluster. What a contrast to almost any Ferrari.
23 Steering wheel feels very good but, again, has nothing to distinguish it from an economy car's leather-covered helm.
24 Door control panels have the virtue of simplicity, but where's the distinction and sense of occasion one should sense in such an expensive undertaking?
25 By far the best view of the X-1, the frontal aspect is clean and clear. But why have an "S" curve in the perimeter strips?