First Look: 2011 McLaren MP4-12C - The Really Big Mac

Don Sherman

Although Gordon Murray, the brilliant engineer who designed several successful Formula 1 racers and the F1 road car, left McLaren before MP4-12C work began in earnest, his demanding standards of weight and packaging efficiency are clearly evident in this new project. Power is provided by a twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 3.8-liter V-8 engine buried deep in the center of the car behind a roomy two-place cockpit. Many details are still secret, but Sheriff did reveal that the engine will rev to 8500 rpm and maximum output will be about 600 hp, with 80 percent of the 440 lb-ft of peak torque available at 2000 rpm. There's a dry-sump lubrication system, a flat (180-degree) crankshaft, and variable valve timing, but direct fuel injection did not make the cut. Britain's Autocar magazine recently speculated that this engine may be a Mercedes V-8 modified by the German engineering firm Mahle.

A seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle delivers thrust to the rear wheels. Getrag, Oerlikon Graziano, and Ricardo top the list of potential development partners, but Sheriff refused to identify the transmission specialist that will be responsible for manufacturing the gearbox for the MP4-12C.

McLaren pioneered the use of carbon-fiber composites in key structural roles for its 1981 Formula 1 monocoques and for its 1993 F1 road car, so that expertise naturally trickles down to the MP4-12C. The central tub is a 175-pound hollow-sill molding made with proprietary resin-transfer processes. Supplementary aluminum spaceframe structures at both ends of the car support chassis and powertrain systems. The butterfly-hinged doors are another detail that is handed down from the F1. They should provide ready access to the two-seat cockpit and the arrival drama that exotic-car owners expect.

To keep curb weight below the 3100-pound target, the MP4-12C has a mix of aluminum and fiberglass outer panels, two magnesium reinforcement beams, magnesium seat frames, and a custom-designed climate-control system. The centrally located radiators are fed by huge side scoops equipped with turning vanes. A-pillars are reinforced by high-strength steel tubes. To save the heft and complexity of antiroll bars, body motion (both pitch and roll) is checked by actively controlled dampers. The rear wing not only helps stick the drive tires to the pavement, it also serves as an air brake. Carbon-ceramic brakes are available as an option. The nineteen-inch front and twenty-inch rear tires will be supplied by Pirelli. Performance targets include acceleration to 60 mph in less than four seconds and a top speed of at least 217 mph.

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