First Drive: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C

Paul Barshon Patrick Gosling

Limited to just 100 examples, the blue-chip F1 must surely be the ultimate halo car of the last quarter century, although critics might say the need for a halo wouldn't truly appear until the arrival of the F1's follow-up in 2003, the higher-volume SLR, a joint venture with former McLaren stakeholder Mercedes-Benz. Some were perplexed attempting to pinpoint the SLR's mission-too large for wieldy sports car duty and lacking beauty, it was brutally fast but left many cold. No matter, it sold many more units (2153 total) and brought money McLaren's way (are you surprised to learn that a winning F1 racing effort burns up all the cash anyone can raise and more?). It also provided crucial experience with the volume production and use of carbon fiber. That costly space-age polymer's strength and weight-saving properties were first proved to the world by none other than McLaren when it used the new material to form the monocoque on the 1981 MP4-1, the revolutionary F1 winner designed by John Barnard shortly after Dennis acquired control of the racing enterprise.

Needless to say, carbon fiber is found everywhere in high-end racing these days and it's migrating to road cars, but prior to now, only a few of the latter -- the Bugatti Veyron, the Porsche Carrera GT, and McLaren's F1, for instance-have had entire monocoques formed of the material. (A Lamborghini thus endowed is on the way.) As against these other cars, the 12C's central tub is significant for being a one-piece pressing that is considerably cheaper to manufacture, in terms of both time and material and, at 165 pounds, is even lighter than anything that has come before.

Unlike the SLR, which used carbon fiber for its body panels, the 12C is built around a carbon tub but deploys aluminum and other composites for bodywork. Although carbon panels saved weight in the SLR, they didn't add much to the package beyond marketing cachet -- it still came corpulently close to 3800 pounds. By contrast, the 12C not only takes greater advantage of the material's potential for light weight (credit, in part, a manufacturing breakthrough that permits hollow rails), but its $231,400 list price marks a comparatively proletarian price point at a level with the likes of Ferrari's $230,000 458 Italia. Having set a price dramatically lower than the F1's original $1.0 million, or even the SLR's $450,000, McLaren hopes to move approximately 1500 examples of its new supercar globally per year.

So is this another super car not to be owned by the height advantaged?

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