Getting Acquainted With The Modern Supercar By Way Of McLaren And Mulholland
Photography by Alex Sobran
McLaren is kind of a perpetual oddball when it comes to road cars. They shifted the sense of what could be achieved with a license plate on the back when they built the beloved F1 with Gordon Murray; nearly a decade afterwards he led a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz on a bizarre-looking supercharged anteater called the SLR; then the road car department in Woking went more or less dormant until the MP4-12C revived the line in 2011. Since then the options have bloomed to include hypercars, homages, track specials, and perhaps most importantly, entry-level supercars—one of those automotive oxymorons that everyone seems to agree is acceptable.
Electing a slightly more professional tone, McLaren calls such cars members of the brand’s “Sports Series,” but haven’t we already reached a point of progress where words like “sport” and “super” have long since lost their original connotations and are more or less meaningless today? Case in point: supercars used to be horrendously impractical things that behaved like temperamental divas and the realm of sub-five-second sprints to 60 came at the expense of just about everything else. Today you can buy a car that will mind its manners in a supermarket parking lot as easily as it pulls to 200MPH down an empty Autobahn.
Working at Petrolicious affords me test drives in pinch-me cars from time to time, but I’m not used to the new stuff, wherein you press the accelerator and your head makes an audible dent in the leather, wherein you lift a stalk on the same car’s steering wheel in order to navigate speed bumps like Grandma’s sedan. Before spending a brief weekend with the McLaren 570GT I would have described it as an impractical look-at-me-mobile for people who can’t drive stick but like to make a lot of noise, but now I feel stupid. Surely there are a few owners out there who fit the description, but the car is more than just a Lambo fighter relying on F1 provenance, more than something to show off with at the valet.
For starters, the performance capabilities of this thing are beyond my abilities of description barring some platitude about it being faster than nearly anybody would want it to be in nearly every situation, but what I can say unequivocally is that it’s pretty damn easy to drive. Not just easy to drive quickly—it is—but easy to drive in general. I’ve sat in cars with four doors with less visibility out of the rear-view mirrors, and even the gnarliest scabs of LA asphalt couldn’t get the McLaren to issue squeak or rattle #1. Your butt’s adjacent to the road, you’re sitting in a carbon fiber monocoque, the McLaren will weave through traffic like an erratic minnow if you ask it to, but take a pothole on the chin and you’d swear you were in something much softer than a car with butterfly doors and 562 horsepower between its axles.
Not as a gag but as an actual errand, I took it to the grocery store with no issues whatsoever. There’s no jolting around as you look for a parking spot in first gear, the visibility leaves no more blindspots than is to be expected in these days of A-to-C pillar airbags, and if you’re asking for more storage space you won’t find it without giving up the exotic bodywork. In the same parking lot I had someone ask me if it was a Koenigsegg Regera: when’s the last time someone mistook an R8 or a hot 911 for something that wild? For all its scoops and angles and slices though, the 570GT looks so much more wholesome than the angry, uber-aggressive styling that’s taken hold at so many other supercar manufacturers after someone in the marketing department looked a fighter jet. It’s obviously not as undercover as a Porsche Turbo, but it proves you can design an arresting shape without making it look like something a reality TV star would get a DUI in.
Especially so in black, the 570GT slips itself just enough under the radar to attract the kind of attention you want in a car like this—excited kids, thumbs up from people in cool cars, not gold diggers and the local gas station vape teens.
The car was lent to me by McLaren Beverly Hills, and their owner, O’Gara Coach, asked me to bring it to their regularly-hosted Sunday supercar gathering called Sunset GT. A show crammed full of Aventadors and whatnot isn’t our typical cup of tea at Petrolicious, but in the spirit of trying to bring myself up to speed on the current state of the supercar, it seemed like a good place to take stock. The heavy hitters were pretty much all there—LaFerrari, One:1, 918, P1, Chiron, pick one—but aside from those the cars that were best-received were part of the an older generation, like the white on white Testarossa that drew a walking crowd from the street all the way to its parking spot.
It makes you think: what does it share with today’s top-rung road cars? Can cars that have long since “solved” the problems of the Testarossas and Countaches of the past ever attain that kind of reverence when they age? It’s hard to say: the look of modern supercars is certainly not moderate, but there are just so damn many of them being made that the spotlight barely has time to warm up before its swung in a new direction. The Aston Martin-Red Bull Valkyrie is slated to be an astonishingly fast machine, but by the time it’s ready to do anything besides pose for a press release will anyone care anymore?
And what does this have to do with the 570GT? The experience I had was memorable (it’s not everyday, even in this job, that you get the chance to drive supercars on Mulholland), but what makes it so special is the exact opposite of what made its predecessors so impactful. Those cars are known as more or less wholly impractical toys. The 570GT will eat those cars for breakfast, and it can do it every day of the week, literally. Does history remember the hard-working students who lead practical if successful lives, or do they remember the Richard Bransons instead? Does a car need to be a bit weird and pointless to be considered super? It seems like the answer has been “no” for some time now, and the McLaren 570GT is only proving the point.