Journal: Here's Why The 'Albert' McLaren Speedtail Prototype Is A Perfect Tribute To British Garagistas

Here’s Why The ‘Albert’ McLaren Speedtail Prototype Is A Perfect Tribute To British Garagistas

By Alex Sobran
November 9, 2018

Images courtesy of McLaren and Ultima

The term “garagista” began as a reference to the predominantly British Formula 1 privateers of the 1950s and ‘60s who collectively made Enzo Ferrari nervous and angry enough to give them a label to be used with derogatory, brush-something-off-my-sleeve tones uttered through a sneer. Why anyone would feel insulted in the process of beating the most significant name in grand prix racing using only the limited resources found in “sheds and shops” is beyond me though, and one just needs to count the number of today’s F1 programs that are based in Britain to see that people like Colin Chapman and Frank Williams were not flukes. People like them building successful cars with limited budgets have come quite a ways from storing parts in the garden.

The term has its echoes in Britain’s production car history too, and the amount of sports-focused kit cars that came from suppliers like Lotus and Caterham have been besting their own brands of Goliath for decades. What all of this has to do with the hypermodern hypercar called the McLaren Speedtail is related to one of these suppliers: Ultima.

The Speedtail prototype that will be soon be tested on public streets ahead of the production model’s 2020 arrival is nicknamed “Albert” in honor of another prototype McLaren gave the same name to back in the early 1990s when they were developing the F1. As if they’d done it for the pun, the car that was specifically aimed at becoming the ultimate sports road car relied on the test-mule services of a brand named Ultima; it’s funny how the F1 is often still regarded as the peak of production cars and it was created in part due to the services of a company that debuted its first car in a magazine called Kitcars and Specials less than a decade ago.

When McLaren was in the early stages of testing the Paul Rosche-designed BMW M Power V12 that would live in the F1, they purchased two Ultima Mk3 kits from Noble Motorsport Ltd. (created by Lee Noble, who designed the track-focused Ultimas and the M series of sports cars like the M400, M600, etc.). These test cars were reportedly the last two Mk3 kits ever produced, and after modifying the two chassis McLaren stuck a Chevy V8 in the one they called “Albert” to mimic the BMW V12’s torque while testing out the driving position and the carbon brakes among other elements of their supercar. The other Ultima chassis received a prototype of the BMW V12 to test the motor and elements like its cooling and exhaust systems. I’m assuming the Speedtail prototype takes on the Albert name because it is also powered by a V8, but who’s to say. The original test cars got their own badges, but it looks like McLaren’s missed the opportunity to remake these in their new white-gold-carbon-expensive badges.

Putting the fact that McLaren’s taken yet another opportunity to invoke the mighty F1 name aside, the nickname is also a tribute to Ultima, and by extension, to the seemingly ageless ability for independent Brits to play their part in creating some of the most illustrious sports and race cars in the world. The original Albert was destroyed long ago, but at least it lives on in memory.

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Harry Cover
Harry Cover
4 years ago

Great article, nice historical point of view. I wasn’t aware of the F1-Ultima prototypes, big credits to Lee Noble !