Old 911 Beats New McLaren At The Limit
Photography by Jonathan Mills
I recently rode shotgun in a supercar: a McLaren 12C Spider. It was sinister. It was black and had doors that scissored open more smoothly than the legs of a Vegas showgirl.
The driver was hard-charging ALMS hotshoe Terry Borcheller. A racer of the old school who smoked cigarettes, probably had a blood type of 93 Octane and definitely gave off a Ricky Bobby if-you-ain’t-first-you’re-last vibe.
Borcheller handed me a helmet and a walkie talkie and politely asked me to strap in. I was dutifully impressed with the McLaren’s detailing: the leather, the carbon fiber, and the air conditioning. I was just about to ask, “What does this button do?” when Terry stomped on the gas.
After that, nothing else mattered but keeping myself from involuntarily screaming.
The track in Fontana was a series of manufactured curves, esses, and chicanes, and in seconds Terry made it clear what he truly did for a living: scaring journalists who thought they could drive. He drove that fancy car like he stole it, with no regard to it’s cost, fragility, tires, gas prices, or even, I felt, our lives.
It was amazing.
Later, after cleaning myself up, thanking McLaren for a better ride than any at Six Flags, I sat admiring the rainbow colored line of supercars. I was able to further contemplate the experience and what it actually means to drive at the limit. We were wearing helmets, there were safety personnel (courtesy of McLaren) run-outs, and tire barriers—in short, it was safe to push the envelope in the 618 HP supercar.
The reality of driving such a machine in the real world is very different. The McLaren is a show pony. It’s kept clean and pretty, often to be trotted down the lane to the local watering hole only to be parked out front and admired. It’s been designed for speed but will rarely ever get to stretch its legs, because 99% of the drivers will never approach its true limit.
This is too bad, because pushing limits, to me, is the soul of the passionate driving experience.
One of my favorite cars remains a ’76 911 (see white Porsche above). It was lowered, which enhanced the feeling of speed. It was loud, so it always sounded like I was getting somewhere in a hurry, and the narrow tires gave just enough grip to keep slow corners exciting. It was a gloriously communicative vehicle…and slower than a Honda Fit.
Driving the Porsche at 9/10s made me feel like Terry Borcheller in a McLaren. It made me feel like a hero well within the limits of my ability. It was slow enough to have a fantastic automotive experience at completely legal speeds.
This is something a modern supercar like the 12C simply can’t offer on a daily basis.
The drive in the McLaren was magical; at 160MPH on a racetrack, it made everything in which I had previously ridden seem slow and boring. But in life, context is everything: you would be forced to drive the McLaren at 2/10s all the time. The car would gladly do this and make you look like a million dollars behind the wheel, but this highlights the superb nature of modern automotive engineering: the car CAN do everything, it just won’t be very much fun.
It is worth examining this phenomenon as we approach what is clearly the apogee of modern, gas-powered, horse-powered wars. What is enough? How big? How powerful? How fast? These are questions that get in the way of having fun, of pushing limits that won’t kill you or those you love.
Nine out of ten times, I’ll take driving at 9/11s in my 911.