This Is What It’s Really Like To Own A McLaren F1
Photography by Ted Gushue
Everyone and their brother is talking about that stunning yellow delivery-mileage McLaren F1, a perfectly preserved, wasted opportunity. The thought of having access to a McLaren F1 and not taking full advantage of it every single day is enough to send shivers down my spine. Luckily there are people out there like the ones behind the LCAL Anthology Collection who get extraordinary use out of theirs.
I was put in touch with them when visiting my good friend Jarrah Venables, who for almost a decade ran the automotive selection at Goodwood before going private recently as a consultant. One of his clients is the LCAL Collection, a privately held collection that has some incredible meat on its bones. During the Festival of Speed, Jarrah was tasked with looking after the car during the concours portion of the event. Needless to say, when he offered me the opportunity to go for a spin and speak on the collection and about what the experience of ownership is like, I jumped at the chance.
Ted Gushue: So, how did this McLaren come into your life?
Collector: The LCAL Anthology Collection had been looking for one for quite a while. When they were first built it wasn’t possible due to a lack of funds, and when budget was there they’d stopped producing them! So the decision was made to go for a CLK GTR instead. We had been quite involved with private client feedback on the CLK GTR, doing quite a few test days at Hockenheim when they were developing the car. It actually felt a bit like a Lotus Elise, which came out around the same time, but with 700 horsepower! It had an exacting gearbox though, so pulling away could be a bit tricky for some. However when it came time to activate the option, we learnt that the car was to be sold without a warranty, which forced us to reconsider given that a gearbox rebuild could have cost a small fortune!
In truth there was always a McLaren F1-shaped hole in the collection, so we kept looking, and looking, and looking, but it was tough as there weren’t any good cars around. Eventually, having looked at two or three we plumped for this car which was originally owned by Ray Bellm, who of course was the 1996 BPR Global GT Series Champion in the car’s racing version, the GTR. This car though, the street model, was painted Genesis Blue with a blue and red interior. He later sold it to another owner at which point it was repainted silver. The renowned collector Irvine Laidlaw then bought it, but soon after he developed a passion for Bugatti Veyrons, which meant we were able to buy it. Since being in the collection, we have put about 30,000 miles on the car, which apparently is the 2nd highest mileage of any F1!
TG: Before it arrived, had you driven one?
TG: What was that experience like, that first day in the car?
Collector: Nothing will ever quite prepare you for driving an F1, because it always exceeds your expectations. Nowadays, there are a lot more supercars around than there were when the F1 was launched, but they’ve all got their driver aides and clever electronics. One of the most exhilarating aspects of the F1 is sitting in the middle. Nothing else can compare to that. That fact you’re sitting in the middle, and quite far forward, it’s very immersive, a real buzz!
TG: Our mutual friend Jarrah who drove it when I photographed the car described it as, all of a sudden, switching from standard definition to high definition.
Collector: That’s quite a good analogy. The thing is, it is very high definition, not only in view, but in sensory overload. The brakes squeak, the steering gives you infinite feedback, you feel everything that goes on. You know the expression “you drive a car through your backside”? Well it’s so true with the F1. You feel very, very connected with the road. And, of course, it’s very impressive the first time you get in. You learn how to get in with your bum, putting your legs out and all that. And then figuring out how to close the door once you’re in. Once you’ve driven it a lot, that becomes second nature, but the first three or four times, you miss the handle up at the top, and you’re not quite sure what to do…
Then you start it up, and the engine is just phenomenal. You hear the engine noise go, and then you feel the vibration that comes through your spine, and you’re off. You have to warm it up mind, and in particular the gearbox takes a little while to warm up. But it’s fantastic, just fantastic.
We’re very fortunate to have a P1 as well, which exactly matches the F1’s spec right down to the chassis number, and we really like that too, but the F1 is a car you just keep coming back to. We did also have a LaFerrari for a while, but amongst other things it was a bit twitchier compared to the P1. It’s still very impressive of course and has a huge following, but we have a few other Ferraris in the collection so we can’t complain.
With that said, the collection doesn’t have many current cars and we can’t quite understand this push from the manufacturers to make all these hypercars lately. However, there are obviously enough wealthy people out there who want to queue in limited numbers for the kudos of ownership, such that the manufacturers can make good money out of it.
Back to this car though. One thing that has to be mentioned is how exceedingly practical the F1 is. Once it was on display at Silverstone and needed to be taken back to base, so two of my young family members hopped in for what was a full day trip! We got hold of two kids seats that had been ordered new by Rowan Atkinson. We visited four countries that day and it was fabulous. Filling up at the petrol stations was amusing with luggage under the kids’ feet in both foot wells! Rowan Atkinson said that one of his best experiences in life was driving his two kids down to his country house, one on each side, in the McLaren.
TG: It’s gotta be an incredibly special experience. I now have to ask: What’s the fastest you’ve been in the car?
Collector: The fastest speeds the car has seen was when it did a trip alongside Simon Kidston in his own example. Outside of Milan there’s quite a long straightaway there that’s fairly wide—it has quite a few lanes. From memory the car did about 345 km/h.
TG: How does it behave at that speed?
Collector: It’s pretty planted. Sure it feels a little bit light between 280 to 310, but then it just anchors down again. You have to be very precise with your steering inputs at those speeds, but it has a very precise set up which makes you feel very connected to the road. When it feels really fast, the engine just keeps pulling though. You are the one who backs off, the car just wants to keep going!
Also, another fantastic aspect is the cornering speeds. When you corner, because there’s no power assist steering or anything like that, the steering is so beautifully done that it really loads up. You can feel it all and it really helps you in the corners. It gets quite heavy under load of course, so you have to use your forearms quite a bit unless you’re on very fast corners.
Last year we did an event with the McLaren F1 Owners’ Club around Jackson Hole, Wyoming and on the first day it poured with rain. There was a whole bunch of F1 owners. Most people around the breakfast table didn’t want to go out. We pointed out that sure it was wet, but how often do you get an opportunity to drive your car on such open roads?! Perhaps not everyone shares the same ethos of using the cars fully. Anyway, eventually most joined us and it was just fabulous. In pouring rain the car is still an incredible machine. It does more than you would ever believe.
Whatever expectations you have when you buy an F1, they’re never enough. It’s very rare that your expectations are exceeded so much. It’s been written about so much, so you think so much about what the car can and can’t do, and then you get in it and are amazed despite the hype. Of course, you have to be able to drive, that’s very important. You need to be able to drive properly, you know what I mean? Quite a few people jump in a car and they don’t have the ability, and then of course you won’t get the maximum out of it or it could frighten you. Then of course when it frightens you, you tense, you get more concerned and you’re not relaxed. It’s a downwards spiral, but if you’re prepared for the F1 and stay relaxed, it’s just marvelous.
As you know our car has been used a lot, it has about 42,000 miles on the clock now. Nobody who drives the F1 ever tires of it. Never. And ours has done long, long drives; like eight to ten hours at a time (with brief fuel stops of course…). Sure your bum gets a bit numb eventually, but it would in any car if you did that kind of mileage! Whilst the suspension is firm it’s not rock hard. It’s not so stiff like the more modern cars, because of course it has more suspension than most newer hypercars cars in its tires alone—you’ve got quite a big sidewall here. Still though, it’s just refreshing every time you get in it. That’s impressive for a more modern car that’s now pretty old… because it is old, you see its age when you drive it. It’s almost completely analog by today’s standards. It’s very raw, very basic, but it is beautifully engineered and incredibly well designed.
This car has been resprayed maybe two or three times over the years, cleaned back and re-sprayed because, of course, it often has a lot of pebble marks on the front. The car needs to be used, and that’s that. It’s a shame that not enough of them get used. People get all fussy about protecting values. We think that if you go that way, you’re in a bad position though. It’s such a shame that people try and tuck them away exclusively as investment assets. Newer cars normally go down in price. You buy a car, you drive it, and you sell it for less money typically, but the value has been in enjoying the car. Sure most collectors have had their cake and eaten it too in recent years, but when you’re collecting for investment over enjoyment, you’ve lost the plot.
Of course, ours is always maintained at the factory. Some people moan about that because the factory maybe isn’t the cheapest, but, really, it is a special piece of engineering, and we like the idea that it goes back to its home when in need. They have the parts and knowledge, and we have a very good rapport with McLaren. You have to keep it on the road, if only just to share it with people. Whether it’s on a long distance rally or just running into a father and son who want to have their photo taken in the drivers seat at a cafe, you have to be there for those moments with a car like this. It’s part of the responsibility.