Saturday, 18 August 2012

McLaren X1: MP4-12C Meets Art-Deco Spaceship

Moving around in front of people for perhaps the last time...
There are rich people, who buy shiny Land Rovers and drive them around London. Then, there are very rich people, who buy a Porsche or Lamborghini, perhaps as a second car, and drive around in them on occasion, just to remind you that they are very rich. A step or two up from these pests are the obscenely rich. These are the people who could buy a £12million house on Portland Road or an 80ft yacht in Monaco this evening if they felt like it. These people on't just look at cars as transport or machines to operate, they see them as investments and/or status symbols. Much as I hate this way of looking (down) at cars, it does mean that there is demand for a higher level of customisation than metallic paint, leather and foglights. Some can even go as far as to ask nicely for an entirely new, personalised coachbuilt body when they buy one of the headline supercars, such as Eric Clapton and his 512BB-inspired 458 Italia, or this land-gracing spacecraft you see here, from McLaren's new Special Operations division, called the X-1. It almost definitely cost more than a million pounds.

Dihedral doors remain in place. Frankly it would be an insult if this car had
normal doors. Badge made of Super-Platinum (not really)
Up until now, said SpecOps division has only gone as far as special paint and materials (as in rare animal hide or super-paint that heals itself and perfectly matches the buyer's favourite shoes... probably), but now they've flexed their muscles to let us all know that this division exists by creating something for an Anonymous Rich Man which it seems nobody can take their eyes away from. While the interior is the same as the MP4-12C upon which it's based - save for carbon fibre trim with a titanium weave for a 3D effect, and special "Harissa Red McLaren Napa" leather trim, whatever the hell that means - the exterior shares approximately 0% with the standard car, which has been unfairly criticised by many as "too boring". Such criticism cannot possibly be applied to this 12C, though, which still has the standard oily bits, meaning 616bhp from a 3.8-litre V8TT.

One reason for this is probably the different influences that McLaren design chief Frank Stephenson and Anonymous Rich Man (henceforth referred to as ARM) used to create this body, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

Cars: 1961 Facel Vega, a 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance Ghia, a 1959 Buick Electra, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K and a 1971 Citroën SM.
Architecture such as the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao and New York.
An Airstream trailer.
A Jaeger LeCoultre art deco clock
A Thomas Mann Montblanc pen.
A grand piano.
A black & white photo of Audrey Hepburn.
An eggplant [The client liked the shiny texture of the finish,' notes Stephenson].

Crikey. With all those things affecting the design, it's a wonder it came out looking like a car at all! They spent three whole years putting McLaren levels of obsession into every detail, and this is the result.

McLaren X-1 at Pebble Beach, alongside a commoner's MP4-12C.
An article on an design-driven car shouldn't feature opinions too heavily, as the reader should really develop their own opinions from it, but what I will say is that it works better from some angles than others, and that photos of it outdoors look much better than the official studio photos, something I suspected to be true as cars like this are much better-appreciated in person (well, outdoors, at least - sadly I'm not in Monterey, California at present, so these aren't my photos). The details and complex shapes and surfacing are something to behold, with some almost looking liquid and some looking sculpted, and all accented by slinky chrome lines. The rear fascia is a little less graceful in my view, but you may think otherwise. At any angle, though, you can definitely tell it was inspired by stuff from the '50s and Art Deco. The covered rear wheels are inspired by the '71 Citroën SM and because the MP4-12C doesn't have hydropneumatic suspension, it's the wheel covers that have to rise up to give access to the wheel, enhancing any kind of Batmobile aura it may be giving off.

If you don't like it, who cares? There is only one of these cars in existence, and if ARM has anything to say about it, it shall remain as such forever. This is its only official outing, and knowing what the ARM types are like, Pebble Beach's Concours d'Elegance - happening now - will probably be the only time it gets driven around outdoors, which is, of course, a terrible shame. McLaren spent years honing and developing every component of the MP4-12C, Frank Stephenson spent three of his own years drawing and redrawing every single crease, surface, angle and chrome highlight, and what do they get as thanks? A seven-figure cheque, yes, but the fruits of their labour will now disappear into a private collection, sitting proudly alongside a McLaren-Mercedes SLR, F1 road car and a regular MP4-12C... because only when stationary are this and the other 12C not exactly the same (well OK, the X-1 doesn't have an air brake). Other people will put tens of thousands of miles on their advanced British supercar, with its clever anti-roll system giving it an uncanny ride quality over bumps this car will never see.

So enjoy the photos you see coming out of Pebble Beach. They may well be the only ones until the collector dies and/or passes it on to another ARM who brings it here again to auction off for more money than a house on Portland Road. Here's one more, of the rear wheel cover. Just 'cause it's cool:

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