"We are not launching a new car. We are launching a new car company," says Antony Sheriff, the managing director of McLaren Automotive. It is Sheriff's mission to finally make McLaren a genuine automotive company, and not just one of the leading car manufacturers in Formula 1 racing. The 2011 McLaren MP4-12C is the fruit of his labors.
McLaren not only wants to beat Ferrari on the racetrack, it wants to beat the Italian carmaker on the street as well. And to do it, McLaren has created an extraordinary expression of racing technology in a supercar for the street.
This is the car that McLaren would rather have built than the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, which indeed is still in production nearby in McLaren's manufacturing facility. Sheriff says the template for the MP4-12C has actually been the McLaren F1, the midengine supercar powered by a BMW V12 that was built between 1993 and '98.
Like the McLaren F1, the 2011 McLaren MP4-12C is meant to be the foremost expression of the automotive technology of its time, an obsessive expression of pure performance. At the same time, the MP4-12C is also supposed to be more accessible than the million-dollar F1 sports car, both in its $250,000 price tag and in the way it drives. Deliveries are expected to begin in early 2011 and McLaren intends to build 1,000 examples in its first year of production.
McLaren claims a power output of about 600 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. At the same time, McLaren also says that this engine is extremely clean in terms of air emissions, delivering more power per gram of carbon-dioxide emissions than any other power plant, including diesel- and gasoline-electric hybrids.
In part the MP4-12C's extraordinary performance comes from light weight, as it's some 2,866 pounds dry and about 3,000 pounds sitting at the curb with a full tank of fuel. Just as with a racing car, the weight is biased toward the rear, with a distribution of 43 percent front/57 percent rear.
The key component here is the so-called MonoCell. This one-piece chassis structure of carbon fiber weighs 175 pounds (like me :) and takes four hours to cure in a high-pressure autoclave. It forms the entire passenger compartment, and Sheriff claims this is a first for a road car. The structure delivers twice the torsional rigidity of an aluminium structure. The bodywork — a mix of aluminium and low-density SMC plastic — plays only an aerodynamic and aesthetic role, which suggests that a convertible version of the MP4-12C could appear in the future.