Twelve things you may not know about the McLaren F1

Published: 06 July 2012 Updated: 26 January 2015

To mark the 20th anniversary of the McLaren F1, CAR recently spent an afternoon at home with Gordon Murray, the F1’s designer. Don’t miss the 10-page feature in the July 2012 issue of CAR Magazine, out now.

Here are a dozen surprise facts you may not know about the McLaren F1, remembered by Murray.

1) Gordon Murray’s friend George Harrison almost lived at the factory during the construction of his McLaren F1. ‘He got to understand the car and to know the build team,’ says Murray. ‘As I recall the car has at least 14 Indian symbols included in the build, one item was actually laid up in the construction of the chassis.  He also had a spare set of matt black wheels.’

2) Two thicknesses of washer was available to the design office – a designer had to justify using a thick one.

3) The F1 cockpit’s leather was shaved to half its usual thickness – saving 5 kg.

4) The F1’s central air intake caused a few engineering headaches. ‘We had to design a water separator, trap and drain to avoid filling the engine with water when following a truck in the rain!’ recalls Murray.

5) Choosing dihedral doors was a central part of the F1’s drama – and the inspiration came from a Toyota Sera parked near Murray’s house. ‘I drove past it everyday,’ he remembers. ‘Eventually we borrowed a Sera and the design started from there. The final design was fixed with Bruce Mackintosh and myself late one night when we mocked up the doors in a wireframe on the seating buck. It was necessary to remove part of the roof and part of the floor to give the driver access to the central seat so a conventional door wouldn’t work.’

6) Tag Heuer launched an owner’s watch with each F1’s chassis number engraved on it – as did a matching luggage set. McLaren customers could even buy a custom made golf bag designed to be strapped into the passenger seats.

7) One customer asked Murray to sign the rear flank of the car and then lacquered over the signature!

8) Starting a McLaren F1 is quite a ceremony. The inspiration for the lift-up flap over the starter button came from a WWII fighter firing button. ‘I really wanted the start to be an event,’ says Murray. ‘We cancelled the electronic signal to the starter for two full rpm so that the driver could hear that starter engage (something I remember being special in my air-cooled 911 Porsche). I had to delay the start because a 60deg V12 is a perfect firing-up machine.’

9) Ron Dennis suggested the needles swept the dials on start-up. This is now mimicked by many others.

10) Eight potential partners were selected for the hi-fi. Five of them walked out when McLaren gave them a 50% weight-saving target. But Kenwood stayed on board and made its stereo half the weight it was and cut the number of buttons from 30 to five.

11) What would Murray change on the F1? ‘I would offer a steering wheel 20mm larger on the diameter to those customers who consistently travel at high speed.’

12) The McLaren F1’s unusual three-seat layout was designed to fix two of the worst supercar problems: pedal offset and visibility.  The Honda NSX was the world’s most practical supercar to date and the F1 project team lowered the scuttle even lower by packaging the air-con in the front – making the F1 very easy to see out of.

Now click here to read our archive story from 1994, with CAR’s world exclusive first drive of the McLaren F1.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words