Back Page: 20 Years of Ultimate Cars

  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Some people send fruitcakes every holiday season. Robb Report delivers a car, a fantastic limited-edition machine that would surely supplant sugarplums in the dreams of most any child of any age.

 

In gathering the items for this, our 20th Ultimate Gift Guide (page 93), we took note that the covers of 18 of our previous 19 gift guide issues featured a rare supercar or an ultraluxurious sedan, including the 1933 Rolls-Royce Left Hand Drive Phantom II Town Brougham that graced the December 1984 cover. (In 1985, we decked our December cover with a Christmas tree decorated with bejeweled ornaments.) We have had five Mercedes-Benzes, three Bentleys, three Lamborghinis, two Ferraris, two Rolls-Royces, a Bugatti, and a BMW on our holiday issue covers. Some of these cars have aged more gracefully than others, but none has retained its allure as well as the McLaren F1. It is as coveted today as it was in December 1992, when it was our cover car.  

The million-dollar automobile was a legend even before it rolled off the factory floor in 1993, and in the years since, its mystique has only grown. Its makers set out to create the ultimate modern road car, exquisite in every respect—from its lines to its handling to its customer service—and most observers agree that they succeeded brilliantly. Robb Report’s staff was in love from first sight, declaring the mid-engined three-seater “perhaps the most spectacular street car ever built.” We also wrote that the total production run would not exceed 300, but that statement proved optimistic. When production ceased in 1998, just 100 cars had been made, and of those, 64 were F1s. The others were iterations such as the F1 LM, the F1 GT, and the mid-1990s GTR series.

The McLaren F1 remains the fastest road car ever built. During a March 1998 test in Germany, it achieved a phenomenal 240.1 mph, shattering the previous record of 212 mph set by a Jaguar XJ220. The Robb Report Collection revisited the McLaren F1 in a June 2002 article titled “Still Fastest After All These Years,” which also touched on the issue of availability. To say that it is limited is a gross understatement. “We’ve not done an analysis, but probably about 60 to 70 percent [of the cars] are with their original owners,” says Harold Dermott, head of customer care and a longtime McLaren employee. “That 70 percent, in my view, will stay fixed. They’ll keep them forever and pass them down through their families.” More than half of the cars that circulate find new owners through McLaren’s brokerage service, which handles two or three sales per year.

Dermott characterizes the changing of ownership as a “refined, gentle process” that is free of advertising and urgency. Still, it is difficult to understand why anyone would part with such a fine machine under any circumstances, especially considering the unparalleled customer support McLaren provides. “Most car manufacturers are obsessed with the car, but for us, the car is secondary,” Dermott says. “The customer is most important, and is our primary focus of attention.” That attention extends to having a devoted McLaren employee, Mike Sopp, standing by around the clock to tend to owners’ needs. “It’s absolutely the antithesis of the call center,” says Dermott. “You know exactly who you are speaking to, and he knows the cars intimately. You feel taken care of.”

The most convincing testimony to the McLaren F1’s enduring appeal is its market value. New, it sold for $1 million; used, it sells for $1.2 million or more. Dermott sold a McLaren F1 for $1.6 million in 2001, a year when the few available vehicles were snapped up within hours. The softer economy has slowed the pace of resales since then, but we still would not recommend that anyone include the purchase of an F1 among his last-minute holiday shopping plans. 

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