The McLaren F1 buying guide – The 240mph supercar that burned the rulebook

McLaren F1

Described by many as the pinnacle of analogue sportscar design, the McLaren F1 is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Thanks to its rarity and current value, a buying guide about a car like the McLaren F1 tends to have more of an aspirational tone about it. Few mortals will ever get the pleasure to sit in one, let alone own an F1. Yet the fascination with something built with such engineering purity never gets old. Like the Concorde or the SR71 Blackbird, a technological achievement such as this can be admired without ever getting into its perfectly proportioned cockpit.

Whimsical prose aside, the F1 was conceived as a (mostly) clean sheet design. Gordon Murray and his team were given about as much freedom as possible to create this motoring marvel and though the aim was never to break records, the McLaren F1 made everything else out there look a decade out of date.

From the unique central driving position that allowed seating for three, to the gold-lined engine bay, this was clearly not your run-of-the-mill supercar. Not many modern mega-horsepower turbocharged supercars can match its straight-line pace to this day, and all but a handful will be staring at its taillights at speeds above 180mph. In 2021, the McLaren F1 is still the fastest naturally aspirated production car ever built.

It took the competition almost 15-years to topple the F1’s incredible performance figures, but none are likely to surpass its engineering purity. To many, the McLaren F1 remains the pinnacle of analogue performance cars.

Despite its crushing acceleration stats, the F1 is designed for longer distances too. Standard equipment included electric windows, air conditioning, a high-quality audio system with 10-disc Kenwood CD changer (it was the ‘90s after all) and a tailor-made luggage set.

Optional equipment consisted of a few off-the-shelf items such as 18-inch wheels, uprated shocks and springs, sports exhaust, a high downforce kit and sat nav. Owners who found the unassisted steering a tad heavy could spec a larger diameter 14-inch Nardi steering wheel instead of the 13-inch one.

Running updates were carried out too, including upgraded radiators for cars sold in hot climates (developed from the GTR race program), more powerful air-conditioning systems and braking system tweaks. McLaren also offered a headlight upgrade to owners as a running update.

There are a handful of F1 dealers in countries outside of the UK in the US, Germany and Japan that can do the fluid changes that need to be completed every one to two years. Currently, only McLaren Philadelphia actively operates under license outside of the UK. For the more comprehensive maintenance work that is required every five years, McLaren sends out their own specialists, like Senior McLaren F1 Technician, Pani Tsouris.

Pani was kind enough to give us a little insight into what his job entails. This includes comprehensively stripping the car down to assess every component, and changing consumable items like the fuel bladder, spark plugs and filters.

If the work required will take longer than three weeks, then customers are encouraged to have their car flown to the UK. Here the cars undergo a test drive at the Milbrook proving ground which is accompanied by a seven page assessment report. While some owners may not necessarily go to these lengths, the 1990s-spec Compaq laptop required to correctly diagnose the car is only available at official dealers.

McLaren F1 Engine and gearbox

The ‘BMW M Power’ script along the engine cover of the F1 almost read ‘Honda VTEC’ instead. McLaren’s Formula 1 ties made Honda a natural first choice as an engine supplier, but during development the decision was made to use a BMW-sourced 6.1-litre V12.

This bespoke power unit more readily met the power and weight stipulations set by the designers, easily achieving the 550bhp benchmark. The immense power of BMW’s V12 more than made up for the 16kg it added to Gordon Murray’s 250kg engine weight limit.

While there are similarities in the technology used in the contemporary six-cylinder M3, the S70/2 V12 had a number of unique features. These include twin fuel injectors per cylinder (one in the cylinder head and the other in the carbon airbox), dry sump lubrication and a lack of a conventional flywheel. The variable valve timing system also works over a broader range than the unit that was used in BMW’s own engines. Unfortunately for M3 owners, the gold lining in the engine bay was also unique to the F1.

A specially developed six-speed manual gearbox using a carbon clutch was used in all road-going F1s. It is a strong unit and can stand up to the prodigious power outputs without complaint.

Despite what some say, the F1 does have an aluminium flywheel but it is the smallest size possible, hence the almost total lack of inertia in the way the engine picks up and drops revs. Shifting between gears feels pleasingly mechanical and well-weighted once the fluids have warmed up.

McLaren F1 Suspension and brakes

Arguably the one weak link in the F1’s seemingly perfect package are the brakes. The single-piece four-pot aluminium calipers were designed by Brembo and while they are perfectly capable in normal driving, extended hard use can overheat the system and reduce braking performance.

Pani says that tweaks have been carried out to the disc bell on just about every car since then, which helps reduce brake judder and a different spec of the original Pagid brake pads are now used, improving braking performance. Carbon-ceramic brakes were in their infancy in the early ‘90s and therefore were only fitted to the racing F1 GTR, where the intense temperatures achieved on track suited the strengths of this layout.

The suspension setup was designed to be comfortable for fast road use and the bespoke Michelin tyres had large sidewalls which further helped absorb road imperfections. Huge care was taken in fine-tuning the springs and dampers to achieve the best compromise. The F1 GTR and F1 LM had a rather different design brief and are far more stiffly sprung.

Goodyear were the original tyre supplier due to their Formula 1 links, but Michelin took over in the mid-’90s and still produce the same spec tyres in batches of around 60 sets every five years.


Along with the even rarer (but far less special) Jaguar XJ-15 sports car, the McLaren was the only other road-going car to be constructed out of carbon-fibre. Interestingly, Peter Stevens had a hand in designing both of these vehicles.

The F1 has no huge spoilers or wings jutting into the airstream, the downforce required to keep it pointing straight at 200mph+ was achieved by a ground effect system utilising electric fans mounted in the upper areas of the engine bay bulkhead. There are also clever airflow management systems like the roof scoop which channels air through the engine and out the rear of the car.

An automated rear spoiler helps increase drag when coming to a stop from high speeds, automatically deploying when braking from above 60mph. The rear spoiler can also be set to a high downforce mode which keeps it partially open at all speeds.

With each shell taking over 3000 hours to create, accident damage is best avoided. If you do end up damaging your car it will be shipped back to Woking for any repair work to be carried out. Indicative of how far modern production methods have developed; modern McLaren road car carbon-fibre shells take just a handful of hours to manufacture.

The F1 may have been developed with few restrictions, but getting every component homologated for such a small production run would have rendered the F1’s substantial development budget inadequate.

While most F1 fans will know that the rear lights are from a Bova Coach, they also adorned the rear of the Lamborghini Diablo as well as some TVRs. The front indicators are off a Lotus Elan, while the side repeaters were pinched from Vauxhall.

The earliest cars used Citroen CX mirrors (as did the Jaguar XJ220), five cars had high-mounted side mirrors shared with the BMW Z1, while most F1s have VW Corrado units. It may sound like a parts bin lucky draw, but they work just as well as a bespoke part would, and so the budget could instead be spent on important things like the carbon-fibre tub.

McLaren F1 Interior

The F1’s dihedral doors, unique central driving position and three-seat layout is still the perfect solution for a supercar in terms of practicality, but here too you will spot a few components from less prestigious vehicles.

The window switches and indicator stalks were lifted from a contemporary BMW 3 Series. Audi supplied the door and ignition locks. There were plenty of special bespoke details too, such as the handmade instrument panels, which were hand-painted and each needle individually machined to perfection.

The lightweight Kenwood CD changer (yes, even this component was modified) was placed under the bonnet, and the leather-bound tool roll was made from titanium, so that the all-important kerb weight would be minimally affected.

The pedal box is movable to ensure that the weight distribution is not compromised. Owners can also send their cars back to Woking to have them customised and refitted to suit their tastes. Here, the vehicle can be repainted and retrimmed by MSO in a broad range of materials and colours.

Model History of McLaren F1

1992:   The McLaren F1 is introduced. McLaren seized the Formula 1 world championship the year before and the timing was seemingly perfect to launch a world-beating supercar

1995:   F1 GTR takes 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th places in Le Mans 24 hours

1996:   Updated F1 GTR introduced

1997:   Sequential gearbox, ‘longtail’ bodywork, 6.0-litre engine and a new lighter chassis differentiate 1997 F1 GTRs from earlier cars

1998:   Final McLaren F1 produced with 106 road and race cars produced in total

Total production numbers:

F1 Road Cars:  64 (Plus 5 prototypes)

F1 LM:             5 (Plus 1 prototype)

F1 GT:              2 (Plus 1 prototype)

F1 GTR:            28 (9-1995, 9-1996, 10-1997)


Which McLaren F1 to buy

Initial plans were to produce around 350 road cars, but a global financial crisis put paid to that idea and the final tally of road-legal cars came to 64. Rarity and the realisation that this sort of car may never be built again (Gordon Murray’s upcoming T.50 supercar may come the closest in spirit), has seen values steadily rise over the years with an even steeper climb in recent times.

Condition, mileage, service history and even accident damage have little to no effect on these values, the F1 transcends such things. If you see one for sale and you are able to acquire it, then do so. Unfortunately, such unconditional desire has pushed this car into the realms of those who view it purely in terms of an investment, destined to sit on static display, hidden from the world.

Hopefully, there will always remain a handful of cars out there that are used as intended, after all, what is the point of creating the ultimate driver’s car if it never gets driven?


McLaren F1 Specifications


6.1-litre V12

Power:             627bhp

Top speed:       241mph

0-60mph:         3.2sec

Economy:        15mpg est.

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Text John Tallodi  Photos McLaren, Pani Tsouris, Newspress

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