Twenty years ago, the McLaren F1 became the fastest production car in the world. In reality, it probably had been worthy of the mantle for much longer, having started production five years earlier, in 1993, after storied Formula One racing team McLaren peeled off a road-car wing – but it had taken until then for the car to notch an officially verified figure.
Indeed, as recently as February 2005, it still held the record, when Swedish supercar Koenigsegg’s CCR snatched the accolade. The F1’s mark of a mite more than 384kph puts it in the territory of any modern hypercar you care to mention. To this day, it could embarrass most household name poster cars. Everyone from Elon Musk to Rowan Atkinson – the latter seemingly temporarily in character as Mr Bean when he wrecked his example – has owned one.
Nothing that the British carmaker has produced in the ensuing two decades has quite matched the visceral impact of the F1.
But that isn’t to say that McLaren hasn’t continued making remarkable cars in the interim, because nothing that has worn the Woking-based manufacturer’s swoosh on the roads between then and now has been what you would even begin to describe as run of the mill. And things have certainly accelerated since the super-limited F1’s run of 106 cars ended in 1998, with the company currently producing an array of models classified in three speedy series (Sports, Super and Ultimate).
At the entry level of this rarefied range is the Sports Series, which accounts for the majority of McLaren’s sales – its most recently available annual totals comprised 3,286 cars, generating booming profits. While McLaren has toiled in F1 racing, the business that the F1 car spearheaded has gone from strength to strength.
The 570S Spider is the latest addition to the Sports Series, and even at the notionally lower reaches of McLaren’s output, it turns heads, despite that less-than-inspiring name. The impact is aided by retina-scorching colour schemes, such as the Ventura orange and Sicilian yellow examples that I test drive (Dh999,000 and Dh990,000 in their respective specs; the base model price is Dh840,200).
McLaren’s matter-of-fact numerical model-naming tradition – not nearly as evocative as names such as “Aventador” or “Portofino” – has been attributed to the mathematical straightforwardness of former main man Ron Dennis, who is perhaps best known for discovering Lewis Hamilton.
But that matters less when the cars in question go like the 570S Spider, which does 0 to 100kph in a grey-matter-loosening 3.2 seconds and goes on to 328kph – or (wig wearers beware) 315km with the roof open. The hand-assembled Spider weighs 46 kilograms more than the coupé version, yet its acceleration and top speed are identical, which equates to impressive stuff.
That retractable hard top disappears into the bodywork in a claimed 15 seconds – although my timing suggests it could even be a second or so swifter than that – at speeds of up to 40kph. And as any great drop-top should, the 570S looks perfectly proportioned with roof up or down.
There are a few small disappointments. If I was paying the thick end of Dh1 million for a car, I might reasonably like to tease open the rear engine hatch to marvel at the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. Sadly, it appears only a tiny fluids hatch is accessible without taking a screwdriver to the back-quarters. And even for somebody with average-size feet, the brake and accelerator pedals are quite close together – that has potential for expensive mistakes, particularly if you’re blessed with a thumping great pair of size 11s.
Not everything on a smaller scale turns out to be frustrating, however – exactly the opposite when it comes to a little electric back window that allows you to hear the full roar of those eight cylinders with minimal outside air intrusion to the cabin.
The steering is clinical, which is necessarily reassuring when you feel the 570 mechanic horsepower of the car’s name coursing through the back wheels of a car that weighs less than a tonne and a half.
Also handy is the swift lifting system, which allows you to negotiate speed bumps and the like without causing terminal damage to the 570S’s plentiful carbon-fibre extremities.
The lines are similarly scientifically exact, switchblade doors and all, yet especially in the case of the insectoid rear end, exude an eye-popping hypercar-level menace. In orange, the car is spectacular; in yellow, the contrast between paintwork and carbon fibre is even more striking.
The interior finishes have a one-upmanship to them versus rivals such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, although I do fret somewhat about the effect of prolonged enthusiastic operation of the optional carbon-fibre flappy paddles and other spindly stalks on the Ventura orange car.
A quarter of a century on from the McLaren F1’s launch, then, and the carmaker is in a rudeness of health that few other manufacturers have managed in such a brief timespan. And as the most-affordable topless Mac ever, the 570S Spider is carrying that lineage with more than enough grace and power to go around.
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