How the McLaren F1 became the ultimate investment

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The 1992 McLaren F1 was something that world had never seen before. Until Gordon Murray delivered the new T.50—revealed in detail here—it’s something we never expected to see again. It was a car made completely without compromise, and perhaps that’s why it is now one of the most sought-after cars in the world.

The F1 story began when Murray’s flight back from the 1988 Italian Grand Prix was delayed. He sketched his first ideas for a high-performance three-seater and persuaded Ron Dennis and the management team to build the finest road car yet created.

From its world-first carbon-fiber-tub chassis, which took 3000 man-hours to make, to its titanium subframe and magnesium alloy wheels, the F1 was designed to be as light as possible. Even the toolkit was titanium, to save weight.

Its bespoke 620-hp, 6.1-liter V-12 engine was developed by Paul Rosche and his team at BMW Motorsport. It had the highest specific output of its day to give the F1 a top speed of over 230 mph. Such was the heat output from this mighty motor that McLaren lined the engine bay with the best heat-reflective material available: pure gold.

McLaren F1 rear aerodynamics

The F1 was sculpted by designer Peter Stevens to cleave through the air and yet remain stable at any speed without the need for ungainly wings, with the airbrake only popping up when necessary. Its unique one-plus-two seating arrangement put the driver center stage, while still giving passengers sufficient space.

With a manual gearbox, unassisted steering and brakes, and a naturally aspirated engine, the F1 offered the most pure, undiluted driving experience.

McLaren F1 interior cockpit seat

Onboard diagnostics fed back data to the factory so every single one of the 64 road cars made could be monitored for performance. If a customer had a problem McLaren would fly out a technician to fix it. Or there were eight  official service centers worldwide.

Money was no object when the car was developed and, despite the F1 costing £540,000 ($815,000) new, McLaren didn’t profit from the road car program. But owners certainly did.

For those willing to play the long game, seldom has a car proved to be such a wise investment. F1s were changing hands for just over the original asking price until 2006, but by 2008 prices had trebled and the F1 was valued at £1.5 million ($2.78 million).

McLaren F1 side profile

Since then there’s been a seemingly exponential rise in values. By 2014 you’d need over £5 million ($8.24 million) to get behind the wheel. A year later Rowan Atkinson sold his F1 for $12.2 million, despite crashing it twice and making possibly the world’s biggest insurance claim.

Even that looks like a bargain today. In 2017 s/n 44 sold at Bonham’s Quail Lodge Auction for $15.6 million, and just last August s/n 018—a “base” model converted to LM specification—set the record for most expensive McLaren sold at auction with a hammer price of $19.805 million. The Hagerty Price Guide now values the cars at $21 million in top Concours condition.

It’s hard to imagine any other investment of any kind offering such an amazing return over 20 years, let alone one that could offer as many thrills to its owner. Now the world will have to wait and see if Murray is able to repeat the party trick all over again and create both the greatest driver’s car available, in the guise of the new T.50, and one of the most rewarding investment devices money can buy.

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