I was fortunate to see the new McLaren prototype at the last year at the Pasadena Design Center; now Jay is getting his. Jay, can you adopt me?
Jay Leno: Anything McLaren builds, I like. I’ve got one of the original McLaren F1s, so I was anxious to place my order for an MP4-12C, the latest supercar out of Woking.
I was amazed how easy the process was. Buying a supercar usually involves dealing with ridiculous salesmen who tell you the car is sold out or otherwise unavailable. This is especially true of Italian supercars. The idea of just calling McLaren and ordering my car was refreshing. They told me the list price and I paid it.
But what I found most fascinating when dealing with McLaren representatives was their honesty.
For example, McLaren wants the car to be as light as possible. That’s the mantra behind McLaren.They’re like Colin Chapman that way. So I figured I’d spec the carbon fiber brakes.
“What are you going to use the car for?” the McLaren guy asked.
“Mostly road use,” I said. “I don’t think I’m going to do any track work with it.”
“Well, the steel brakes are lighter, and they’re cheaper,” he said.
“Oh, so you’re recommending the steel brakes?” I asked.
“Yeah. Unless you’re using it for track work and you’re really hard on the brakes, you don’t need the added expense,” he said.
So I said, “OK, I can save some money there, fine.”
As we went through the options, he suggested the carbon fiber kit.
“Oh, OK, the carbon fiber trim,” I said. “Does that save any weight?”
“No,” the McLaren guy replied. “It’s just decorative.”
“So I don’t need that?” No, came the reply, I don’t really need it. So I didn’t get it. And I got exactly what I wanted for a little less than I expected to pay. That’s what I find satisfying and endearing about buying this McLaren as opposed to some other cars I’ve bought over the years.
I feel a strong connection to the MP4-12C. I got a preview of the car during a visit to the UK in 2009, and I got a ride in it around the Top Gear track. I essentially placed my order then. About six weeks ago I officially went through the option list and configured the car McLaren is building for me.
I’ve gone for McLaren orange because to my eye, that’s the color. That’s the one that really makes the car pop. Unlike a lot of people, I like the styling of the MP4-12C. I like the understatedness of it. TheMcLaren F1 is a fantastic looking car, but if you don’t know cars that’s all it is — a fantastic looking car. If you know cars, you know exactly what it is. It doesn’t need to scream it from the rooftops. The MP4-12C is the kind of car that becomes beautiful once you see how well it gets the job done. To me it’s a bit like the bookish woman who takes her glasses off and lets her hair down and you realize she’s stunningly attractive.
Whenever I go to restaurants in Beverly Hills I always see people who want their Ferrari parked right in front of the valet. First of all, you don’t give a car like this to a valet. I don’t believe any McLaren owner would hand the key over to some kid. And I think that, if you’re buying a McLaren, you really don’t care if it’s parked in front of a restaurant. It’s whole different mindset.
Anyone who knows cars knows McLaren and what it stands for. I didn’t buy it to make a statement. I’m still with my first wife. I’m not driving around with a trophy wife who has a fake tan and fake boobs. I like to drive, I like the look and the feel of this car. That’s why I bought it.
Some reviewer said the MP4-12C could be mistaken for a Lotus. Anyone who makes that mistake is not a car person. Frankly, I don’t understand why people would be upset about the styling. To me, it’s styled that way because it works best that way. It’s not like someone just picked up a pen and drew something they thought was outrageous. In terms of airflow and dynamics and all that kind of stuff, that’s why it looks the way it does. Ten years from now it will still be a good-looking car. The McLaren F1 is 20 years old. Even now, people ask me if it’s the new this or the new that. And I always say no, it’s a McLaren F1, and it was built in 1994. People are always surprised. But when a car looks right, it looks right and it always looks right.
I remember when the F1 came out, before McLaren dominated Le Mans. People read the road tests and thought, “No car can be that good.” And it was a million dollars. That was crazy. So McLaren sold just 106 of them. If they built it today, I think they’d sell 300 or 400, maybe 500. Back then, there were so many supercars that didn’t quite make the grade. People weren’t happy with the Jaguar XJ220, for example, and there were a number of other supercars that left people thinking, “Yeah, yeah, it’s just another supercar.” People didn’t realize the level of engineering and passion that went into the F1. But McLaren has the name and reputation to sell a lot more cars now.
I think the MP4-12C will be much easier to own than the F1. That’s part of the idea behind the car. The F1 was a pet project, a bunch of guys doing it piecemeal on the side. There’s an old joke about the British that goes, “They can make one of anything. But when you say, ‘This is fantastic! I need two more!’ they say, ‘F–k.’”