Monday 28th May 2012


Why are we so mean to McLaren? Because we're British!

I was chatting with Mr Harris last week about whether or not I was fair in my criticism of the McLaren MP4-12C’s gear shift mannerisms. He admitted he’d never encountered the ‘will it shift one gear or maybe three?’ thing I’d got myself muddled over but in our chat he opined that we should all get behind the McLaren a bit more.

Should we be nicer to the MP4-12C?
Should we be nicer to the MP4-12C?
And I can see his point. It’s a peculiarly British habit this. We’re a lot harsher on our own and very quick to knock down to size any in our midst who looks like they might be getting a bit big for their boots.

Warts and all the MP4-12C is a car we should be more proud of as a nation. Pretty much all of the significant elements of that car are from scratch, engine, transmission, body and more included. As Chris said in his piece accompanying his video on it, to run Ferrari at the top of its game a very close second with your first roll of the dice is pretty damned impressive for anyone, let alone the very first (relatively) mass-produced car you’ve ever built off your own back.

And you can’t fault McLaren for its ambition. Sure, it could have made a ‘simple’ one-up, one-down paddle shifter gearbox, but it looked at what was out there and sought a way of stamping its own identity and tech-obsessed character on it. Personally I didn’t get on with it but, as I was corrected by an owner in the thread that followed, as you live with the car and adapt to it things improve. It may sound like a strange comparison but I’ve always railed against those who entirely dismiss the Smart Coupe/Roadster (stop sniggering at the back) on account of its gearbox being crap – I’ve spent loads of time in them and if you learn your way around it you can get it to work just fine. Maybe I should have been a little more tolerant of the 12C.

McLaren to Smart in one move - interesting!
McLaren to Smart in one move - interesting!
There’s a lot to love about the car for sure. Not least the fact that reactions to it are overwhelmingly positive, even if there seems some confusion as to what it is. “Awesome mate, just awesome … what is it? Lotus, right? Nah, Noble, wait…” Spend any time in a Ferrari and you’ll get as much hate as you do love. But, much like the Morgan Plus 8 we ran, Joe Public seems much more generously disposed and willing to get behind a British car than many of us jaded hacks.

The Lotus one is an interesting one too. Never mind the political picture; I wonder where the MP4-12C leaves the Esprit. To my mind the McLaren occupies exactly the territory Lotus was probably aiming for. Where to go from there then? Make the Esprit super hardcore? Noble’s already there. Cheaper and more rounded? R8 or the inevitable 911 instead maybe. No, the McLaren is right there and even feels a bit Lotusy. Or should that just be feels British?

Whatever, it’s a car to be proud of, niggles or not. And if this is the opening gambit we’ve got a lot to look forward to.


Author: Dan Trent
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