Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
Poor McLaren MP4 12C. From template for an all-new supercar range to obsolescence in little more than four years, the pace of change demonstrated perfectly by the spectacular 570S Sports Series I was driving the other week (and you can read our review of that here, ed). Since 2011 McLaren has launched its first car, thoroughly overhauled the same, created a hybrid hypercar considered the equal of equivalents built by Porsche and Ferrari, initiated a customer race and track day programme and now has a three-tier product line-up. Oh, and it turned a profit too.
When the 540C comes on stream next year at a starting price just over £120K McLaren ownership will be open to a whole new range of customers. This is entry-level of sorts. If I had that much burning a hole my pocket I don’t think I’d be looking at a Sports Series car though. McLaren might be a relentlessly forward-looking company, but I think there’s already space for nostalgia about the 12C. This is, after all, the car that launched the brand and, with its Monocell carbon tub and rampant twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8, set the template for everything to follow.
I think that’s rather cool. Bumpy start or not I also happen to prefer the way it looks. The P1-influenced 650S makeover was never quite as cohesive as the original car, even if it’s much more potent and exciting to drive. But here McLaren’s adoption of the upgrade culture familiar from our phones, computers and other technology has spared the 12C’s blushes. Perhaps naively McLaren expected to sell the two alongside each other. But, predictably, the 12C was instantly marginalised. In an effort to placate existing customers CEO Mike Flewitt wrote to them, detailing 650S features retrofittable to the 12C as a free upgrade.
‘This package of upgrades will offer new Active Aero software which will allow your 12C’s existing Airbrake to “sense” different driving scenarios, deploying to improve stability when lifting off the throttle or cresting a hill – this is in addition to the usual Airbrake position under heavy braking,’ he wrote. ‘The new system also includes a DRS (Drag Reduction System) mode which lowers the wing when driving at speed in a straight line, improving high-speed aerodynamics.’
So my dream of a car that looks like a 12C but drives like a 650S is, to an extent, a reality, especially if choosing a car from the McLaren Qualified approved fleet. These are sold by McLaren dealers with a promise of the latest range of software updates (including the 600 to 625hp upgrade), a 12-month warranty and offer of deals on McLaren Special Operations customisation if you want to put your personal mark on it.
Which is handy. Because although I like this Volcano Red one, this ‘Qualified’ Azure Blue example appeals even more. The white leather is possibly a little gauche but livens up the minimalism of the cockpit and I love the lightweight wheels, even if I’d take up that MSO offer and perhaps have them colour matched to the carbon trim. Tart that I am.
If £120K for a Sports Series is entry-level, the same for a Super Series 12C looks like a relative bargain. And as the brand matures I think the achievement of the 12C will become more widely recognised and respected. This is a landmark car and one I’d happily take over its more youthful alternative.
Pistonheads image courtesy of Pistonheads.