McLaren 765LT Is Somehow Even Crazier Than the Already-Nuts 720S


McLaren probably shouldn’t be allowed to sell this car to regular people. But it does. State authorities probably should set up some sort of tiered licensing system, whereby people who want to drive a thinly disguised race car on public thoroughfares will need a bit of extra training and certification. But they don’t. Instead, the only skill a person needs to drive one of these psycho death-missiles on the street is the ability to earn (or inherit) tons of money.

This story originally appeared in Volume 3 of Road & Track.

It’s called the 765LT, and it’s way over the line. Not that this development should come as a surprise to anyone. McLaren’s previous foray into the way-too-fast-for-the-street realm, the Senna, was a bit more extreme and significantly weirder looking than the 765LT. The problem with the Senna—if anything in the rarefied world of a $1 million-plus track-day special with see-through doors could be considered a problem—is that except for a few very select places, say, a Hermann Tilke-designed F1 circuit, the standard 720S is just as fast, for a quarter the cost.

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The 720S is the car from which the Senna and the 765LT descend. And three years after its debut, the 720S remains a supercar game changer. Last year I took a comfort-spec 720S Spider to a track day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. It wore street tires, regular wheels, and cushy seats. I’m an average, club-level driver, but armed with the heaviest, most comfort-oriented version of 720S, I had a track-day cheat code that allowed me to make literally any pass I desired. It needs none of the additional track-day goodies offered by McLaren Special Operations (MSO). Like, at all.

But McLaren, doing the thing that McLaren does, pushed the limits of the 720 platform’s performance, both for pride and for profit. The result is the 765LT, a device whose accelerator pedal carries a 1:1 ratio of pressure to poo-extraction. I can confidently say that this is the quickest production vehicle I have ever driven, by a noticeable margin. Just take one metric, quoted from McLaren’s press release: In a 0-124 mph acceleration test, the 765LT is 1.6 seconds quicker than the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, 1.4 seconds quicker than a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, and 0.6 seconds quicker than a Ferrari 488 Pista or a McLaren 720S. Yowza. Those are enormous gaps compared to some of the world’s quickest production vehicles. And typically, McLaren’s performance estimates are a little conservative. Similarly, McLaren says the 765LT makes 755 hp and 590 lb-ft-of torque. I say this number is quoted at the wheels on a hot day. It’s likely closer to 800 hp in cool, California fall conditions. Compared to the standard 720S, the 765LT’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 has upgraded pistons, gaskets, a more powerful fuel system, and a new tune. But it also has its own shorter gear set, which means in-gear acceleration is improved 15 percent compared to the 720S, a car that needed absolutely no help in that department, whatsoever.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein

In McLaren-ese, “LT” is an abbreviation for “Longtail.” It’s meant to call to mind the 1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail race cars that amped up the already amply amped F1 GTR with stretched bodywork, a bigger rear wing, and a sequential-shift transmission. But the LT badge is a misnomer. Truth is, the only added length is from extended front splitters and rear wings. When applied to the 765, or the two other recent McLarens that have worn the LT badge, it actually means: lighter, faster, angrier, and more engaging. But an LFAME badge would be too heavy.

The LT line is the company’s factory performance custom series. Nothing has been left alone. Virtually every body panel, save for the windshield and roof, has been either changed or materially replaced, compared with the 720S.

The 765LT is the first McLaren to feature carbon-fiber body panels created in-house. And what a body it is. The 720’s lines are as smooth as river rock. But the LT’s are jagged and aggressive with exaggerated skirts, jutting jaw, various vertical aerodynamic fences, and raspy-looking louvers atop the front fenders.

The entire backlight assembly, four individual pieces, is now made of polycarbonate. The exhaust is titanium and 40 percent lighter than the one used in the 720S, with four tips. Most interior surfaces, including the two seats, are sculpted carbon-fiber panels. The wheels are lighter and affixed to the car with titanium bolts.

By default, McLaren deletes both air conditioning and the stereo, but they are no-cost options to add back. Without them, the LT is lighter than the standard 720S by 176 pounds. But since the Venn diagram of “People who spend $400,000 on cars” and “People who are willing to not have air conditioning in their $400,000 cars” is just two circles near each other, most 765LTs will sit at the curb only 151 pounds lighter than Mr. Jones’s 720.

The LT’s brakes come directly from the Senna, and are, ironically, 10 pounds heavier than the standard 720S brakes. According to McLaren, the performance improvement is worth the heft. The 765LT also brings specific shock calibration.

The 720S delivers impressive grip from standard Pirelli P Zero tires. Naturally then, the 765LT comes with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo Rs, a barely legal street slick that requires some heat before delivering anything resembling grip. They also throw a shocking amount of gravel and road grime into the door assembly, which tumbles down like a souvenir-store rain stick when you open the door at the Mastro’s valet.

After a short, 4-5 mile warm up, I pointed the 765LT down a highway at a reasonable speed, manually engaged third gear, and stomped the go pedal. It absolutely blew the tires right off, even with traction control fully enabled. Rather than lift, I upshifted, and the burnout continued well past 100 mph. Even crossing 110, 120, the 765LT fought for traction. That’s just not the kind of thing you see from a mid-engine production car. I did it again, rolling on the power in third gear, and at 90 mph it stepped sideways a bit before straightening out and continuing to spin its rear tires and fight traction well into the middle of fourth. Welcome to crazytown.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein

I took my wife out in the 765LT and, upon merging onto an entrance ramp, floored it in fourth gear. She immediately got nauseated and told me never to do that again. I took a friend out for a quick spin. He turned ghost-white and, sensing the fourth-gear wheelspin, promptly echoed my rhetorical question back to me: “They just sell this thing to people? What are they, nuts?”

The performance of this vehicle, even to a jaded man such as myself, is beyond anything folks should be able to just buy and drive on the street. I went to the biggest, fastest, emptiest road in Southern California, just after sunrise, and drove basically as fast as the 765LT, and my nerves, would allow. Even after 12 minutes of highly focused, sweaty-palm, heavy-breath driving, ol’ Macca’s tire temp indicators showed BLUE. I had just gone up this hill as fast or faster than I ever had and even that was not enough pace to warm up the tires in this thing.

Even if the tires won’t come up to temp, the handling is telepathic and the steering is chattery, alive. And, my God, the brakes are spectacular. The intelligent active Air Brake system, which flips the spoiler to near vertical, makes the 765LT unbelievably stable while shedding speed. And it doesn’t even require that you tap the pedal to activate. A quick lift off the throttle after hard acceleration will kick the Air Brake into action, stabilizing the rear end as weight shifts forward. It’s brilliant.

There isn’t a public road anywhere on the entire planet on which you can safely approach the performance limits of this car. And while that’s likely true of the 720S as well, the differences in execution are stark. The 720S shines not only because of its performance, but because of its flexibility and comfort. It is, in the grand scheme, the more impressive accomplishment.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein

With the LT, the focus is narrowed. Dialing up the motorsport theater diminishes the usability of the car. The hard carbon bucket seats leave bruises after a day of casual trundling. The harsh suspension is by no means unbearable; it’s now in line with the ride quality of the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, but the “magic carpet ride” of the 720 is absent. In four days, I didn’t move the chassis knob from Comfort for more than five seconds. For the 765LT, McLaren relaxes some of the powertrain NVH attenuations that make the 720S so livable. The stiffer engine mounts and bushings mean that more vibrations find their way into the cabin. That sounds good at first, but over the course of a couple hours’ drive it adds up. It’s a level of intensity best experienced in small, glorious doses.

I leave with the utmost respect for this car. The 765LT delivers, absolutely and unequivocally, on everything it promises. Its performance is simply staggering. Sure, $433,000 (as tested) is a seriously high price tag, and for that money, it had better do everything but tie your shoes for you. But, to get anything faster, or even as fast, you’d have to spend between six and 10 times as much. It is typically the nature of custom-built cars that their areas of specialization narrow, but also deepen. Such is the case with the 765LT. It gives up some of the 720’s balance in favor of intensifying some of that car’s already intense characteristics. But we can appreciate a car with a range of talent that’s spread a mile deep and an inch wide. The 765LT is the best pseudo-race car for the street that McLaren has ever made. It’s the best of the LTs.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein


Factory Custom

How McLaren turns the 720S into a 765LT, by Mack Hogan

mclaren long tail

mclaren long tail

Weight

Trimming 176 pounds from the already featherweight 720S required detail work that borders on the absurd. Perhaps most absurd is the deletion of the air-conditioning and audio systems. Don’t worry. Adding them back is a no-cost option that everyone will get. Also in the absurd column are carbon-fiber interior trim surrounds. But there are meaningful efforts, too. Ten-spoke forged alloy wheels with titanium bolts trim 48.5 pounds from the car (the optional big brakes add some of that back). The 765LT’s seats are 39.7 pounds lighter than the 720’s buckets. Masochists can opt for the super-lightweight carbon-fiber racing seats, which were standard on the Senna and trim another 26.5 pounds. The titanium exhaust system shaves 8.3 pounds compared to the 720S. And a new lithium-ion battery sheds 6.6 pounds. But that’s not all. Buyers can also opt to swap out the aluminum hood, doors, and rear fenders for lighter carbon-fiber pieces. All 765LTs have thinner window and windshield glass plus polycarbonate rear windows. McLaren also strips out the 765LT’s carpet and uses a manually adjustable steering column. Point is: Go ahead and have that second pastrami sandwich.

Suspension

A front end that sits 5 mm lower gives the 765LT a bit more rake. The 765 uses lightweight main springs at each corner plus small helper springs. This reduces unsprung mass compared to larger dual-rate springs. Those springs are stiffer compared to the 720S. The 765LT retains the familiar linked hydraulic dampers from earlier Super Series McLarens, but these are now controlled by new software algorithms that deliver greater precision and control, says McLaren. The 765LT trades the 720S’s Pirelli summer tires for hyper-aggressive Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R track tires. Common side effects of this treatment include compromised ride quality and non-existent wet-weather traction.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein

Power

It wouldn’t be an LT without a power bump. There’s an additional 45 hp from the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, which brings the total to 755 hp. And it’s a screamer, too; that peak power hits at 7500 rpm, 500 higher than in the 720S. Maximum torque still arrives at 5500 rpm, but now totals 590 lb-ft instead of 568. Much of the increase comes from a 1.7-psi boost in turbo pressure, but the 765LT also benefits from a healthy injection of Senna. The LT gets lighter forged aluminum pistons, a three-layer head gasket, and a second fuel pump from the alien-looking hypercar.

Aerodynamics

It might not be designed for the Mulsanne Straight like the original Longtail race car, but the 765LT produces 25 percent more downforce than the 720S, according to McLaren. That’s thanks largely to the protruding front splitter, a longer diffuser, and an articulating rear wing [10] that, even while retracted, stands taller than the 720’s. Other aero doodads, such as the “door blades” [11] and redesigned floor, contribute as well. All that downforce means the 765LT’s top speed is a piddling 205 mph, down from 212 on the 720. Factor that into your work-commute ETA. McLaren also redirects air to keep the front brake pads 50 degrees cooler.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Alex Bernstein

Whence it Came: McLaren Longtails

By Chris Perkins.

mclaren long tail

McLaren

A. F1 GT/GTR “Longtail” (1997): The F1 GTR dominated GT1-class racing in the mid-Nineties, winning Le Mans in 1995 and the BPR Global GT Championship in 1995 and 1996. Not originally intended to be a race car, the F1 was perfect for the production-based regulations. Then, in 1997, Porsche created the 911 GT1, a mid-engine prototype with a handful of road cars made to homologate it for the FIA GT Championship. “Porsche built a racing car and forced us to do it,” McLaren designer Gordon Murray said in Driving Ambition. In 1996, Murray sketched what became the Longtail. The new car was 22 inches longer than earlier GTRs to increase downforce. McLaren built 10 race cars and three F1 GT road cars to satisfy homologation requirements. McLaren’s 1997 entries, run primarily by BMW Motorsport, won five races. But AMG won the remaining six with the radical CLK GTR, giving Mercedes the championship.

mclaren long tail

McLaren

B. 675LT (2016-2017): For its more track-focused version of the 650S, McLaren Automotive resurrected the Longtail moniker and built a car spectacular enough that you could forget it had nothing to do with the original Longtails. In fact, the 675LT was only 1.5 inches longer than the 650S. Hardly a Longtail, then. But it was nearly 300 pounds lighter than the base car. Numerous aerodynamic tweaks generated more downforce, and McLaren extracted 25 additional horsepower from its 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8, for 666 in total. This was a watershed car for the modern McLaren Automotive, the car that showed the company was fully capable of beating Ferrari at its own game. McLaren sold 500 675LT coupes worldwide, and 500 675LT Spiders in 2016 and 2017. The 675LT was such a critical and commercial success for McLaren that the company decided it would continue making hardcore LT variants.

mclaren long tail

McLaren

c. 600LT (2018-2020): The second modern LT applied the formula to the entry-level 570S. Compared to the base model, the 600LT was 212 pounds lighter, had 30 more horsepower, a stiffer suspension, ultra-sticky tires, more downforce, and a length increase of three inches. Oh, it also had top-mounted exhaust outlets that shot flames. Once again, there were coupe and Spider versions of the new LT, with the drop-top weighing 110 pounds more than its fixed-roof counterpart but no less excellent to drive. The 675LT was a tough act to follow, but the 600LT lived up to the Longtail name with a thrilling driving experience and performance that kept even the 720S honest. McLaren built more 600LTs than 675s, but the company won’t reveal sales figures, though it says fewer than 500 coupes and 500 Spiders made it to the U.S. While it’s the most common Longtail, a 600LT is still a rare sight.

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