McLaren P1 | PH Used Buying Guide

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Key considerations

  • Available for £1.1 million
  • 3.8-litre V8 petrol twin-turbo with electric assist, rear-wheel drive
  • 900+ horsepower, nearly 1,000 in later versions
  • Rabid performance allied to nailed handling
  • Easily drivable at normal speeds
  • An ‘event’ car that has deprived hard drivers of the power of speech

OVERVIEW

Astronomy is a window onto a never-ending series of cataclysmic events. In the league table of those astronomical events, the supernova is the most spectacular. The explosion of a star takes just fifteen seconds, but the effects are felt for a very much longer time. Supernovae are brighter than entire galaxies, not just when they go off but for months afterwards.

The McLaren P1 was a motoring supernova. Revealed at the 2012 Paris motor show, two years after McLaren Automotive declared itself open for business, it wasn’t marketed as the modern replacement for the motherlode F1, but everybody made the comparison anyway.

375 cars were scheduled. It was a fast-track process in every sense. McLaren proudly claimed that it got cars into owners’ hands before rivals running similar projects (Ferrari La Ferrari, Porsche 918 Spyder), despite having started after them. The first P1 went to its owner in 2013. The last one was driven out of McLaren’s Woking HQ at the end of 2015, and that was the end of that. Except that it wasn’t. A small number of one-offs and limited editions came out in years to follow, not just maintaining but building the legend.

The entire P1 allocation for America, Asia and the Middle East was snapped up early on. European sales weren’t quite as immediate thanks to economic uncertainty on that continent, but the sale of an F1 for $8.5 million in Pebble Beach and news of the P1’s circulation of the Nürburgring in under seven minutes reignited interest in the marque and allowed McLaren to announce series sellout in November 2013.

Throughout its two-year ‘live’ existence, journalists struggled to do justice to the P1. It wasn’t their fault. Words that properly encapsulated the thrilling violence of the performance were hard to find. One picture really was worth a thousand words, especially if that picture was the driver’s face contorted into a curious mix of wide-eyed elation and barely concealed terror.

P1 performance numbers started off silly and become sillier the deeper you went. 0-62 in 2.8sec was obviously fast but, you might say, nothing particularly special in the world of hypercars at that end of the acceleration table, where the law of diminishing returns begrudges even the best driver every hundredth of a second. All-electric cars were demonstrably quicker in the short run, but they couldn’t maintain that over longer times or distances, or at higher speeds. The P1’s petrol/electric hybrid setup dished out eye-watering performance at pretty much all the speeds within its compass – 0-124mph in 6.8sec and 0 to 186mph in 16.5sec – and would do so in an unrelenting fashion until the tank ran dry. IPAS was a perfect acronym for the overtaking power conferred by massive turbos assisted by an electrical KERS torque-filling booster system that could be accessed either automatically on the pedal or manually.

Although no tests were carried out to establish it one way or the other, it may well have been physically impossible to yawn in a P1. It was ridiculously fast, but a nailed-down chassis with hydraulically linked adaptive dampers and race car levels of downforce meant that it was also sensibly fast. Even though it was technically capable of far greater speeds than the 217mph it was capped to, McLaren coolly chose to forsake the cor-blimey top speed headlines that other marques were happy to chase in exchange for skirting around the hard to manage and potentially damaging heat-generation issues that plagued hybrid powertrains operating at this rarefied level. That spirit of pragmatism echoed nicely with the maximum efficiency, minimum ornamentation philosophy of the F1.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the F1 GTR’s Le Mans win, McLaren revealed a concept P1 GTR at Pebble Beach in 2014. The real thing came along in the actual anniversary year of 2015. Like Ferrari’s FXX it was a track-only limited edition. You had to be an existing P1 owner in order to qualify as a buyer. You also needed £2 million to get one, give or take, though that price did include entry into a global owners track day series with personal fitness, nutrition and driver training available if required. Unlike the Ferrari, which would be loaded up on a lorry after the event and taken back to the factory, you were allowed to take your GTR home.

The GTR spec included a new exhaust, a new fixed rear wing with DRS capability, a new fixed ride height, a racy interior and, crucially, slick tyres. McLaren acknowledged that the ‘standard’ P1’s tyres were the car’s weak link. Weight was down by 50kg, power was up to 1,000hp, and the top speed was slightly uncorked to 225mph. The shortening of the 0-62 time was understandably minimal at a couple of tenths or so, but the most shocking stat was the ten seconds a lap the GTR took out of the P1 on the Losail track in Qatar – a hell of a chunk on a 3.3-mile circuit.

Although McLaren said that a high proportion of P1 owners were proper drivers rather than collectors, it soon became apparent that some potential GTR buyers were more interested in investment than racing. Not every phase 1 GTR option was exercised, so a somewhat cheaper version was made available that left out the track day part of the deal. The number of GTRs made is shrouded in mystery to some extent. Some sources quote 58, others 34. What does seem clear is that 27 GTRs were eventually made road legal by F1 specialists Lanzante Motorsport, who were behind that 1995 Le Mans win.

Lanzante went on to order six more GTRs for conversion into road legal LMs. These LMs had slightly larger displacement engines and were 60kg lighter again than the GTR thanks to the removal of the air-jack lifting system and the widespread use of lightweight materials like polycarbonate for the windows and Inconel for the exhaust headers and cat pipes. The aero design was modded for extra downforce, top speed this time being limited to 214mph. In the hands of Kenny Brack, the prototype XP1 LM tackled the Goodwood hill in 2016’s Festival of Speed. It destroyed the road car record by three seconds. In 2017 Brack used the same XP1 to set a new road car record for the Nürburgring at 6m 43s.

Six years after production of that first run of 375 finished, the P1’s cosmic ripple effect is still being felt today thanks to the ‘leave them wanting more’ brevity of that initial run and the existence of high-credibility firms like Lanzante who kept the dream alive afterwards. Six more road legal GTRs were announced by Lanzante as recently as 2020.

The process of buying a P1 was an experience in itself. First, your application would have to be accepted. If you were looking to make a killing by flipping it, McLaren would probably flip you as they wanted their P1s to be driven rather than transacted. If you were accepted, an initial deposit of £100,000 or so would result in the arrival at your home of a framed and numbered lithograph of a yellow P1. Within the next three weeks you had to commit to your purchase by transferring a non-refundable second deposit of £200,000 to McLaren to secure your production slot and book your trip to Woking to take a tour of the HQ. This included one-on-one chats with the engineers, shopping for your bespoke MSO bits and bobs in the MSO, and a video presentation featuring the bloodcurdling din of a P1 which ended with a wall sliding away to reveal that the din was actually coming from a real-life P1.

The day after that you would be taken to Dunsfold for a day’s driving tuition. Back home, you would receive a 1:32 scale solid metal casting of a P1 painted in the colour of your real P1, with your name and your car’s chassis number marked on the base. The last gift as the handover date approached would be a 1:8 scale model. As a used P1 buyer you won’t get any of those experiences, but you’d like to think that at least some of the prezzies would be passed on with the car. It’s certainly worth asking about them.

The wide take-up of MSO options by P1 buyers usually took the new car starting price of £866,000 beyond £1 million, but either figure now looks like very good value because P1s have appreciated. At the time of writing, we couldn’t find any for sale in the UK below £1.1 million. GTRs and the like will usually be double that and counting. P1 prices generally will to some extent depend on the story behind an individual car. For example, going back in time to the start of the project, fourteen ‘XP’ prototypes were built. XP05 was one of the few that survived the arduous test programme. It was mainly used for transmission and fuel injection development before being converted to a GTR in 2015 for show duties at Geneva and New York. After that it was stripped back to its shell, painted orange and sold in final-year production spec to its first private owner. They sold it 300 miles later in 2017. Two years after that, with just 53 more miles covered, it appeared on Tom Hartley’s website at £1.35 million.

P1 mileages are interesting. McLaren said that most P1 owners were enthusiast drivers, but of the eleven P1s currently on PH Classifieds – the biggest selection on offer in the UK – the leggiest (and also the cheapest) P1 had recorded fewer than 4,000 miles. Only three of those eleven cars had broken into four figures. Go, er, figure.

SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN P1

Engine: 3,799cc V8 32v twin-turbocharged, electric motor assist
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm + 177 electric
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm + 192 electric
0-62mph: 2.8 secs
Top speed: 217mph
Weight (kg): 1,395
MPG: 22.1
CO2: 194g/km
Wheels (in): 9 x 19 (f), 11.5 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 245/35 (f), 315/30 (r)
On sale: 2013 – 2015
Price new: £866,000
Price now: from £1,100,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.

ENGINE & GEARBOX

Looking at the basic specs – 3.8-litre, twin turbo – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the engine was a straight 12C unit, but the 900hp-plus P1 was on another level. The turbochargers were bigger, running at up to 2.4 bar, and the block was different, both for extra strength and to make provision for an electric motor to be bolted to it in more or less the same place as the starter motor was on the 12C. The e-motor worked as the starter in the P1, saving weight as well as generating torque to ‘fill in’ for the P1’s bigger turbos.

The electrical systems added around 200kg to the weight, but the fill-in worked so well with the traction control to make the very best use of that torque that it was a trade well worth making. At 4,000rpm and a mid-level throttle position you wouldn’t be using any electric power and the batteries would start to recharge. You didn’t have to rely on braking for that. You could select your favourite individual suspension or powertrain mode via two control knobs on the centre console, or you could synchronise them by arranging your first two digits into a Churchillian V-sign and pressing both knobs simultaneously. The DCT transmission’s gearshift paddles were fixed to the wheel rather than to the steering column (as in the LaFerrari). Whichever system you favoured, running the P1 drivetrain in auto mode with the chassis in full soft was not only perfectly feasible, it was a very relaxing way of going stupidly fast. The balance of torque and chassis was imperious.

The noise of the P1’s 3.8 V8 was less soulful than the 6.3 V12 of the LaFerrari, but on British public roads the 1,395kg McLaren felt less intimidating than the 1,585kg Ferrari. Track-going owners have mentioned having to change engine mounts, but otherwise there are no obvious or known issues with the IC drivetrain.

In electric-only e-mode you could get around five miles out of the batteries. To access the powertrain for servicing, a mechanic would have to remove the entire rear body panel and then put on a fully-grounded suit and anti-shock gloves to avert the unpleasant possibility of a 600 volt buzz from the hybrid system’s stored energy. There have been rumours of hybrid battery failure in year two or year three. If not done under warranty, rectifying this would have cost over £100,000 including installation.

The hybrid charger that was supplied with the P1 has been known to flatten the normal 12V battery. Normal servicing costs reflect the price of the car but should still come in at under £2,500 a year, which in the general scheme of things doesn’t sound too bad.

CHASSIS

‘Point and squirt’ is a phrase we all understand to describe a car’s ability to hit a given line going into a corner, to fire out of that corner, and to brake in a stable and secure fashion for the next one. If there was some way of measuring that, not just by the quantities of point and squirt on tap but also taking into account the overall balance of the blend, the P1 would be a tough car to beat.

The P1’s carbon fibre MonoCage chassis was five times stronger than a titanium one would have been. The hydraulically linked adaptive damping suspension attached to it was essentially a high-spec version of the 12C’s but without that car’s rear anti-squat ‘Z bar’ and no anti-roll bars. Other key differences with the P1’s system were an adjustable ride height for track use and the ability to adjust spring rates hydraulically. Cycling the P1 through its chassis settings from Normal to Sport and Track progressively stiffened up the chassis and changed the active aero configuration. The ‘Normal’ ride in the P1 was similar to the 12C’s in Sport mode and was still more than practical on the road. The diff was open but there was an accurate brake-generated LSD effect. A lift system was incorporated to get you over the humps on the back streets of Knightsbridge.

Pressing the Race mode button triggered a bigger transformation, a half-minute piece of theatre that lowered the car by 50mm, stiffened up the suspension by ‘a lot’ (McLaren’s chief test driver Chris Goodwin ventured that it might be up to 300 per cent, depending on the circumstances), brought the active aero flaps inside the diffusers just behind the front splitter into the game, and whirred the rear wing up on its meaty rams, signaling the car’s intent like a Jolly Roger flag on a pirate ship. You weren’t supposed to deploy Race mode on public roads. Not on American public roads at any rate. Not sure about UK ones.

Drivability in general was a key consideration for the P1 engineers and especially for Goodwin. It wasn’t just about the car’s ability to come to a halt from 190mph in a whisker over six seconds: the feel of the brake pedal and the immediacy of the throttle response were deemed to be vitally important, not just at maximum effort but also when you were going to the shops, if that was what you needed to do.

The 390mm front, 380mm rear carbon brakes, made by Akebono for McLaren, were actually carbon-silica. They were faced with silicon carbide, a rare commodity on Earth but quite common in outer space apparently. It’s also one of the hardest substances you can find on the planet, so there’s a distinct probability that P1 discs will never need replacing, especially in view of the low mileages that most P1s do. Some owners bought spare disc and pad sets and ended up flogging the discs when it became clear that the original ones weren’t wearing out. A set of pads will be over £10,000, which sounds high, but again these last for a very long time even on tracked P1s. Obviously you must factor low average mileages into all this, but even so it’s good to know that a decent level of endurance was built into the consumables.

That didn’t go quite so much for the Pirelli Corsa tyres which were specially developed for the P1. These worked very well despite the inevitable compromises demanded by the car’s freakishly wide operating range, from high-friction, high-temperature track work to slithering around the North Circular in November. Trofeo R tyres were recommended for track work. The rears in particular would take a beating whichever spec they were. US-based owners doing plenty of warm-weather track days have reported using as many as five sets in 10,000 miles.

The Pirellis weren’t especially wide, but the upside was that they made the car civilised on normal roads and not a slave to cambers. In terms of pure feel, the steering may not have been Exige-sensitive, but the consensus was that it was perfect for the car. It was beautifully light at low speed.

BODYWORK

The extra weight of the P1’s electrical systems had to be offset in every way possible, and not just by the all-consuming use of carbon fibre. That was a big part of it, but the quest for lightness went further.

To minimise the number of fastenings and the amount of adhesive used, the body consisted of just five panels. (If you wanted to, you could change the colour of your P1 simply by ordering up a new set of panels for £200k or so.) To save 1.5kg, no lacquer was put on the cabin’s carbon trim. Seats were 10.5kg carbon shell seats on lightweight brackets. The 3.5mm glass used for the front screen was thinner than the 12C’s. Even by ceramic brake standards, the P1’s were incredibly light.

For some elements of the P1, designer Frank Stephenson was reportedly inspired by a sailfish he saw while on holiday in Miami. Fish are very good at moving through a fluid medium, as was the P1, but no fish developed 600kg of downforce at 160mph. That was on a par with GT3 racers of the time.

The famous ‘rear side window that wasn’t a window’ was actually a carbon fibre ducting panel leading to an intake. Stephenson’s rationale for not making it out of glass, apart from weight reduction, was that from the outside it would have provided a view of nothing more outstanding than the battery pack and fuel tank. From the inside it did nothing for over the shoulder visibility, but the shape of the car made it doubtful that glass would have really improved that. More importantly for something that went a great deal faster forwards than backwards, the depth of the windscreen and the low dashtop line provided a great view ahead, and the tinted glass roof fended off any tendency towards claustrophobia.

We found just one P1 recall, which was on 132 P1s in the US for incorrectly engaging secondary latches that could allow the bonnet to pop open.

INTERIOR

If you’re familiar with the fitness for purpose of an executive jet, you would feel entirely at home in a P1. Its carbon ambience was purposeful to the point of inspirational. Owners who equated a car’s specialness with the number of dash buttons it had might have given it a wide berth, but less insecure types appreciated the simple, scalpel-sharp symmetry of the controls.

The carbon fibre/Alcantara steering wheel incorporated buttons for the IPAS and DRS rear wing, and there were four display modes on the three TFT screens. The seatback angle was fixed at 28 degrees, which sounds potentially dodgy, but McLaren researched it to death and found it good, and it is good. You sat closer to the passenger in the P1 than you did in the 12C to keep the mass (that’s you and your friend) as centralised as possible.

Soundproofing wasn’t really a thing in the minimalist carbon-tubbed P1. There’s some exhaust boom on the motorway, and if you drive on a road that’s just been gritted there’ll be a bit more gritting going on in the cabin, in the area of your teeth, as the absence of carpets does nothing to mute what can sound like a handful of screws going round in a tumble dryer. Luckily the sound quality of the P1’s Meridian stereo was brilliant.

PH VERDICT

It would be easy to look at the spec sheets of a lesser McLaren and come to conclusion that the P1 was just a hopped-up 12C. Because it’s as easy to drive normally as a 12C, you might even still be thinking that after a day spent pottering around in a P1.

However, those who have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to drive a P1 abnormally will tell you that a gulf separates the two cars. Clarkson called it a game-changer and a new chapter in the history of motoring. Harris could barely talk during his first full-on outing in it, but he did manage to say ‘this is new’ a lot. McLaren’s chief test driver Chris Goodwin described the P1 as the most amazing driving experience he’d ever had, high praise from someone who had not only successfully raced McLaren GT3 cars but also driven all the McLaren Formula 1 cars from the 1980s up to the time of the P1.

You may have noticed a creditable lack of ‘common P1 problems’ in this story. Conspiracy theorists might conclude that some sort of evil code of silence has been agreed between owners and McLaren. Others might conclude that the P1 is extremely reliable. Given the fanatical build quality standards at Woking and the fact that typical mileages are so low, it could easily be the latter.

So, comforted by the obvious excellence of the car and by its rising value curve, with none of the softening that was expected when the Senna arrived, you are now a believer. What’s available to buy?

As noted earlier, three out of four P1 customers went in for a fair degree of bespokery from McLaren’s Special Operations division, so the chances of running into two identical P1s are Lottery win-low. Here’s the bargain P1, a nicely understated year-one car in white referred to as a ‘Netto’, which draws a bit of a blank here but doubtless a marque fan will enlighten us. Yours for £1,099,950.

There are a couple of POA cars in the PH selection, including this delivery mileage 2015 car in a Gulf Oil paint scheme. Of the cars owning up to a price, this 204-mile 2014 car looks like value at £1.3 million exactly. Refreshing that they don’t insult the buyer’s intelligence by calling it £1,299,995.

This 230-mile GTR is the dearest P1 on offer just now at a little (if you classify twenty grand as little) over £2.8 million. Against that, this privately owned 750-mile GTR at €1.75m looks cheap but you’ll need to knock three times and ask for Alphonse to begin the journey of finding out about it.

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