Of all the places to meet your hero, a dusty restoration shop in Seaside, California, is one of the most unlikely. It doesn’t get any more anachronistic than looking slightly disassembled McLaren F1 in a ramshackle warehouse, it’s like stumbling upon a big Hollywood beauty at knifepoint in a coffee shop; back roads c Monterey Car Week are far from Woking, England. This 1998 F1 has the number 059, which is also the number of the F1 race that won Le Mans, and it offered for sale by private auction with RM Sotheby’s on Saturday 20 August.
With only 64 road-going examples and 106 cars built, the F1 is considered by many to be the supercar to end all supercars. A steady increase in value confirmed this theory, with the latest sale (chassis #029) changing hands at Gooding & Company in a record-breaking auction $20.5 million in 2021. This sale was a fresh-to-death 243-mile example still wearing original Goodyear Eagle F1s and accompanied by a matching TAG Heuer watch — Platonic ideal for people with OCD, agony for those who truly love to drive.
The McLaren F1 authority known as Peloton25 (first name: Eric) suggests there was room for more, noting that “Gooding had been pointing those super-powerful blue LEDs at the car for a few days, and many people were under the impression that its beautiful brown paint was kind of purple.” Gordon Murray’s F1 — admittedly a one-of-a-kind XP3 prototype — fetched $25 million in a private sale last year. Also, he adds, George Harrison’s F1 changed hands privately last year for what is believed to be a sky-high sum. “I don’t can see the wire transfer but i was told the price for this car was over $35 million this is a one of a kind auction like the steve mcqueen prize that doesn’t reach all the others [F1] worth more than $35 million. But that’s where the market is going,” he adds.
RM’s newly implemented closed bid system adds a bit of mystery to the equation, as the sale amount will not be revealed until after the auction closes on Saturday, August 20th at 4:00 PM PT. This time the F1 in question (chassis #059) has a few more questions than the simple history of #029, given its rare recent use despite having covered 16,327 miles. The F1 has only accumulated about 100 miles in 10 years of ownership, some of which were required in the EPA certification process that took place when the car was federally registered in Texas in early 2013. Not exactly an encouraging figure for what some consider the greatest driver’s car of all time.
As one of the potential bidders pushed for more information beyond the ‘current sightings’ of the McLaren Philadelphia, documented on 29 July 2022, RM Sotheby’s decided to send a technical expert from renowned F1 specialist Lanzante Limited to take a closer look. For this particular investigation, Lanzante Senior Technician Jonathan Webb brought two checked bags full of gear (crammed in with a minimal change of clothing) from the UK to evaluate #059.
The lanky Brit knows his way around F1, having studied many road-going and race-prepped examples over the years. While his personal toolkit covers most of the essentials (including some F1-specific bits, such as an adapter to connect to the car’s now-archaic OBD system, eschewing the notorious Compaq LTE 5280 laptop), he had to borrow bulky items like Beverly Hills McLaren’s Huge Torque Center Lock Wheel Lug Wrench.
Webb navigates the eight-figure Magnesium Silver F1 efficiently, measuring tolerances with a caliper, peering into crevices with a flashlight and spotting signs of wear, neglect or malfunction, documenting every nook and cranny with cell phone snaps. Almost all of the needs noted in the 2012 report are still present, with 17 areas requiring attention, including suspension shocks in need of restoration, incorrect Pirelli tires (low-profile rear 335mm instead of 345s, as expected), the air conditioner does not blow cold, and various mechanical problems.
On the lift, the bottom of the F1 looks predictably flat with a thin seam between the carbon tub at the front and the carbon fiber tray at the back, held in place by 13 steel bolts because titanium would be too soft to screw on repeatedly. Four small rectangular wooden slides, the same ones you’d find under Formula 1 and Le Mans racers, offset the modernist look of the underbelly. If you look closely, you can see details like the tiny circular recesses where the pedal boxes were fixed for the original owner based on personal specifications.
A 2012 UK report (when mileage was recorded at 16,202) noted unique design features, including a one-off factory headlight assembly that eliminated the limited brightness of the stock setup by porting hardware from the BMW Z1, which necessitated the longer, much-loved brow bar or-hate-it above. This F1 is also one of nine cars fitted with the factory High Downforce kit, which adds a fixed rear spoiler, large 18-inch wheels (as on the LM and 1995/1996 GTR variants), brake cooling ducts on the spoiler strut, and remote sumps added to the Bilstein upheavals. Flaws noted in the description include a crack in the windshield (covered by an adhesive sunblock strip), some glass delamination, and various chips and scratches.
Examining the McLaren F1 section by section reveals a seemingly endless cascade of Easter eggs that distract from the very focused task of the review. Among the most obvious details is the rare sight of corroding gold foil, one of the most ironic metaphors built into a stratospherically expensive supercar. Webb notes that the gold foil insulation on the engine cover, firewall, catalytic converter cover, diffuser ducts, heat shields, brake cooling ducts and bulkhead is peeling and needs replacing, noting the recommended replacement interval of 10 years or so. To the right of the center seat are aluminum latches with “E” and “L” lettering that open the engine and luggage compartments – the latter of which releases the hinged door with a spacer to facilitate the opening mechanism. Underneath the car is the trunk exhaust, which uses air drawn in through venturi tunnels to create a vacuum for airflow. Also recessed into the space is an incredibly small anodized center spanner; there is another compartment on the left side of the car that stores spare bulbs and fuses, as well as a first aid kit.
Press the release button and the bifold door is released and slides up easily, light as a feather. The revealed cabin is a masterpiece of minimalism, featuring cool-to-the-touch metallic surfaces, carbon fiber surfaces and the famous central driver’s seat that looks directly at the giant tachometer and through an extremely deep, open-view windshield. F1 #059 features GT-style seats, whose Daytona-style black and red design was an upgrade from the standard equipment. Also non-standard was the steering wheel, a removable Nardi unit sold commercially as the Tornado 200. Peloton25 believes this is only one of seven or eight. The wheel is removed by means of a spring-loaded collar and includes small paddles actuated by the index fingers: one for the flash path, the other for the horn. The tiny petals click with satisfying feedback and draw from an internal 9-volt battery to power the infrared transponder. As with so many elements of F1 ownership, the battery has a shelf life regardless of use, requiring replacement every two years.
Which brings us back to the wants and needs of this rarely driven example. As McLaren Philadelphia’s Kevin Hines pointed out in his report, this F1 needs a fuel system service, a pesky engine demo that’s required every five years because the tank is made of a plastic bag like the race cars. Webb says that “while there,” it’s also time to service the engine, pull the transmission and measure things like clutch plate thickness. Pulleys and belts need to be replaced, as well as tappets checked, oil leaks checked, HVAC unit charged, etc., not to mention refilling the thermal protective gold foil. Incidentally, McLaren Special Operations now offers maintenance-free aluminum tank replacements, as does a supplier available through Dino Lanzante.
If all of this sounds like a lot, it is. But for a car potentially worth around $20 million, extensive maintenance is also a drop in the proverbial bucket, as Peloton25 points out.
“In 2015, chassis #005 escaped from the clutches of the Brunei royal family,” he says. “It needed a complete overhaul, just like this car, and probably sat even longer than this one. The bill from the MSO was about $120,000. This is the price of a very good BMW. But at the same time, it’s also less than 1 percent of the car’s value at the moment.” Fair enough.
Speaking of value, you can’t talk about the McLaren F1 without bringing up bargain prices – a trend that has tarnished the simple pleasure of driving a supercar. A prime example is F1 designer and guru Gordon Murray himself, who once said Top Gear that he sold his F1 because “it was getting a bit unplayable”.
Here’s another tragic moment to note: Peloton25 says, “If you look back at the 25thousandthe anniversary tour in 2017 had 22 cars; 30 this yearthousand there were about a dozen of them.”
After spending time with Webb during his inspection (and a few minutes in the driver’s seat dreaming of the greatness of the V-12), we head back to the Monterey Convention Center, where the F1 will be on display, and sit down to lunch on the sidewalk. in a nearby restaurant. Although we’re surrounded by Car Week’s typical collection of classic and exotic cars, one thing catches the crowd’s attention: McLaren F1 #059, propped up on the flatbed of an open-air tow truck, rolling down the boulevard. The buzz is immediate and palpable, it sweeps through the crowd like a wave, turning heads and eliciting expletives. “There goes 20 million dollars!” – says one viewer.
Or more. We may never know.