Why Building a Super Car is Like Going Hiking

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The key to a successful hike starts before you take a step out of your front door. It’s all in the build but especially the weight: backpack, shoes, clothing, camp gear, cooking supplies, food.  Go to REI and you can find everything measured out to exacting ounces, such as a day hike backpack made out of tear-stop nylon that weighs 10 oz. or a spork made from titanium alloy coming in at only .62 ounces.  Building a super car is very similar if you’re smoking the same drapes I clearly partake in.  All the following elements highly scrutinized for the performance aspects they will provide and especially the weight.

Backpack = chassis
Clothing = body, interior
Camp gear = all the stuff you need to make things work
Cooking supplies = engine
Food = fuel
Shoes = wheels, tires, brakes

From the MP4-12C press release:


Adding lightness
Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions – everything. McLaren Automotive engineers pursued weight saving obsessively. For example:
— The Carbon MonoCell not only reduces the weight of the structure but also allows for the use of much lighter weight body panels.
— The close position of the driver and passenger allows a narrower, lighter body while giving improved visibility with a clearer perception of the car’s extremities.
— Brakes with forged aluminium hubs save 8 kg and weigh less than optional carbon ceramic brakes.
— Lightweight exhaust pipes exit straight out the rear of the car, minimizing their length and weight.
— Airflow-assisted Airbrake deployment dramatically reduces weight of the Airbrake activation system.
— Small, compact downsized engine coupled to lightweight compact SSG minimizes vehicle length, weight and polar moment of inertia.
— Significant weight was pared off the alloy wheels through intensive Finite Element Analysis of wall thicknesses.
— The engine cooling radiators were mounted at the rear, as close to the engine as possible, to minimize the pipework, the fluids contained within them, and therefore weight. They were also mounted in car line to minimize vehicle width.

“We have spent most of the programme ‘adding lightness’,” said Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive Programme Director. “If the cost of reducing weight brought performance gains in speed, handling or economy, we did it. However, if the expense could deliver improved performance elsewhere we didn’t pursue it. We never set weight targets as such; we set cost-to-performance targets and examined everything in this way.

Now the last time I built a super car it, I was twelve.  The glue seeped from the seams, the tires didn’t spin straight and the decals were crooked.  It took me twice as long to build it as the instructions said it would but that didn’t stop my drive to completion.  The last time I did a meaningful hike we climbed Mt. Whitney – 14,492 ft. to the summit.  The backpack and I didn’t fair much better than my model.  The clothes and camp gear burst from the seams, my wheels feel off as we reached the top and I walked crooked for days.

McLaren on the other hand has done something unique, timeless and with the aid of adrenalin, driven it into our memory banks like our first model or climb to the summit.  They’ve done it not once but twice, by scrutinizing every little detail down to the ounce.  In 1993 with the McLaren F1 that weighed 1,140 kg or 2,513 lbs and now with the MP4-12C weighing in at 3,000 lbs.  If it seems like I’m boiling down a hugely successful race and production car company to the two cars that made an impact on me… well I am.  Now if I could only lose a little more weight so I can squeeze into my new super car, that would be swell.          

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