I can’t get hyper about hypercars. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a fast car. I mean, anything that’ll get me to the next set of traffic lights with a proper kick up the backside, is alright my me. I’ve even been known to travel at speeds in excess of 80mph on many European motorways. I know, I know, that’s just the kind of guy I am and I’m sorry, okay?
Given this penchant for speed, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m the sort of guy that would love to own the latest hypercars, assuming I’d had a lottery win, of course. Hypercars, in case you are wondering, are supercars with ‘extra’. If you’re feeling a bit crap, Beechams Powders works pretty well. But a hypercar isn’t just Beechams Powders, it’s Beechams Powders Flu Plus; these cars are the methadone of modern motoring, for people who need serious medication even when they have a mild sniffle.
Back in the early 1990s I was a lowly ‘grade C’ instructor at Peter Gethin’s Goodwood race school. On a normal day, being a ‘grade C’ instructor meant I was sitting next to heavily perspiring men who were breathing like Vader into an ill-fitting and smelly crash helmet. They were taking their ARDS tests. But on a better day, we’d be sitting with rich punters as they drove their supercars around the track, occasionally safely, but more often than not, terrifyingly badly. But these were the days when supercars only depreciated and nobody gave a shit. So, lots of people ragged them to destruction and gave them away to their poorer mates for the equivalent price of a Vauxhall Cavalier. Happy days.
Then one day, a guy called David Clark rocked up in a spaceship. He was sitting in the middle of the car and it burbled through the paddock with quiet efficiency and a surprising lack of drama. It was, perhaps, the automotive equivalent of a poisoned dart in a blow pipe, while the other cars were more your rubber-banded catapults. It was a McLaren F1. We looked inside the engine bay and there was gold. Real gold. It had 630bhp and it could do 0–100mph in 6.3secs and exceed 240mph if you took the rev limiter away. And in 1992 it cost ‘from’ £540,000. I bought a tidy two-bed, Victorian semi-detached house in Surrey around that time, and it cost £80,000.
Gordon Murray had been given a blank cheque to design a car that would beat all others. It would be lighter, a more efficient tool; more finessed, more nuanced, more capable, and a sharper weapon than any other car on the planet. Now, at the time, two things occurred to most of us: 1) who the hell needs THAT kind of performance? And 2) who the hell will pay THAT kind of cash? The answers weren’t immediately apparent, but in short order it became clear that this car was a legend in the making, and there was a ready market of super-rich clientele who fancied sticking one in the oak-framed garage or underground bunker. McLaren asked him to bring his race car design A-game to a road car brief. And he did. And it was epic. Even if at the time I thought it a remarkably uneventful looking machine, we had indeed witnessed the birth of the hypercar. Luckily for me, I have driven a McLaren F1, and I can tell you that I don’t need to travel any faster than that car is capable of moving. Not ever. Not even if my bi-folds opened straight onto the Bonneville salt flats.
But the F1 wasn’t enough, of course. The other manufacturers wanted to flex their egos and stretch their imaginations. They want to create things with ever greater degrees of madness and we, it seems, want to buy them. More wings, more turbos, more power, more brakes, more mind-bending speed. More excess, more technology, more money and more — dare I say — pointlessness. And McLaren is back in the game with the Speedtail, a controversial looking car (that I happen to like) that carries a £1.75 million price tag. It’s already making the P1 look like a Triumph Spitfire. In a recent social media exchange about the Speedtail (but about hypercars in general, actually. I’m not having a pop at McLaren), I described this bonkers arms race, thus:
Perhaps the world was a different place in the early 1990s. We were still working towards the automotive equivalent of Apollo 11. The F1 achieved the moon landing and most of what’s come since simply proves you can fly to the moon marginally quicker. If the traffic allows.
And anyway, it’s not lost on any of us that nobody actually drives these cars any more. The huge price tags and limited production numbers have secured them a future of (more or less) guaranteed financial appreciation, and to really nail the investment potential, it only really wants to have delivery mileage on the clock in 10 years’ time. And I’m not sure many grade C instructors will have the chance to steer them clear of tyre walls, either. More’s the pity. These cars are to polish (sorry — detail), and take five miles down the road, twice a year, when you hear of an event where they’ll be loads of Influencers on tap, ready to grab a snap of your pride and joy.
Actually, the whole subject reminded me of an occasion in 2014 when a client of mine was auctioning an HFL Kholod scramjet rocket, in London. Yes, I know. Look it up. If you have a picture in your mind, you’re probably very close. It’s a rocket. A proper one. At the time I wondered why anyone would buy it, and as I’ve been pondering this whole hypercar thing, I imagined the conversation the buyer might have had with one of his mates, once he’d got the rocket home.
It goes something like this:
Scramjet buyer: Check this out
Mate: What the hell is that?
Scramjet buyer: It’s a rocket, you twat. An HFL Kholod scramjet, actually.
Mate: Does it work?
Scramjet buyer: It probably could. Maybe.
Mate: Will you make it work?
Scramjet buyer: No, I don’t want to put any miles on it, do I? This is an investment
Mate: How fast does it go?
Scramjet buyer: Mach 6.47
(a few seconds of silence)
Scramjet buyer: Yeah. Sweet, right? That’s about 5000 fucking miles per fucking hour.
Mate: But what’s it for? I mean, why do you need it?
Scramjet buyer: Well, people will think I’m..
Scramjet buyer: Well yeah, but they’ll also think I’m..
Scramjet buyer: No, ffs. They’ll think I’m cool and a proper man about town. And thousands of young guys will photograph me with the rocket and post the pictures on the Instaweb. I’ll have thousands of mates I’ve never met, and people will talk about me in the pub. They’ll be envious of my perfect life
Mate: I see. Well, it all makes sense to me
Scramjet buyer: I mean, it’s the fastest fucking object to ever move within the earth’s atmosphere. Just knowing I have that performance at my disposal makes me feel good. It makes me the ultimate man. Like McQueen. Or David Gandy
Mate: Brilliant film
Scramjet buyer: What film?
Scramjet buyer: What?
Mate: Doesn’t matter. But anyway, it doesn’t work
Scramjet buyer: No. But who’d want to start it even if it did? I’m not stupid.
Scramjet buyer: Think I’ll get it wrapped though. It was only available in grey when new and I’m not a fan. Needs some carbon, too. I can Instagram the whole detailing procedure and win a few more friends on social. I’m pretty sure this rocket will tip me past 2000 Insta followers.
(short period of silence while they both stare at the scramjet)
Mate: Why don’t you take a photo of your wristwatch with the rocket in the background?
Scramjet buyer: Nice. Good idea