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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 10:04AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

In the course of automotive history, there have been thousands of cars that have elicited almost as many emotions from us. Some cars, like the Edsel or the Pontiac Aztek, make us cringe and wonder if the best thing those designers ever created was their resume. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, are the cars that we simply love instantly like the Tri-Five Chevrolets or the first generation Thunderbird. Then there are cars that simply blow our minds with their combination of speed and beauty. Cars that blend the perfect mix of power, and esthetic appeal are few and far between, but when they do come along, they ingrain their images in our memories forever. One of the best examples of these cars is the very first McLauren F1 created by Ameritech.

The F1 debuted in 1992 and continued production until 1998 and was created with one purpose in mind: To be the greatest car in the history of cars. Ameritech commissioned BMW's M-Division to hand-build a 6.1-liter, all-aluminum naturally aspirated V12 that would wind all the way up to 7500 rpm. Due to the extensive use of carbon fiber, heat insulation from the engine compartment had to be top priority, so designers used the best heat reflector they could get their hands on: Gold foil. The engine produced a massive 627 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque, thanks to an incredibly high 11:1 compression ratio and variable valve timing, thanks to a version of BMW's VANOS valve timing system.

Aside from the gold foil-lined engine compartment and its butterfly-style doors, the F1 had yet another signature design aspect that put it on the map—a center-mounted single driver's seat with two passenger seats on either side and set slightly back of the operator's seat. Designers felt that this obviously would help maintain the car's balance. Designers were beyond meticulous when it came to the F1 in order to achieve their goal of building the best car of all time, and it paid off in spades when it came to performance.

Most 600-horsepower cars of the mid-late 1990s were nothing short of Pro-Stock cars. But the F1 was a car that could be driven daily, if one were so inclined, although piloting a car that was capable of a 0-60mph sprint of 3.2 seconds,

0-100 mph in 6.3 seconds seems like more temptation than most of us could handle day-to-day. The F1 rocketed through the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds at 138 mph on its way to setting the land speed record for a production car at 231 miles per hour, one that would not be broken until the quad-turbo, 1001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron came around in 2005. Thanks to big unassisted vented and cross-drilled custom Brembo brakes with 235/45/ZR17 front tires and massive 315/45/ZR17 rear tires, the F1 could stop from 60 mph in 127 feet, and from 80 mph in 215 feet, both figures were almost exactly the same as a Lamborghini Diablo.

Of course all of this performance came at a hefty price. As tested the McLauren F1 would require a cool $1,131,120. The first million-dollar production car was also the first car that seemed to almost justify its cost with its scarcity, performance, and attention to detail. Only 106 examples were built, 64 of which were the street version, five LM models were made (the LM was a slightly more race-ready version), three were longtail GT models, five were street-model prototypes deemed XP, one LM prototype, and 28 were the GTR race cars.

So with just over 100 examples built over the course of six years and a price tag of over a million dollars, did Ameritech succeed in creating the best car of all time? Yes, and no. Yes, because quite honestly at the time of its production, the McLauren F1 was simply the ultimate expression of automotive dominance on just about every level imaginable. It had the acceleration, the speed, the comfort, and the exotic yet classic good looks of a car on a mission. The only down side and argument of why the F1 was not the best car of all time was with just 106 examples at over a million bucks a piece, it was essentially unattainable to just about everyone on the planet. And while some may argue that its scarcity is one of the factors that makes it such a wonderful car, yours truly would argue that the car I can drive is always better than the car I can't.


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