CAR Magazine, January 1997: Out of the red … into the black
How the McLaren F1 became profitable
Even at £634,000, McLaren didn’t charge enough for the F1. Revisit our feature from January 1997, where Michael Harvey looks at why the car didn’t do the business – and meets Derek Waelend, the ex-Ford cost-cutter who save McLaren Cars’ bacon.
A little under a year from now, the McLaren F1 will be history. The plum and grey composite shells currently bringing up the rear of the production line in Woking carry chassis numbers 77 and 75. Eight of the ugly new, long-tailed GT race cars follow, at least one of which must be a road car. Then come a further 15 regular F1s. And then… Then nothing.
From Ron Dennis down, McLaren folk talk about ‘the next project’, but it’s not client confidentiality that’s stopping them from saying more. There just isn’t any more to be said. Right now, officially, there is no second project.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be. When McLaren cars was founded back in March 1989 (technically it had already been around for three years as TAG McLaren R&D), Ron Dennis, TAG McLaren chairman, said he wanted it to be more than just a one-project wonder. ‘I’d like to think,’ he said at the time, ‘we’re starting a new British car company…’
Dennis recognised that, with five world titles behind it, the McLaren name was ready to earn money outside grand prix racing. An electronics company, a marketing services operation and a road car would all enhance the McLaren name and reduce its dependency on motorsport and cigarette money.
But the F1 was created primarily to make money for Dennis and his partners, the enigmatic Oijeh brothers of Riyadh. Back then, before Black Monday, there seemed no end to demand for 200mph, £200,000 supercars; Dennis, stuck in the small world of F1, wasn’t to know what was around the corner. He had every reason to believe his design team, led by Gordon Murray, would trump everyone’s aces, Ferrari’s included …
- Michael Harvey / CAR Magazine / January 1997
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