Twenty years ago McLaren scored a famous victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not only was the McLaren F1 GTR essentially a converted road car competing against purpose-built sports prototype racers, but it was also the first entry by McLaren in the world-famous endurance race. Despite this, McLaren finished 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th, and remain the only manufacturer to win Le Mans at their first attempt.
How did they celebrate? They sprayed champagne on the podium – as every winner does – and held a party for all the customer teams that raced an F1 GTR at Le Mans, whilst also building a road-legal version of the victorious McLaren. A barely sanitised version of the 24-hour race machines, it was lighter and more focused than the road-going McLaren F1, actually even more powerful than its competition compatriot from the track, and rarer than both. It was the McLaren F1 LM.
‘After Le Mans, and the win, and after the euphoria had died down, I started thinking we should do something to celebrate,’ remembers former McLaren Cars Technical Director Gordon Murray. ‘And as the road car had gone to Le Mans and won, what about making a road version with the kit from Le Mans? We’ve got the kit, made the wing, made the bodywork, got the engine that revs higher, so why not put it into a limited edition?’
From the outset it was clear that this was not going to be a cosmetic exercise, a Le Mans edition in name only. ‘It was a very hardcore road car,’ says Barry Lett, Chief Designer on the McLaren F1 GTR, and now Chief Designer of McLaren Future Vehicle Platforms. ’It had to be homologated to go on the road, but we tried to keep the essence of what had been achieved at Le Mans. It was lightweight, and featured lots of the racing parts that could be fitted onto the road car.’
Those parts included a ground-effects underbody, unique front bodywork, a rear diffuser and a carbon fibre rear wing engraved with the legend ‘GTR-24 Heures du Mans Winners 1995’. The wheels grew in width, and from 17in to 18in in diameter, while the gearbox contained racing-style straight-cut gears.
Inside the pared-down cabin, a carbon fibre race seat for the driver was flanked by two passenger seats moulded into the car’s carbon fibre monocoque. Perhaps the F1 LM’s most striking feature, though, was an engine built to the specification of the GTR race cars, but without the power-sapping air restrictors that racing regulations required them to run. While the road-going F1 produced 627bhp and the F1 GTR racer 600bhp, the F1 LM’s unfettered 6.1-litre V12 produced an incredible 680bhp at 7800rpm.
‘If you do the sums, a McLaren F1 LM has the same power to weight ratio as a McLaren P1™,’ explains Gordon Murray, ‘So it was a really quick motor car. You think you’ll never feel the difference. I mean the F1 was so quick anyway, you’re never going to feel 50bhp and 80kg, but the first time I took it out I went up to about 150mph and just couldn’t believe how much quicker it was than the standard road car.’
All six cars constructed (five for customers, plus XP1 LM) came painted in the orange with which the F1 LM is most closely associated. ‘I had picked the colour scheme for all the F1 GTR prototypes,’ says Gordon, ‘so in ’95, I introduced orange from the old McLaren Orange from Bruce McLaren’s days, so that was orange and silver. Then we went bright red with a great big yellow “GTR” for the ’96 car. And with the 1997 Longtail we went completely bananas with the squiggly stuff. So with the F1 LM, I thought it would just be a fitting tribute to Bruce to go back to McLaren Orange.’
Today, those orange F1 LMs are among the most recognisable of all McLaren F1s, the car itself revered as among the purest of all translations of a racing car for road use – the irony being, of course, that the F1 had never been planned as anything other than a road car.