In many cases, insurance adjusters say that all they are required to do is fix the damaged parts, which can create a non-matching Frankenstein car Pictures of a McLaren F1 that suffered an engine fire were all over the Internet last year. It was an ugly sight—and saddened every car collector who saw it. “Legal Files” is pleased to report that the F1 was saved. In fact, the owner and I just returned from a very suitable shakedown cruise in it through the Scottish Highlands. “Legal Files” had assisted the owner in the acquisition of this iconic supercar. Hours of seat time later, the owner and I had become good friends, and I was almost as attached to the car as he was. Handling the insurance claim and repair contract was a lot like representing family. Legal concerns The burned F1 was sent back to the McLaren factory in Woking, England for evaluation. My contact was Harold Dermott, head of Customer Service at McLaren. Dermott had been a part of the team that developed the F1 in the 1990s. Dermott reported that the car was repairable, but that it had been 12 seconds away from being totaled. “Come on, Harold, how can you possibly know that?” I asked. “Easy,” he replied. “The fire had just started lapping at a rubber fuel line. Ten more seconds to burn through, then two more to destroy the car completely.” It was happy news that the F1 could be repaired, but that raised a number of thorny legal issues. The rear of the car was close to destroyed, but the front was completely undamaged. The cockpit was largely whole, but it had suffered some smoke and water damage. In such a situation, it is easy to end up with a “Frankenstein” car—where the pieces don’t match. And, in many such cases, insurance adjusters can be adamant that all they are required to do is fix the damaged parts of the car. Help from McLaren My best ally in the negotiation was Dermott. McLaren has built a pretty impressive business taking care of the 100 existing F1s, and their pride and business interests make them want to do everything needed to keep the cars in “McLaren condition.” Also, the factory brokers the sale of many F1s, and they are called upon to certify the condition of the cars they help to sell. If this one came up for sale later, it would be awkward for them to criticize its condition because of problems they neglected to correct when they repaired the car. So, Dermott and I joined forces to protect the owner’s interests. Happily, that turned out to be unnecessary, as the Hagerty Collector Car Insurance adjusters were absolutely super. After going over the damaged car in person, they insisted that numerous otherwise undamaged components needed to be replaced because they wouldn’t match the repaired portions of the car. They suggested replacement of the entire interior because the smoke smell would probably never go away completely. The fire department hoses had flooded the engine, so a rebuild was ordered to avoid later issues. And every scratch and imperfection on the car was corrected, with new paint from end to end, to avoid any mismatches. Factory festivities Repairs began in late 2009, and completion was scheduled for early September of 2010. The owner was kind enough to invite me to join him to pick up the car, asking me, “Didn’t you say you had a friend in Scotland?” I certainly do. Tony Flint, longtime event organizer for the Porsche Club of Great Britain, who hosted a group of us at Le Mans several years ago (see Flint immediately designed a suitable route for us that covered most of the Scottish Highlands, made all our accommodations, and invited a nice group of friends to accompany us on the trip. Upon our arrival in London, we went directly to the McLaren Technology Centre for the grand presentation of the repaired F1. As we were having tea, the wall rotated away to expose the F1 in absolute new-car condition. Dermott showed me the extensive documentation of the reconstruction. Most impressive, the factory was well aware that the repairs to the carbon fiber tub would raise the most concern about the integrity of the finished car. They addressed that by performing a torsional rigidity test of the tub. Coming within spec was not enough; they also tested an undamaged F1, and plotted both test results on the same graph. The nearly imperceptible differences left little doubt that the tub was as good as new. We then took a tour of the Technology Centre. One first notices the excellent collection of race cars, starting with the Austin 7 that Bruce McLaren drove in his first race, then the Can Am cars, the Le Mans cars, and up to the Formula 1 cars. Then one notices the workshops where the Formula 1 cars are developed and maintained. They bear a close resemblance to clean rooms in a hospital. After the tour, we returned to the same meeting room. The F1 had been replaced by a great-looking Volcano Orange prototype of the McLaren MP4-12C that is expected to hit the market in 2011. The car bears some resemblance to the F1—and seems to share some of its DNA—but is altogether different at the same time, The car is expected to come in at under 3,000 pounds, with about 600 horsepower and an active hydraulic sway bar system that is full soft when going straight for ride comfort, but it increases in stiffness as the car turns. It should compete favorably in the $200,000 or so price category. Twisty two-lane driving At Flint’s suggestion, the F1 was transported to a resort in the Lake District of Northern England to avoid the traffic on the M Highways. The next day, we set out in a moderate rain and drove through the Scottish Lowlands, ending up at the Old Mill Highland Lodge at Loch Maree. The drive was more scenic than exciting—until we passed Inverness and gained some altitude. From that point on, the two-lane roads were sparsely traveled, in good condition and appropriately twisty. The scenery was spectacular. It’s easy to see why so many manufacturers bring their cars to the Highlands for testing. The following day, we headed north through Gairloch and up to Loch Assynt, then back to the Old Mill for the night. The weather cleared for good that afternoon, and we managed to find many opportunities to explore the performance of the F1. While doing so, we got a bit worried when the dash warning lights came on with a “service now” error signal. We called Dermott, who assured us it was likely a sensor gone bad, and said he would have a technician at the Old Mill by 8 am the next day. Ross Spence was already seated at the breakfast table at 8 am. When we asked if he was there to work on the car, he replied that it was already done. He had flown to Inverness the night before with two suitcases: one full of tools and the other full of spare parts and a change of underwear, checked in at 11 pm, woke at 6:30 am and replaced the defective lambda sensor. After breakfast, he replaced and reprogrammed the ECU for good measure, and followed us for the morning to make sure we were OK. We ended up in Oban for a last night on the road, then drove to Edinburgh to drop off the car at a storage facility to await a pickup by the factory. Untouchable performance All in all, we put about 850 miles on the F1, and it performed beautifully. The car is quite docile at slower speeds, and rides comfortably. The 12-cylinder BMW motor perks up at about 4,000 rpm, and explodes into full song and shove-you-back-into-the-seat acceleration at full throttle. The F1 is rock solid and tracks laser straight at 160 mph, which comes very quickly at the top of 4th gear. Passing slower traffic is easy, as you are travelling 20 to 30 mph faster by the time you pull alongside the car ahead, and easily pass 100 mph at turn-in. The F1 is far too valuable to fully test its handling characteristics. But every time we asked the car to change direction, it did so without hesitation and with excellent balance, making quite clear that it had greater capacity than we were willing to use. You can feel the car suck down to the pavement as speed increases, and you can feel the rear tires digging into the pavement on corner exits. The seating configuration is rather quirky. The driver’s center seat makes him the star and fully engages him in the driving chores. It helps an American with the vagaries of driving in the left lane, but it makes passing a bit awkward as you can’t see around the car ahead. The passenger seats are tight, and only thin people can sit comfortably for more than an hour or so. The weakest element of the F1 seems to be the brakes. They just never seem to slow the car quickly enough, but perhaps we’re asking a lot when we’re always at three-digit speeds. Gobs of attention This is not a car for shy people, and it draws a crowd wherever it goes. It gets photographed when moving as well as when standing still. When you pull over, other drivers stop their cars to see it. In Gairloch, a very prim and proper little old lady of at least 80 shuffled across our bow, looking down to make sure she didn’t trip on anything. As she passed in front of us, she glanced at the nose of the F1 and saw the McLaren logo. Without breaking her shuffle, she looked up, gave us a little smile and a big thumbs-up, and then quickly looked back down to continue shuffling along. Priceless.

Comments are closed.