An Evening With the McLaren MP4-12C

By Chris Haak

Before you get too excited, I should say up front that no, I did not get a chance to drive the new McLaren MP4-12C supercar just four days after driving an Audi R8 5.2 FSI Spyder.  If I did have that chance, it might well be in the top five greatest weeks of my life.  But instead, I did have the opportunity to sit in an MP4-12C for the first time, and to really look over the car pretty closely.  It really is an amazing piece of technology.

I was invited to attend the Philadelphia launch of the McLaren MP4-12C at the Kimmel Center on Broad Street.  Being from the area, of course I’d heard of the Kimmel Center before, but until now, had not yet taken the opportunity to visit this spectacular example of architecture.  I’m barely qualified to comment on vehicle design, and certainly even less qualified to comment on architecture, but the venue for the reception struck me as gorgeous.  The ten year old building is among the gems in Philadelphia, and serves as home to the Kimmel Center, Inc.’s facilities host eight resident companies: Verizon Hall is home to The Philadelphia Orchestra and to Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. Perelman Theater is home to PHILADANCO, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and American Theater Arts for Youth. The Academy of Music is home to the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

And then there’s the car: the star of the show last evening.  The MP4-12C, though of course it’s been already shown to the public (including on this site), and flogged by other journalists, still is not being sold in the US, so is kind of new to the Mid-Atlantic region.  To that end, it was covered in a sheet and tucked in the rear of the room until its unveiling.  Free drinks and Wolfgang Puck-catered appetizers set the stage for a charming evening.

Though the actual MP4-12C was covered by a sheet initially, right inside the door was the car’s bare chassis.  Even without its skin, the “bones” of this car are an impressive sight, not the least of which is its carbon fiber chasiss tub.  Just looking at this rolling chassis, it’s clear that the engineers at McLaren share their chairman’s excessive level of attention to detail.  Every single aspect of the MP4-12C has a part to play in the symphony of coming together as a relatively eco-friendly, high-performance, lightweight supercar.

I didn’t really know what to expect as far as who my fellow attendees would be.  I had anticipated that proper attire would be a suit, but when I asked the representative from the PR firm, she advised that business casual would be fine.  Fellow guests were wearing widely-varied outfits; some women were wearing evening gowns with their finest jewelry, some men were wearing suits.  A few guys had on tee shirts and dark jeans, and many were wearing business casual attire as I was.

Following a very brief presentation about the car – no more than five minutes long – by the company’s North American marketing director and by Robert DiStanislao, the dealer principal of McLaren of Philadelphia, the sheet was pulled back, and the car was “revealed.”  I must say, McLaren should show more of the MP4-12C in the display car’s silver/gray hue rather than the orange featured in many of its press photos.  Coupled with grayed-out wheels, the car was stunning, and looked almost menacing, despite there not really being an abrupt angle anywhere in its shape.

Too impatient to wait in line to sit in the driver’s seat, I opted instead to try out the shotgun position.  Entry for tall folks is not particularly easy unless you’re approaching the car from the rear.  The dihedral doors (also known as butterfly doors) open upward and forward, but their overhead clearance was a bit low, so when getting out of the car, I had to duck my head.  Then there’s the matter of stepping over the edge of the chassis tub, which is quite wide (roughly eight inches, I’d say) and as high as the seats.  No doubt that it provides amazing strength and crashworthiness, but it reminded me a bit of climbing into a C4 Corvette.  A curious material choice at the bottom of the doors was a mesh-like fabric that was a little too similar to the dashboard fabric in a Chevy Cruze.

The MP4-12C’s dash is wrapped in leather with contrasting stitching, and there are numerous interior configuration options available.  One very cool option is a factory-installed three-camera video recording system that allows you to record your travels (or laps) in the car for later analysis/sharing/laughing.

I overheard someone remark that the cargo area was too small to hold golf clubs.  I don’t golf, but the forward cargo compartment actually seemed to be reasonably spacious.  Perhaps it was a little too short on width for a golf bag or two, but it was quite deep.

At the reception, I found some of the most fascinating people-watching to be near the “briefcase” that contained the various color samples.  There were samples of each paint color choice, each interior fabric, leather, and stitch.  There were even samples of brake caliper paint and alloy wheel finishes.  It was standing by the configuration samples when I realized that I was a fish out of water at this reception.  Different from the typical wine-and-dine media-focused reception, I was one of very few media members at this event.  Most of the other attendees were potential buyers.  And they were far more wealthy than me.

My epiphany came as I watched a man pull a British Racing Green paint sample from the case, then I helped him find the McLaren Orange brake caliper paint, silver wheels, and cocoa and parchment leather samples.  Topping it off was parchment-colored stitching.  “Honey, look, this is the color I’m going to get.  What do you think?”  He then mentioned that he had a British Racing Green Ferrari already (I didn’t ask which model), and that BRG sports cars were his “thing.”  I told him that I liked the green, while the McLaren representative told him that she was unaware of anyone else ordering green at this point.  He would truly have a unique car.  Certainly, BRG fits better with the British-made McLaren than on a Ferrari.  What would Enzo say?

There will initially be just ten McLaren dealerships in North America.  All of them will be found in places that have large populations of wealthy people:  Beverly Hills, Chicago, Dallas, Greenwich, Newport Beach, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Coral Gables (called “The Collection.”)  McLaren Philadelphia will serve a broad geographic area, with the Greenwich store to the north and the Tampa one to the south.  My home is less than 20 miles from the dealership, yet I sadly don’t seem to be receiving any trickle-down effect of all of that wealth, despite my proximity to the Philadelphia Main Line.  Left unsaid is that for now, there will be no dealerships in middle America’s “flyover country.”

Considering the car’s capabilities and incredible near-Formula 1 technology, the starting price of $229,000 doesn’t sound all that bad.  Even as a bona fide car guy, it’s unlikely that I’d ever spend that kind of coin on a car, but I’m thankful that we live in a world where there are people who would, so that people like me can daydream about driving those kinds of cars, and can get a mere thrill from just sitting in the car’s passenger seat and touching its Alcantara headliner.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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