I was about 12 years old when I saw my first McLaren F1. Saw, not as millions of others did from the cover of a Road & Track issue, but saw, as in hearing my father say, “Hey, what’s that coming behind us?”, turning around, and watching the blessed Messiah of all exotic cars pass our Mercury Sable and literally part the interstate traffic.
We were mere miles from our home in Connecticut, and I was freaking out for another 20. No, Mom, that is not a kit car! It’s the fastest production car on earth.
At that time, I knew I had seen one of just seven McLarens in the entire United States, and I knew I would never see one again. I found out later that a company in Danbury, about 35 minutes away, was importing all the F1s from the factory in Woking, England, proof that Connecticut was the center of the universe.
In 2005, I witnessed the second coming of the F1 at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which was holding an exhibition of Ralph Lauren’s cars. I hardly moved from the velvet rope, despite Lauren’s impressive collection. Two sightings in one lifetime? This had to be the last time I would see an F1.
McLaren made roughly 100 road and race versions between 1993 and 1998, and it’s impossible to cite the exact number in the US today. Some people say there are more than 20; Chambers thinks there’s about a dozen. (And he should know. Jay Leno bought one after taking a ride with him.) Facebook groups and message boards claiming to document each McLaren try their hardest, but the owners of these cars rarely come up in the news unless one catches on fire or gets sold at auction for more than $4 million.
Last month, Chambers decided to drop his McLaren at his new BMW showroom in Sudbury, just 20 miles west of Boston. So I asked what anyone would in this rare moment, short of begging: can I please, please, please go for a ride? Chambers obliged, and on a sunny November I found myself holed into the F1’s left side, yanking the butterfly door shut, and trying to resist a hyper fit of feet stomping and flailing arms.
To be assaulted by such a high power-to-weight ratio, deafened by a 627 horsepower V-12, and stared at by every driver on the road is the car enthusiast’s reason for living. What, I wondered, would I do now for the rest of my life? The afterlife won’t be able to match being inside a McLaren at full-bore, running and running while the planet stands still.
For Herb and all the well-heeled car lovers with McLarens, here’s hoping, then, for a long life.