Issue 36 | In the Presence of Greatness – McLaren F1 GTR Longtail

We spend a surreal day on the road with Tom Hartley Jnr in what he describes as the greatest car of all time, a road-converted McLaren F1 GTR Longtail.

What do you love about the McLaren F1?

For me, the McLaren F1 is the greatest car ever built, which it’s widely regarded by many others as the same. This is a car that McLaren absolutely nailed right out of the box. It was their first road car, and they sat down, Ron Dennis, Mansour Ojjeh, Gordon Murray, Creighton Brown, and they decided that if they were going to create
a road car, it had to basically upset the already established supercar hierarchy.

What Gordon Murray did is he basically rewrote the supercar rulebook, which has never since been repeated. Not just on the fact that it was so much quicker than anything else at the time. Everybody is interested in the speed, but it’s the fact that it was so innovative; everything was specially designed for the car, right down to the Kenwood radio system, the special pieces of luggage, the gold foil on the engine bay to keep the heat down, and that central driving position.

The driving position is something that has obviously been repeated recently with the McLaren Speedtail, but that feeling that the driver gets, there’s no driver’s car like a McLaren F1. When you take time to consider what it was competing against in period, the likes of the Ferrari F50, it’s just in a different league, it is the ultimate driver’s car, and for me again, the greatest car ever built.

What makes 19R so special?

All McLaren F1s are very special cars. Of those, there were only 10 Longtail variants ever produced, and of those 10 cars, they reside in institutions; places like McLaren, Bugatti, the Gulf collection, and a couple of clients have all the variants — a GTR, a road GTR, a Longtail GTR — so to be able to have the opportunity to buy a Longtail McLaren F1 is a lot more special and unique than having the opportunity to purchase a road car.

This car was also the factory prototype, the development car. A lot of road F1s have been to Waitrose or Sainsbury’s or Walmart, this is a car that has actually done something. This was the first Longtail Gordon Murray penned, this is the car that created the other nine, this is the car they tested. My business is very much about selling collectible cars and we sell pre-war cars, vintage cars, and if you wind the clock forward another 20, 30, 40 years, and you have one of the Longtail cars that a privateer bought new and owned and raced, or you have one of the BMW cars, or you’ve got the actual factory prototype. This car, for me, is the car that McLaren should have probably retained in their ownership, but this car was sold on to one of their best and most successful privateer teams.

Today, this is one of only two factory prototype cars that is in private hands. The first short-tail GTR that won Le Mans is still retained by the factory, that’s chassis number 1R, and I don’t see that coming out of their ownership. The next factory prototype is the car that’s owned by renowned collector and musician Nick Mason who owns 10R, and then you’ve got this car, 19R, which is the only factory prototype Longtail.

Have you dealt in McLaren F1s before?

I’ve had a lot of experience selling McLaren F1s. I think I’ve probably bought and sold more McLaren F1s than anyone else; we’ve sold seven different cars in the last three years alone, and throughout the course of my career, I’ve sold quite a few of them. I’ve sold lots of different road cars including the very special, delivery mileage yellow car I bought from Japan in 2017. That was a fantastic experience and something I’m sure I’ll reminisce on for a long time to come. It was a car that nobody knew about, it was still with the first owner, it was still in all of the factory wrappers, never been driven. To get on a plane and fly to Tokyo, not be able to speak the language of the owner and the owner not be able to speak English, but still be able to sit down with an interpreter and manage to get the deal done was a lot of fun, and I can tell you in that 72 hours, I slept something like three hours.

Another deal that sticks in my mind is chassis 45 which I sold at the end of 2018. That was a fantastic road car in grey with grey interior. I sold it to a young gentleman in America and he said, “I’ll buy it off you on one basis. I’ve never driven a McLaren F1 before and I want you to hand it over to me on a racetrack”, so, we took over Monticello for the day, which is a private track just outside New York, and it was a fantastic day. We took a helicopter from the centre of New York straight to the track, he brought up some of his other cars, and his first experience of his new F1 was around Monticello.

There are so many other F1s. Because of the nature of the car, and because of my affection for the car, all of the deals stick in my mind. 14R, a short-tail GTR, belonged to a very good client of mine who I’ve been selling cars to since I was 14 or 15 years old, and I used to see the car all the time. I then sold that car to Adrian Newey. I remember delivering it to Adrian, and in the car, there was a plaque signed by Ron Dennis. Of course, Adrian Newey used to be part of McLaren and left to go to Red Bull, and when the car came off the transporter, he looked and said, “Tom, it’s absolutely fantastic, I love it, I’ve always wanted to own one, but we must maybe either cover that plaque up or remove that plaque!”.

Then he said, “Let’s go for a test drive”. Adrian is a good driver, but I was still very nervous because, even though he’d paid for the car, you never quite feel that the deal is done until you drive away, you’ve got your money in the bank and the client is happy. I was in the left-hand side, which is the only passenger seat on a short-tail GTR, he was driving it and I remember thinking, Adrian, just slow down a little bit, has the cheque definitely cleared? If you kerb the wheels, am I taking it home with me?

I’ve sold 19R in the past and 27R which was another Longtail F1. I last sold 19R in 2017 to a very good client, but he has since decided to go in a different direction with his collection, hence the reason this car became available.

Tell us about your experience driving F1s.

I don’t know exactly how many, but I’ve driven a lot of miles in F1s and driven several different cars around racetracks, both short-tail and Longtail cars. It was a lot of fun driving this Longtail around Donington recently with yourslelves and that was a fantastic day. Donington is a great track, and to have it to ourselves was pretty special

The differences between the road cars to the short-tail GTRs to the Longtails, they’re all very special in their own ways. A normal road car is easily the most usable because it’s the quietest to travel in, you have the luxury, the leather, Kenwood radio and air conditioning, even if it is ‘90s air conditioning.

They’re a very special car to drive, and there’s something that’s particularly cool about having two passenger seats, although it is such a driver’s car in the way it was designed, that without being unsociable, you don’t actually think about the two passengers and you don’t converse much because they’re behind you. It’s a bit surreal and very much driver-orientated. It would be very nice when my two boys get a bit older to do a road trip in a road car!

A short-tail GTR is basically a road car with a few changes. It had a great big rear wing bolted on, but to actually drive the car, it doesn’t drive that dissimilarly to a road car. It’s a little bit more responsive, it’s a better handling car but then you’ve got the balance of if you wanted to do a long journey, so they have their pros and their cons.

A Longtail GTR, on the track first of all, is way better. It feels so much quicker, there’s so much more downforce, and it really surprised me driving it on the road. The first Longtail I ever purchased was was 27R, and at that time, Dean Lanzante, who is a very good friend of mine and his workshops are just fantastic, he’s the guy you want to go to for servicing your McLaren F1, he asked what I thought of it to drive, and I hadn’t driven it yet, but he told me I would be super impressed when I did. I thought he meant around the track, but he said, “No no no, on the road, it’s fantastic”. He mentioned a guy we both know who owns 28R and uses it on the road all the time and he loves it.

You have to respect the car. If you look at Rowan Atkinson, he is very well known for having a couple of crashes in his car. One of them was super large and super expensive, and you have to really respect the car because of that, you want to be focused on the job at hand, but it definitely surprised me how usable this Longtail is on the road.

Tell us about the livery.

Colours make cars. When I sell ‘60s Ferraris, you can either sell them in resale red, or you get a very special Verde Pino or Blu Sera; colours make cars and they add so much more value to them, and is it the original colour, or did Jack and Bob at one time change the colour?

The current livery the car is presented in today is the original livery the car was launched in at the end of 1996. It’s the livery McLaren used for their sales brochure on the Longtail cars and how it all came about is that Gordon Murray wanted to highlight and show off to the press and the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche with their respective CLK GTR and 911 GT1s the improvement McLaren had made for the 1997 season, and accentuate the extended bodywork. To do that, they decided to paint the car in black and use these psychedelic accents to highlight that bodywork.

When the car left McLaren’s ownership, it was also raced in the grey and pink Lark livery which looks fantastic, and also raced in a yellow livery, and in the last few years it has been converted back into its original launch livery. You could choose any livery a car raced with in period and it’s kind of correct, but the absolute correct way of doing it is the livery the car was originally raced in or originally launched in when it left the factory, and that’s what this car is.

It’s know by everyone at McLaren as ‘Squiggles’, which I think is a fantastic name. It really suits the car, it has aged fantastically well. Some cars in certain liveries, over 23 years, might not age particularly well as fashions change, but everybody who sees this car in the flesh says, “Wow, that’s fantastic”, and if you wanted to, you could just remove the psychedelic stripes and you’d have a factory Jet Black McLaren F1 GTR Longtail prototype — ticks a few boxes!

Tell us about the starting procedure.

The starting procedure on a GTR can be a little bit intimidating if you’ve never owned a race car before and you’re used to just putting a key in the ignition and turning it or pushing a start-stop switch, but it’s very simple. You have all of your electronics to the right-hand side and in the middle of the electronics you have your master on and off. You switch it to on which basically is turning all the battery and electronics on, you’ve then got your fuel pump switch which needs to be on.

The car will give you some feedback immediately on the display unit on the dash; it will give you the oil temperature, water temperature, it will ask if you want to reset the fuel, but you don’t really want to reset the fuel, but you don’t really want to do that, because how it works is you know how many litres the tank holds and it shows you how many litres you’ve used until you reset it. So what I normally do is fill the tank to the brim, and then you know when you’re coming close to having to put more fuel in, or if you just put 30 litres in, you know when you’ve got to your 30 litres.

It will ask you to acknowledge the alarm, then you just press the starter button, it fires up and it’s fantastic. Then you can just sit there and just rev it and get all your joy and happiness from that!

What was the first road conversion of a Longtail?

19R was the first Longtail that was ever converted. The owner at the time, who is another SCD member, sat down with Dean Lanzante
and he wanted to know if it was possible to road convert his Longtail, and properly do so. Not cheat and somehow find a way to just get it UK road registered like some people on some cars do from time to time, but to actually properly, legally road convert the car.

Lanzante thought it would be possible, but it would be such a huge operation, that they only wanted to do it with Gordon Murray’s personal involvement. So, Lanzante approached Gordon Murray, he was up for the task, and it was quite fortunate that a lot of the team at Gordon Murray Design were at McLaren throughout the F1 project, so they already had a lot of product knowledge when it came to F1s.

They set about road converting it with loads of different changes; ride height, steering lock, fuel filler, exhaust, it was quite a big project, and they documented this whole conversion in a fantastic book that accompanies the car today. It talks about this particular car’s life before the conversion and the F1 project in chronological order.

Just like 19R was a development car back in the day, it has continued to be so as every Longtail that has been converted for road use in the last few years have all been based on 19R, so the car has a habit of being the development car. Also, all of the racing parts that were removed all accompany the car today, it has a huge spares package, and if somebody wanted to return the car to full race spec, even including the spec it raced with in Japan, it could very easily be converted back.

I have to be honest though, I’ve driven the car around the track as it is and it’s phenomenal even in road spec, and kind of the best of both worlds. You could stick a set of slicks on it as it is, enjoy it around a track, and then if you want to put your normal tyres back on, you can drive it home. The F1 is a car that could drive to Le Mans, win Le Mans, and then drive back home.

Tell us about 19R’s history.

We’ve spoken about many of the car’s attributes like its original launch livery, the fact that it was a factory prototype and development car, it was the first Longtail to ever be road converted and UK road registered, but it was born as a GTR Longtail. They were born to go racing, and I think what is very important with cars like this is race history.

This is a car that first raced at the Suzuka 1,000km in 1997, it raced 33 times throughout its life, and it was the last McLaren F1 to ever obtain an overall victory at a major international race.

Tell us more about what it’s like to drive on the road.

I was still a little bit skeptical because it’s an out-and-out race car. Yes you’ve managed to road convert it with Gordon Murray, and the car is road registered, but how usable is it? What about the sequential gearbox? What about the ride height? Turning circle? But I just couldn’t believe it when I first drove 27R, it’s such an easy car to drive. I drove this one with you guys for many hours when we did our filming and the car is very driver focused; everything centres around the driver.

The sequential gearbox is very easy to use, the clutch is as heavy as you’d expect it to be but not too heavy. You have your headphones on so you can speak to your passenger, although I’m more interested in enjoying the hours I spend driving the car than chatting! The suspension, I imagine in full race mode, if you ran over a coin, you’d feel if it was on heads or tails, but with the road conversion, the suspension is stiff enough where you can get the benefit of the car around a track, but it’s not too stiff that you can’t drive it on the road; you’re not shaking around like a bag of nails.

It’s actually a very usable car. That’s what makes F1s so special, because especially with a normal road F1, you can actually use them. A guy in the UK has done 44,000 miles in his F1 which he has owned from new. There’s a very well known story where a German businessman bought his car to be able to commute from Switzerland to Germany every day at very high speeds. Gordon Murray didn’t design them to just sit on a pedestal, he designed them to be the ultimate driver’s car, and that’s what they are.

Even the GTRs, they’re cars where you should get out on the road, you should enjoy them. I’m Ferrari through and through; Ferrari is the best brand for my business, and I’m personally very passionate about Ferrari, but there’s no Ferrari in the world that can compete with a McLaren F1. A McLaren F1 is on a different level. Everybody’s aspiration, if they’re into supercars, should be a McLaren F1. You can have your F40, your 288 GTO, Porsche GT1, 959; stick them all together and none of them come close to a McLaren F1.

At the time, it was the most expensive car in the world at like £641,000. Today, it’s like, we’ll just bring out a car without a roof, it’s not usable, it’s £2 million and we’ll have a queue from here around the M25 and back with people who want to buy them. At this time, people weren’t buying cars with a collector’s mind at the forefront. They weren’t buying them thinking I should buy this car as an appreciating asset. A lot of people today buy supercars because they think they should buy that car and it’ll go up in value.

When McLaren produced the F1, they produced a car that was phenomenally expensive, but it was expensive because of the development that went into producing what was and what is the greatest of all cars, and it’s something that, until you’ve experience it, until you’ve driven an F1, until you’ve owned an F1, you can never fully appreciate it.

This feature was taken from issue 36 of the SCD magazine, you can get your own copy using the button below.