When it comes to prestige British supercars, there's not much around that can compete with McLaren. The company, founded by New Zealander F1 driver Bruce McLaren, is famous worldwide for its efforts in Formula One and remains one of the most popular teams on the grid today.
McLaren made its first road car back in 1992, with the famous 240mph McLaren F1. Using the same carbon-fibre technology the team pioneered in its race cars, McLaren created the fastest road car in history, but it didn't officially become a vehicle manufacturer until McLaren Automotive was set up in 2010.
The first car produced by the new company was the McLaren MP4-12C. Named for the company's race cars – which bore the MP4 name after McLaren merged with Ron Dennis's Project Four – the car was a shot straight at the established supercar elite. It laid the foundations for all McLaren road cars since, and as such stakes a claim to a special place in automotive history.
This MP4-12C is a particularly early example; one of the documents included with the car lists an order date of March 2011, which means this vehicle actually predates the “McLaren Production Centre” built to make it, and would have started its build at least at the neighbouring McLaren Technical Centre where the first cars were made - alongside the team's F1 machinery.
Supplied by McLaren Birmingham in March 2012, the Supernova Silver MP4-12C stayed with its first owner for almost eight years before moving on to its second owner in January 2020, who serviced it at McLaren Bristol.
The current owner picked it up six months later, as a once-in-a-lifetime vehicle with plans for a European road trip down to Spain, but 2020 had other ideas. With the pandemic putting best-laid plans for many of us firmly to one side, the McLaren sees little use, and the owner is – reluctantly – looking to move it on.
You'll get a slew of McLaren-branded folders containing the paperwork for the MP4-12C, detailing not only services at three different McLaren centres – including McLaren Leeds in February 2021 - but also extended warranties covering the car from new up to the beginning of March 2021.
Unusually, there's also the original order invoice, which shows what options were selected. The forged wheels, extended interior carbon pack, and leather/Alcantara trim all appear as ~£2,500 options.
In addition, the first owner also chose to pick up the MY2013 upgrade, and there's a certificate to that effect. That includes a selection of driver assist upgrades, a recalibration of the seven-speed gearbox, and a useful 24hp boost for the V8 engine.
The MP4-12C is a two-seater, and the cabin is relatively compact but accessed through two enormous butterfly doors. There's a large side sill – part of the carbon-fibre “MonoCell” chassis – before you can clamber into either of the seats, finished in a mix of Alcantara and tan leather, and absolutely spotless.
You can see the extended carbon-fibre pack on the steering wheel and centre console, as well as the around the controls on the doors, and this too is unmarked. In fact we couldn't spot so much as a stitch out of place in the whole cabin; McLaren hasn't actually changed the interior much on its cars over the years, and this could be a brand-new 650S if it weren't for the MP4-12C plaque and branded mats.
All the controls operate as they should, and there's no sign of wear on any of the buttons or screens either. That includes the optional upgrade to the IRIS infotainment system which adds satellite navigation.
As it's a mid-engined car, the boot is in the nose – sometimes referred to as a “frunk” (for “front trunk”) - and this is also in very good condition. There's a parcel shelf behind the seats too, again showing no signs of wear.
That Supernova Silver paint was a £3,000 option on the car, and part of the model's top specification “Elite” paint options, and you can see why. The paint features larger metallic particles, which catch direct sunlight in a different way to regular metallic silver, leading to that irregular rainbow effect.
As with the interior, the exterior is unmarked as far as we can tell, bar a few bug splats on the passenger door mirror. That extends to the underside – there's not a lot to see beneath, as McLaren employs lots of cladding for as smooth an underbody as possible due to aerodynamics, but there's no damage and no missing pieces or bolts below.
The rear spoiler is an active item, deploying at speed and also with the push of a button, and this works as it ought too – though we didn't get a chance to see it in airbrake mode.
The car's engine is just about a part of the outside, with the slotted cover allowing the elements in (and out), and again appears clean and in good condition, as do those forged, lightweight optional wheels.
There's quite a lot going on with the MP4-12C, and we're pleased to say that it's all behaving just as it should. The McLaren V8, actually a Ricardo developed engine, fires up, idles, revs, and pulls beautifully, as well it ought for just 11,000 miles on the clock. It's perfectly happy dawdling around at 30mph and at higher speeds too, and makes all the right noises.
It's paired to a seven-speed “seamless shift gearbox” (SSG, in McLaren terminology), and this too functions without issue, with forward and reverse gears, in full auto and with the paddle shifters too.
McLaren road tests its cars around Woking specifically to endure British road conditions, and the MP4-12C is a perfect example of this. It tackles bumps without any excess noise or body movement. This car also uses the regular steel brakes rather than the carbon ceramic optional items – a better choice for most uses – and these also appear in the prime of life.
Although McLaren is a modern-day success, turning out high value cars like the Senna and Speedtail, the MP4-12C was a risk at the time, going toe-to-toe with the Ferrari 458. However, it proved successful enough to launch the brand as a whole and is still the blueprint for the company's cars today.
This early example is a great chance to pick up a piece of heritage, and whereas Ferraris can sometimes draw the wrong kind of attention, you'll never be photographed more than when you drive a McLaren.
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