As far as motoring urban myths go, one of the biggest and most infamous in Australia is that of the McLaren F1 crashed by a mechanic.
It’s something you hear from time to time, whispered in hushed tones at car meets and between mates at the pub. Only 64 road-faring McLaren F1s exist in the world, with just a single model believed to reside in Australia.
For the uninitiated, the legend goes something like this: Australia’s only McLaren F1 was dropped off to BMW Sydney for a routine service, when a junior mechanic snatched the keys and took the original hypercar for a joy-ride.
Despite his hubris, it’s retold that the mechanic was wholly unprepared for the F1’s 461kW and 650Nm at full throttle, and promptly wrapped the McLaren around a light pole.
It’s a story so outlandish that it can’t possibly be true, right? Well, not exactly. At its core the legend is rooted in reality, but the details are slightly different.
The car in question is McLaren F1 chassis 009, which was built in 1994 and was the eighth example to have left Woking. Originally finished in Magnesium Silver, 009 has changed somewhat in its 25-year history.
At the time, 009 was owned by Dean Wills, the then CEO of Coca-Cola Amatil in Australia. He bought the Big Macca in England in the ’90s, before importing it to Australia, wriggling around our regulations thanks to the F1’s central seating position.
By all accounts the incident occurred in 1997 when the F1 was undergoing some maintenance work by BMW Sydney. However, it wasn’t a junior who snatched the keys for a joy-ride but a senior member of the technical department that had permission to drive the multimillion dollar machine.
Where the joy-ride myth comes from is the fact that the unfortunate carbon-breaking incident occurred at night, while the employee had a pair of friends along for a ride. To this day the mechanic’s exact identity remains unknown.
It’s almost impossible to damage an F1 to the point of it being a complete write-off, as McLaren is always willing to conduct repairs. This is because the stratospheric prices of F1s make any repairs justifiable, no matter how extensive.
The ‘Aussie’ F1 was sent back to home base in Woking to be returned to working order, at the same time getting new paint that was a darker shade of grey, and the wheels now wearing a body-matching hue.
Estimates at the time stated that the insured repair bill came in just under $1 million – around $1.7 million in today’s money.
There are rumours that the crash resulted in one of the most expensive repair jobs in Australian history.
In 2005, chassis 009 changed hands, being sold to Tony Rafits, who switched the wheels back to their original colour before offloading the hypercar a year later.
Barry Fitzgerald was the next custodian, and is the current owner. A very successful businessman in his own right, Fitzgerald added his own stamp to the unfortunate history of chassis 009 in 2016.
While taking part in the inaugural Epic New Zealand Road Tour the car was crashed once again, this time only suffering minor damage.
It’s unlikely to hurt the car’s resale value, with Rowan Atkinson’s twice-crashed Macca fetching $16 million when it was sold three years ago.
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