How a McLaren F1 prototype was destroyed at 240km/h

A car-destroying crash during testing resulted in a tombstone being erected in Woking

McLaren F1 XP1

As far as development setbacks go, having a one-of-a-kind, hand-built prototype completely and irredeemably destroyed is a hell of a doozy.

That is exactly what happened to the McLaren F1 in the early stages of testing in 1993.

During the development of the F1, a number of prototypes were used, starting with the Ultima Mk3 kit car-bodied ‘Albert’ and ‘Edward’ twins, along with the five XP models.

It was the first of the production-bodied examples, XP1, that suffered an inglorious end, and there’s good reason you can’t ogle it as a museum piece.

You see, while XP1 was undergoing hot weather testing in Namibia at the hands of a BMW test engineer it was written off in a spectacular crash. The testing process for a car of the F1’s calibre was always going to involve some high speeds, and that’s exactly what the engineer was doing when it all went very, very wrong.

It’s reported that the engineer went offline while travelling in excess of 240km/h and clipped a gutter before tumbling end-over-end ‘several times’ and coming to a rest on its roof.

McLaren F1 Prototype Crash

Miraculously, the engineer emerged from the wreckage unscathed, exiting the mangled vehicle through the broken windscreen just seconds before leaking engine fluids ignited on the exhaust manifold, causing a fierce blaze that torched the remains of XP1.

Following the crash, head of McLaren Ron Dennis had the expansive debris field combed, with the wreckage of XP1 collected from the desert and returned to home base in Woking.

The pieces were put in a box and buried, with a tombstone erected to mark the significance of the lost prototype.

All of this is documented in the definitive bible of the F1’s development, Driving Ambition - The Official Inside Story of the McLaren F1 written by Dennis himself, along with Doug Nye and Gordon Murray

Making XP1’s destruction a tougher pill to swallow than it already was, is the way in which it was born.

Murray, the F1’s legendary designer, had handed down an edict late in 1992 that XP1 would be completed by Christmas “come hell or high water”.

With over 6000 man hours put into building the prototype, the late-December crunch to get the car completed is known within the McLaren team as ‘The Lost Weekend’.

Legend has it one mechanic’s wife was poised to give birth at the same time as the engineering team were pulling an all-nighter. The employee snuck out for an hour to witness his child’s entrance into the world, before returning to work.

If you’re wondering how much XP1 would be worth today, you’d probably require the kind of bank balance that has three commas if you wanted to add it to your personal collection.



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