1996 McLaren F1 GTR
1996 McLaren F1 GTR #17R
6,064cc S70/3 V12, 600 hp @ 7,000 rpm
2,200 lbs. (approx.)
BMW USA Classic
Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey
The McLaren F1 was conceptualized as the ultimate road car, and it was built with no limitations on cost. Designer Gordon Murray’s cars had won 7 Formula One world titles, including one with the BMW-powered Brabham BT52 in 1983, and he created the McLaren F1 with a carbon fiber monocoque and double-wishbone suspension. Power came via Paul Rosche’s 627-hp BMW S70/2 V12 engine—full of lightweight materials, four-valve heads, DOHC, variable intake timing, and dry-sump lubrication—mounted as a stressed chassis member behind the three-passenger cockpit, which placed the driver in the center for optimum weight balance and visibility. The F1’s retail price? Almost $1 million.
The car was never intended for racing, but in 1995 a group of McLaren F1 owners led by Thomas Bscher persuaded Murray to modify the car for the BPR Global Endurance series. As the F1 GTR, it got carbon fiber brakes, additional air ducts and a downforce-producing rear wing, plus an S70/3 V12 with a titanium crankshaft and an aluminum four-plate clutch. That June, a privately-entered McLaren F1 GTR won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, beating the Courage C34 Porsche prototype by a full lap while three more GTRs finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
“No one expected that car to win, and McLaren got incredible press while BMW was an also-ran in terms of accolades,” recalls Erik Wensberg, then BMW NA motorsport manager. “BMW Motorsport came to us in the winter of ’95 and said, ‘We don’t have a budget, but we want to put a full factory team at Le Mans in 1996. Give us a million dollars and it will be an NA car featuring an NA driver.’”
BMW NA CEO Vic Doolan agreed, and Danny Sullivan became the designated American driver in Team Bigazzi SRL’s McLaren F1 GTR, #17R. One of nine 1996-spec F1 GTRs built expressly for racing, it was purchased by BMW NA in early 1996. To qualify for Le Mans, it raced at Pre-Le Mans in April, finishing 13th with drivers Steve Soper and Jacques Lafitte, and at Silverstone in May, when Soper and Nelson Piquet finished 4th. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, it ran as high as 3rd overall before ending the race in 8th with Sullivan, Piquet and Johnny Cecotto.
Six months later, the McLaren arrived in New Jersey, and Doolan told Wensberg to sell it. “Instead, we hid it!” Wensberg says. “Doolan caught me six months later, and I said, ‘Vic, there just isn’t much interest in the thing.’ The last McLaren F1 to sell at auction went for $15 million. They couldn’t buy it back today even if they wanted to.”
The car remains in the BMW USA Classic collection, and it continues to delight all who see and hear it at enthusiast events nationwide.