Supercars are wasted in the desert. Engine notes that should howl the hymns of human achievement thin out in the unblocked atmosphere. Rocketing down a lonely road is a romantic idea, but in practice the unconstrained environs fail to give context to the velocities cars like the McLaren GT are built to achieve.
Very often in my career I’ve tested very fast sports cars on empty roads in desert-like locations. They are convenient for hitting very high speeds in a wide open place without traffic or police, but as I string a couple of quick corners together on a wet November Saturday in Michigan, I realize the desert isn’t ideal. At least, not ideal where creating lasting memories is concerned.
The desert is all runoff. Perfect visibility and weather. A lack of variables that, frankly, make things less entertaining.
I had a similar feeling in January of 2018, when riding from Manchester to Sheffield, through the frosted and heathered hills of England’s Peak District. On my way to get a first glimpse of the McLaren Senna, I was struck by how sublime it might be to be piloting a sports car over those undulating roads, awash with fog and trying like hell to not turn chicken.
That drive didn’t materialize (or hasn’t yet, at least). But as I pile up a few hours blasting around my favorite local driving roads on cold tires with limited visibility and the palpable thrill of a little danger, I feel like I’m getting a credible forgery.
The GT marks the very first car loan on my return to Motor1.com – a jumping off point, with two feet, straight into the deep end – after three-ish years driving old, fun German cars pretty slowly. I had a base 986 Porsche Boxster with great tires and a ticking time bomb of an intermediate shaft bearing. Then I had a kid, followed by a BMW 330Ci ZHP, followed by a cold dose of car seat–based reality. Today I’ve got a first-gen (W219) Mercedes-Benz CLS550 that I use to whip the kid, and his new kid brother, around town. Great cars, all, but none a patch on the sound of this bi-turbo V8’s induction noise thrumming in my left ear, while revs pile up and the exhaust note gets serious. None, like this GT, exquisite.
Here’s the truth: Civilian jobs and civilian salaries simply don’t have an answer for the feeling of a 612-horsepower supercar with all of its phasers set to kill. It’s nice to be back.
We Seek Adventure
In his April 1986 column in Automobile magazine, David E. Davis Jr., (my first boss in this business and lifelong source of inspiration) wrote of the nascent buff book:
We seek adventure and the good life, and we seek them in cars that are fun to drive. We’ll drive exciting cars to unforgettable places. We’ll go wherever the roads go, and sometimes beyond. We’ll wring out and review some of the finest, fastest, and most interesting cars in the world each month, and we’ll bring them to life with the most evocative photography and illustration money can buy.
As mission statements go, that ain’t half bad.
If you’re a regular reader of Motor1.com, it’s very likely that you come here for our first-to-market and encyclopedic auto news coverage, for our comprehensive catalog of new car coverage (from First Look to First Drive and more), or for our deeply researched Star Rating Reviews and tentpole Star Awards accolades. That’s our bread and butter, our meat and potatoes—staples that we’ll continue to serve up all day, every day.
Adventure and the good life, however, might be under-represented in our mix of stories. I want to find ways to talk about the interesting people who are changing the face of the automotive industry today. I want our editors to report in from the truly special places with travel stories, wild finds, and real-time accounts of the aforementioned adventures. To push out of our current comfort zone to bring you the finest, the fastest, and the most interesting.
This column is going to be a part of that effort, and I hope you’ll take part, too. Add your voice to our comments section on stories you love (or hate), reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and especially YouTube. Let’s have conversation; tell us when we get things wrong; regale us with your latest driving adventures.
Far From Home
Cold tires and wet roads are a spectacular thing in the McLaren GT. Super high levels of feedback are useful, even for a born-again supercar driver like me, through the alcantara wrapped wheel. Small slides are caught and quickly corrected, my confidence builds, and before the long Saturday of driving is over I’m laughing out loud at corner exit speeds and myself for ridiculously over-braking and ham-fisting this subtle machine.
Talk about being out of my comfort zone: This is pretty far removed from driving the 2008 CLS550 I’ve had as a daily for the last six months. A point that is hammered home when the Michigan fall turns, on a dime, to Michigan winter.
Returning to a life of a new car every week, McLaren or no, is going to mean stepping out of the comfortable confines of the CLS, which has been perfectly rigged for my exact needs today. Two car seats fit snugly in the back, with just enough room for all 6-foot-5 of me slotted behind the steering wheel. That well upholstered driver’s seat holds my touchy lower back just so. The multimedia interfaces—an eight-disc CD changer and an aux cord for my iPhone—are idiot-proof access points to the bassy sound system. There’s even a retractable rear sunshade that entertains Jack, the two-year-old, on sunny day drives and pickups from daycare.
The big ol’ Benz isn’t a dynamic match for the McLaren GT in any single respect, but on the Monday morning I’m due to drop the test car off at the airport, I know I’m about to be a little uncomfortable. The night before it snowed a little and froze a lot, and the street-parked GT is the worse for it. (In the real world the intersection between "can afford a $200k car" and "doesn’t own a garage" has got to be infinitesimal, but hey, I’m a journalist.) After 10 minutes of work I’m able to delicately chip enough ice away from the door that I get it to release and swan open, but I’m not so lucky with the front trunk. Nothing I’m comfortable doing to the ice-coated Serpentine green paint is able to free the frunk lid from its mooring, and with time winding down to get to the airport, I give up and let my luggage ride unglamorously in shotgun. At least I didn't have to bring the kids.
A hapless dad complaining about car seats and a balky back. A perfect car on a twisting road on a rainy day. Somewhere in there I imagine we’ll talk about all the old cars we’ve loved, the new cars we desire, and a changing world of transportation we hope to embrace. Even though less than ideal, I imagine there’ll be more desert roads. Adventure. The good life. Stick around, we’ve got it all.