The Truth About Cars » mp4-12c The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » mp4-12c What Can Alfa Romeo Learn From McLaren? Thu, 22 Aug 2013 13:58:24 +0000 000-2014-alfa-romeo-4c

If you read the title and mouthed “everything,” I can’t blame you, but please bear with me.  What can Alfa Romeo, the Italian former racing marque and the assumed quintessence of automotive passion, emotion, and physical beauty, learn from McLaren, the English Formula One mainstay and sometime purveyor of clinical, efficient supercars?  The two companies represent quite divergent poles along the automotive landscape, but they have much in common, both historically and in the present day, particularly in the North American market.

Alfa Romeo traces its origins back before the first World War, and the company was involved in motorsports straight away, competing in some of the earliest iterations of the Targa Florio, with a relative unknown named Enzo Ferrari delivering them a second place finish in the 1920 race over formidable Sicilian mountain roads.  Il Commendatore later ascended to team manager, responsible for a stable of drivers that included Tazio Nuvolari, among others.  During the latter portion of the interwar era, the European Championship – the predecessor of Formula One – was largely dominated by the Silver Arrows, who enjoyed considerable state-sponsored largesse, although Alfa received support from Mussolini’s regime and found some success, as well.


 Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo leads the Auto Union of eventual victor Bernd Rosemeyer at the 1936 Italian Grand Prix, held at Monza

After the second World War, the marque once more enjoyed motorsports glory, with Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio winning the 1950 and 1951 World Drivers Championships, respectively, in Alfas.  Alfa continued its F1 participation in ensuing decades, supplying engines to a variety of teams – including March and Brabham – before returning briefly as a full manufacturer during the turbo era, but met with little success, and so exited after the 1985 season.  Afterward, Alfa provided engines to Ligier and Osella, before leaving the sport for good in 1988.


Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 159 “Alfetta” at the 1951 Belgian Grand Prix, a race El Maestro won; note the iconic Quadrifoglio badge

Despite substantial motorsports credibility, Alfa Romeo is remembered in the United States for other reasons, if at all.  Alfa began officially importing cars into the US in 1961, taking over from Max Hoffman, who had done so beforehand.  An Alfa Romeo Spider featured prominently in the 1967 film The Graduate, with protagonist Ben receiving a Duetto as a graduation present.


Although Americans of a certain generation began to consider the diminutive roadster the appropriate visual accompaniment to the music of Simon and Garfunkel, Alfa Romeos acquired a reputation for mechanical and electrical fragility, and overlord FIAT pulled Alfa out of the domestic market in 1995, due to economic difficulties.


The legendary unreliability of Alfa Romeos and other “interesting” cars helps keep this Atlanta garage quite busy

The genesis of McLaren begins in the Antipodes, courtesy of Kiwi namesake Bruce McLaren.  Bruce joined the Cooper F1 team in 1959 and raced for them until 1966, when he struck out on his own.  McLaren perished in a Can-Am testing accident at Goodwood in 1970, but his legacy carried on.  The McLaren team won its first World Constructors Championship in 1974 with Emerson Fittipaldi, who also won the World Drivers Championship that year.  The team struggled through the remainder of the decade, but the course began to turn with the arrival of analytical and calculating boss Ron Dennis in 1980.  The team notched two more championships in 1984 and 1985, with Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, respectively, serving as drivers.  McLaren has historically relied on purchasing its engines, rather than manufacturing them in-house; the team was a customer of Cosworth Ford, aforementioned Alfa Romeo, and TAG-Porsche in its earlier years.  The greatest achievements came through its partnership with Honda, however.  For the 1988 season, Dennis secured the best powerplant, as well as the best driver lineup – Prost and Ayrton Senna.  The superiority of the McLaren MP4/4 shone clearly, and Dennis’s pair of drivers competed only against each other for the drivers title, winning 15 of 16 races between them.


Senna leads from Prost in the 1988 Hungarian Grand Prix, a race which Senna won

Top McLaren brass were waiting at the Milan airport after the 1988 Italian Grand Prix when discussion of a McLaren road car began.  Buoyed by their dominance that season, Ron Dennis, partial TAG-owner Mansour Ojjeh, and engineering extraordinaire Gordon Murray envisioned a lightweight, high-powered supercar that would define the genre and embarrass previous offerings from the likes of Ferrari and Porsche.  Production of the uncompromising, price no object McLaren F1 began in the next decade, and approximately 100 cars were built.


The F1 has inspired awe and lust among automotive enthusiasts for the past 20 years, but the car went largely unnoticed by the general public.  The rarity and sky-high values prevented them from being used as idle cruisers, and the small footprint, demure silhouette, and unknown badge meant that the rabble would accord more kudos to a Ferrari or Lamborghini anyway.  McLaren collaborated with Mercedes-Benz – its engine supplier – to build the McLaren-Mercedes SLR during the oughties, but the heavy GT car is one the Woking concern would probably prefer you forgot.

After absence from the American market as a full manufacturer since the mid-1990s, McLaren returned with its MP4-12C supercar in 2011.  Likewise, Alfa Romeo has pledged a return to our shores next year with its forthcoming 4C model, a flyweight car that Alfa hopes will redefine the terminology of the supercar.  Both companies are confronted with the difficulties and potential benefits of a tabula rasa in North America; notwithstanding the recent, short-term success of Tesla, there have been vanishingly few successful contemporary (re)-launches of automotive brands, attributable to the costs of (re)-establishing a brand identity and a dealership network.  That said, the potential opportunity is immense, with the chance to slough off unfavorable associations and snatch away market share like Sooners rushing into Oklahoma.  For both sporting brands, the lack of historical baggage will likely appeal to performance-conscious buyers who wince at the poseur image that other sports car manufacturers have attracted (and, arguably, courted).

There exist striking similarities between the McLaren MP4-12C and the Alfa Romeo 4C.  Both of them are mid-engined, rear wheel drive sports cars featuring turbocharged powerplants and the exclusive use of dual-clutch transmissions.  Crucially, both cars employ a carbon fiber monocoque as the basis of the chassis; the Alfa represents the first application of this technique in a remotely affordable package (although final pricing is still evolving, the car is intended to compete against the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, so observers expect a similar price point).

Click here to view the embedded video.

Alfa Romeo hopes to deliver its “compact supercar” at a palatable price by harnessing its existing parts bin, as well as the declining expense of composite materials.  The alchemical Alfa 4C employs a 1.75 liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a TCT twin-clutch transmission; both are found elsewhere in the existing model line.  The carbon fiber monocoque borrows from Dallara’s experience with the KTM X-Bow track day machine.  Due to its light weight, the 4C eschews assisted steering in favor of a manual rack.  On top of this clever, parsimonious tech and feature fest, the 4C is a beautiful car.  It’s not an elegant, lissome design, but there’s more than a whiff of 21st century Lancia Stratos about the proportions; the view of the stern is seductive and sensuous.


Alfa Romeo 4C cruising up Lord March’s driveway at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed

The 4C is similarly stunning from the opposite end.  The stance is low and the car improbably broad, with the oversized wheels pushed to the corners.  The classical Alfa triangular radiator looks like a woman’s, uh, radiator.  Admittedly the interesting headlights are an acquired taste, and the mirrors look like Dumbo’s ears, but even Cindy Crawford has a mole.


So what can Alfa Romeo learn from McLaren as it embarks on producing and selling this remarkable vehicle?  The McLaren’s raison d’être is superlative performance figures courtesy of cutting edge F1 technology, and the company has even pledged to update the car from time to time, making the enhancements available to owners of existing cars, thereby offering them even more performance.  That’s quite commendable, but the boys in Woking have a small concern over which to fret:  the MP4-12C – which has recently had its name shortened to the 12C – has been struggling in the secondary market.  A perfunctory perusal of returns 64 McLarens for sale, with asking prices already dipping below $200,000.  Meanwhile, there are 221 examples of the Ferrari 458 Italia available on  Prices for the older, slower, heavier, less powerful, less advanced Ferrari are higher, despite nearly quadruple the supply; you’ll have to pony up about 10% more to get into the cheapest 458 Italia.  Apparently, Jack Baruth’s crystal ball was working quite well last summer.

Alfa Romeo can take this observation to heart and sell the 4C not on the numbers, but on emotion.  They can mine that deep well of motorsport spoils, that palpable passion running through their nearly century long history to move the metal.  Fortunately for Alfa, the back catalog is essentially free, earned and paid for in the past.  All they have to do is plunder it now.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C Mon, 12 Mar 2012 11:55:30 +0000


The MP4-12C has a wonderful backstory for those who love and admire the McLaren brand.  The McLaren F1’s instant Zeus-like status is a large part of the mystique, but not necessarily all of it.  That said, for everyone outside of this world (and price point) you are forgiven if you wouldn’t even consider this over the similarly priced Ferrari 458 Italia….as I probably fit into that category.


A large portion of what makes a super car (in the purest, Lamborghini Miura type of way) so amazing is the character in its sheet metal (or carbon fiber), and the imagery in those creases.  Symbolism is also important: Prancing Horses, Horny Bulls and even the stuff inside the Corvette’s crossed flags give someone a concept to latch on to, a reason to be proud of the huge capital expenditure they are about to swallow.  Too bad McLaren’s red wave emblem looks like something any junior graphic design student can make while picking his nose. But I digress…

I do quite like the lower valence: charcoal grilles that float in nothingness is a unique take on the supercar schnoz.  And while I think it’s a bit busy compared to the purposeful design of the original McLaren F1, at least it stands out in a crowd.



This is a good time to note how a proper Super Car has a nice amount of overhang.  I will take the leap of faith and assume the MP4-12C is designed to meet Europe’s pedestrian safety standards, and make a blanket statement: we need sleeker, more aerodynamic noses for everyone’s benefit.



The doors also do something pretty cool.  I wonder if their design is too complicated and fussy compared to the rest of the package. But if the F1 had it, the MP4-12C needs them.  Side note: the Gallardo needs a proper set of Lambo doors, too!



From the front three-quarters view, you can see how the bumper/grille design emulates the wispy side coves for engine cooling.  It’s pretty trick, even if I think black wheels detract from the package.  Considering the whole vehicle looks like it could be made by one of the many super car makers in this cottage industry, a set of wheels with the authority of the Lamborghini Countach’s “revolver chamber” design are needed.



Do you feel this car hails from the automaker that gave us the F1?  I’m not feelin’ it, son…especially since that greenhouse doesn’t hold three people with the driver in the center.  Tragic.



The integrated vents (that probably do something epic) most certainly look awesome.  I love seeing subtle, well-crafted details like this.



Speaking of details, thank goodness for Super Car hips and tumblehome!  Granted, we can never have this in an affordable vehicle, but work of the late Bill Mitchell was close enough.  Oh, to feel that good about Detroit Iron again!



While the speed bullets are a little fussy to me, these side view mirrors are quite appealing.  But considering the MP4-12C’s extensive use of Carbon Fiber in the McLaren tradition, maybe they are just fine, going with the carbon fiber mirror housing themselves.  I’d probably spend the extra coin to get McLaren’s matching carbon fiber arms…which I believe do exist, but cannot verify due to McLaren’s unbelievably slow and obtuse website.  Web 2.0 junkies do not approve.



The rear three-quarters perspective shows off the necessary “speed holes” you always see on Super Cars to make them fast and sexy. (Hat Tip to Homer Simpson for that wonderful phrase.) My problem here?  The speed holes aren’t as integrated (or painted body color) like many a Super Car before this one. From the materials, the shape of each hole, the cross section of each hole and the patches of flat black trim, this is a busy design. It’s begging for the integration seen on the quarter windows in the photo above.



Problem solved. The rear end is simply awesome from a dog’s eye view.  Which is what most people will see as this monster disappears into the sunset.  And while I could go on about the sleek integration of this design, I will say one thing instead: the high mount exhaust tips are very trick. They no longer exist by themselves, like a perfect couple that’s perfectly in love, the rear of the MP4-12C is a single entity.

Wait…one more thing: the integrated, smoked taillights in the rear louvers are so awesome that it needs to be a retrofit for Ferrari Testarossas around the world. It feels so good to see new lighting technology implemented without drawing attention to itself, until actually necessary. Death to Altezzas?



Yes, no doubt.  This car proves why oversized lighting pods are officially out of style. Death to Altezzas!



Even the rear marker/reflector lights mimic a character line in the MP4’s rump.  Somewhere, Mr. Walter Gropius is smiling from a sky high vantage point.



Oh yeah, the engine is quite pretty too, but that’s not really the point behind the Vellum Venom series.  Kids don’t normally sketch dashboards and engine covers in the margins of their school notebooks, they stick to the body.  And can you believe a phone took a picture this nice?







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Quote Of The Day: Veyron’ From The Truth Edition Mon, 12 Apr 2010 22:37:33 +0000

I know that they have to cut the car open to take the engine out. To make an engine in that configuration, you know, it doesn’t go around corners. When we did the race in Abu Dhabi, we beat it off the line so many times that the film crew was getting frustrated because the outcome was supposed to be for the Bugatti to win. So we had to do that whole thing about ten times before it managed to get off the line cleanly and catch us up. Because every time they dropped the clutch it bogged down and we were gone.

McLaren’s Ron Dennis lays into the Bugatti Veyron at the Middle East launch of his firm’s new MP4-12C [Arabian Business via Wired Autopia]. What Dennis leaves out is that the Bugatti has a (computerized, sequential-shift) automatic transmission, so it’s difficult to know what he means by “they dropped the clutch.” Besides, it sounds like the former Formula 1 boss is spewing bile, rather than objectively critiquing the Veyron… which there’s plenty of room for.

What makes us think Dennis is suffering from a case of early-harvest viticulture? How about this line:

The Bugatti Veyron is a complete piece of junk. I think it is. I believe I can look at a range of women and I can see beauty in most of them, but I can look at a Bugatti and I think it is pig ugly.The Veyron doesn’t do anything for me. I’ve been looking at it for years, and I don’t see one single thing that makes me feel good.

For the record, Ron Dennis looks like this. And at about $250k, his MP4-12C doesn’t even compete with the Veyron. Perhaps Arabian Business couldn’t print his quotes about the Ferrari 458…

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Gallery: The McLaren MP4-12C Engine Thu, 18 Mar 2010 15:47:03 +0000 In the early days of McLaren’s MP4-12C development, it was suggested that the new mid-engine supercar would use AMG’s 6.2 liter V8. As things got awkward between Mercedes and McLaren though, a mysterious “German-built V10″ was rumored to be have replaced the AMG unit under at least one testing prototype. In the end, McLaren built its own engine, the M838T. It’s a twin-turbocharged, direct-injected, 3.8 litre, 90° V8, developing about 600 horsepower at 8,500 RPM. 80 percent of its 442 lb-ft of torque is reportedly available under 2,000 RPM. Also, it looks like mechanical sex.

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McLaren Automotive: Racing Is Easy, Selling Cars Is Hard Thu, 18 Mar 2010 15:21:53 +0000

Let’s face it: it’s not the best time to be launching any new automotive brand just now, let alone a brand built in Formula 1 and offering only a single, $250,000 product. Throughout the industry, OEMs are abandoning or distancing themselves from motorsport, as the old “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” logic proves to be an ever-fading anachronism. And yet here is McLaren Automotive, launching its first new road-going supercar in over ten years, with the the help of two F1 champs. Can an automotive brand survive selling high-priced symbols of racing prowess, at a time when racing (particularly Formula 1 racing) is becoming ever-more divorced from road car realities? More importantly, can it take on the lions of the supercar world with mere techno-wonkery?

McLaren says there’s room for it to flourish in what it calls the “core market” for sportscars costing between $200k and $260k. Marketing boss Antony Sheriff explains:

By the time the 12C is launched in 2011 we expect the economic conditions to be much improved. We have already seen significant interest in the car and the supply of the 12C will be relatively scarce; in its first year we plan to produce just 1,000 cars which represents only 3.5 percent of the ‘core’ market,

McLaren is keen to point out that “the ‘core’ segment’s growth from 8,000 sales in 2000 to more than 28,000 in 2007 highlights the potential that exists.” This assumes not only that economic growth will return, but that the growth in supercar sales comes from the kind of buyers who understand the McLaren brand and want what the MP4-12C has to offer.

Which is not to say that the new McLaren won’t be a stunning car to drive. From its low-weight emphasis, to its bespoke 600+ hp twin-turbocharged V8, there’s a lot to suggest that the MP4-12C has what it takes to tackle the best supercars on the market on the track. But when you get away from the pointy-headed men who read telemetry for fun and who appreciate the 4 kilo weight savings gained by using hexagonal aluminum conductors instead of circular circular wires, you realize that it takes a lot more than world-class, race-honed engineering to sell $250k cars.

Do any of the MP4-12C’s myriad tricks and features make up for the fact that it has a misshapen blob on it where the prancing horse or raging bull should be? Sure, there are plenty of hard-core enthusiasts who remember when the McLaren F1 was the world’s most all-conquering vehicle, but that was one car. And a neo-F1, the MP4-12C is not.

Besides technology, McLaren brought another important sensibility to the MP4-12C: subtlety. Chief designer Frank Stephenson explains:

Many sports cars and super cars present an ‘in-your-face’, ‘look-at-me’ image that can become wearing and boorish; the ultimate backhanded compliment becomes, “…it was of its time”. Great design, however, is timeless and looks relevant years later. With the 12C we have produced a car that looks great today and will still look great in years to come.

And yet isn’t the “in-your-face,” “look-at-me” image what actually sells supercars in the numbers that McLaren is justifying its business on? A subtle, sophisticated $250,000 car that believes that it’s what’s inside that counts sounds great on paper, but there’s very little to indicate that the supercar market has anything to do with vehicle capability. Status and emotion part men from their money far more effectively than infinitely-variable chassis roll control systems. Besides, the Audi R8 is a subtle-yet-desirable, mid-engined supercar and it costs less than half what the MP4-12C will. In comparison, the Macca seems derivative, anodyne and unnecessarily over-engineered.

None of this should take away from the remarkable achievements that the new McLaren represents. Pushing the technical limits of automotive possibility always produces exciting results, and if the MP4-12C can humiliate Ferrari’s 458 on the right tracks with the right publicity, the McLaren brand could become the new standard-bearer for British race-nutter sportscars. But will it grace the bedroom walls of young boys with its aspirational pornography? Will it pass into the vernacular as a one-word code for a more sophisticated approach to the look-at-me image? Will it stand out in Dubai, Davos or Pudong? If not, McLaren fans could just be waiting another ten years for another road car to emerge from Woking.

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McLaren MP4-12C Puts Mercedes SLS to Shame Fri, 13 Nov 2009 15:08:48 +0000

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