The McLaren F1 and why I longed for most of my life to see one

It's fascinating the way our memories work. We have the capacity to cling onto memories that have long been retired into the depths of our minds, thoughts from our youth that we treasure but now lay dormant in our subconscious. They could be insignificant, sure, but somehow we would always identify strongly with them. Even the faintest reminder of such thoughts can evoke strong emotion and bring about what was once felt. People, well into adulthood now, are capable of experiencing absolute bliss in just cleaning out their old rooms and catching a sight of a forgotten teddy bear or toy car from their early years. This is nostalgia.

It was 1997 when I first discovered the McLaren F1. I had only been 8 years old at the time and was gifted a copy of the video game Need for Speed II, my first racing game which presented an assortment of exotic cars to race. This was groundbreaking at the time. I had been a car guy my entire life, playing with Hot Wheels and Matchboxes before I mastered the ability to walk or talk. To experience driving these things in a virtual reality how ever rudimentary it may be, was beyond this world at that age.

As a kid, I had heard of Ferraris and Lamborghinis sure, and even the likes of Lotus and Jaguar despite not being quite yet acquainted with the extraordinary models of the era such as the XJ220. McLaren, however, was an obscure make. What was a McLaren F1? The car was an absolute performer in-game and seemed to defy what was possible of the automobile at the time. So much so, it did not seem unreasonable to believe the car was a figment of creative game designers, a one-off hypercar that only existed in the minds of imaginative car lovers. It could have been a kit car or a concept that never materialized. It was the 1990s. I was 8 and even I grasped the idea that production cars producing a power output in excess of 500hp were few and far between. They were the halos of the world, often automotive masterpieces.

Imagine when I found out that the McLaren F1 was an actual car.

Memories are not reliable, this is a common flaw of the mind. Given this I fail to remember the exact birthday in which I yearned for a diecast model of the McLaren F1. It must have been my 9th or 10th one. I had spotted the model while walking with my mother through a flea market. It was a 1:18 scale produced by UT Models, a version of diecast F1s that remains a collectable today. The model retailed for around $30 then, a cost my mother deemed excessive given her economic situation at the time. I remember wanting that little model more than anything in the world. It took convincing and it took expressing an utmost enthusiasm for one. In retrospect, I realize now that to her at the time it was simply a toy that would have been broken in several day's time. To me, however, it was the only material item of the car that I would have. I held it dearly.

I remember staring at the diecast model sitting on my desk for what seemed like eternities. The design was phenomenal. The contours of the car were breathtaking and the shape introduced to me the concept of a coke-bottle side profile. I remember occupying much of my free time gathering up as much information as I was able to about the F1 with what limited access I had to dial-up internet then.

The passion I had for the car did not seem to dwindle in my adolescence. Collecting pictures and information of the car only led to the inevitable quest and desire to see one in person. As it turns out, luck was not on my side during this journey. There are a total of 106 examples of the F1 ever produced and I had narrowly missed finding one several times throughout the years. I had missed a rare XP4 prototype driving around the same city I resided in the Bay Area in the early 2000s. I missed one parked inside the showroom of the then newly built McLaren San Francisco showroom several years back by only days. At one point I came to the realization that it would be worth the time and the cost to fly out to Florida and visit the Revs Institute to see chassis #022 or just indulge and make my way over to a Goodwood Festival sometime with the hope to overwhelm myself with more than one example.

One online presence in particular I owe much of my understanding of these cars to is someone who pursues information about these cars much more ardently than anyone I've had the pleasure of knowing. He goes by the internet moniker of Peloton25 and has become someone of a guru on amassing McLaren F1 knowledge. I've sought Peloton's assistance several times over the years to further my knowledge of these cars and locate specific chassis.

For reasons even I cannot justify, I had never managed to make my way out to the annual gathering of car collectors in Monterey Bay known as Monterey Car Week and home to the renown Pebble Beach auction. This year, however, a visit back to California fell on convenient timing and I decided it may just be worth the effort to detour for a day through the Bay.

Car Week 2015 saw a total of four F1s present including #073 which sold at auction. Two others roamed the streets around the bay and the fourth one was a LeMans racer displayed at McLaren's Pebble Beach lot. That afternoon I had only hours to spare and I set to spend the majority of them hunting down the two making their way around Monterey. Once again, my efforts were failing to pay off as both F1s proved to be elusive. At one point, I was convinced I had missed one of them by mere minutes. Those who attended Car Week would know, moving around the bay was mostly characterized by sitting in heavy traffic. With the kind help of Peloton, I finally decided it would be wise to cut my losses in time and find McLaren's F1 GTR, fortunately perhaps the most stationary F1 that week.

Shown here in the photos is F1 GTR chassis #017R, a 1996 LeMans participant. This is the first McLaren F1 I have ever seen in person.

I still occasionally visit my childhood room at my mother's place. I've kept my original UT Models diecast there, on a display case and behind glass. It is dusty and it has suffered from a few accidents involving dropping it from waist height. It may be worth a little more these days on eBay than what it was originally paid for, but its monetary value renders it of little significance to me. When I see it, I can still recall how I felt when I first saw the car. It was the most beautiful machine I had ever seen.

It seems coincidental, but timely that I have written this on my birthday again. Despite the years elapsed, some things have not changed. Often I find it difficult to convey how enthusiasm for an assembly of metal and rubber can collectively form something that I find to mean so much. But then all it takes is a reminder, a recollection of how my passion for these cars began, and then I remember.