The Auto Gallery is pleased to announce the latest addition to our super car corral with McLaren Automotive and its groundbreaking MP4-12C sports car. McLaren created the first carbon fiber chassis F1 car in 1981 and the first series production road car with a carbon chassis. The MP4-12C is the next chapter in the story.
According to McLaren principal, Ron Dennis, the over-riding factors in the design of the MP4-12C were obtaining maximum performance through efficiency. Efficiency includes an emphasis on light weight and aerodynamic efficiency. The carbon fiber mono-cell tub is at the heart of this, Following in the tradition of 30 years of McLaren race and road cars, the central structure is designed to be strong, stiff and light. McLaren has also developed new methods of producing this tub.
Manufacturing carbon fiber parts typically has a cycle time of 24 hours or more. The machine that produces McLaren's mono-cell can turn out parts in just four hours. The carbon mat is put into the mold, the resin is injected and after two hours of curing time, the tub comes out. After trimming it is ready for assembly. McLaren explained that the corner-to-corner dimensional tolerance is less than 0.5 millimeters, which helps to ensure that the chassis of every single car complies with the design intent.
The entire structure is one single piece that has sacrificial aluminum structures attached to the front and rear. In a crash, the aluminum is designed to absorb the energy of the impact while the carbon tub remains intact to protect the occupants. Sherriff showed photos of the chassis being crash tested at 40 mph and a single tub was used for separate crash tests. Only the aluminum and some of the suspension components had to be replaced. The carbon remained free of cracks or other damage.
Continuing the low mass theme, Anthony Sheriff, Managing Director of McLaren Automotive described the aluminum cross-car beam in the cockpit. The vendor that produces the beam wanted to have a raised embossed McLaren logo in the aluminum. The engineers took a look and decided that this would add needless mass and instead opted to have the logo engraved, which would take away material. It would only save 2.6 gram, but every little bit helps.
Similarly, the engineers saved a full four kilograms in the wiring harness by using hexagonal aluminum conductors rather than the traditional circular wires. That's the kind of attention to detail that gets you a 1,300-kilogram (about 2,870 pounds) car. Compare that to the 4,162-pound mass of a Bugatti Veyron, which is more the kitchen sink approach to building supercars. It's not as light as the 1,000-kg McLaren F1 with which it will inevitably be compared, but it features a lot more equipment than the older car including a full complement of airbags.
On the powertrain front, efficiency also comes into play. Unlike the F1 and SLR that feature engines built by BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the 12C features a new bespoke powerplant produced by McLaren. The M838T is a twin-turbocharged and direct-injected V8 that produces 600 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Particularly impressive is the fact that at least 369 lb-ft of that torque is available everywhere from 2,000 rpm to the lofty 8,000 rpm red-line, which should make this engine particularly tractable.
Power is sent to the rear wheels through a dual clutch gearbox that features what McLaren calls Pre-Cog (or pre-cognition for those who saw Minority Report). Like the shutter release on a camera that allows the user to lock in focus and exposure by pressing the release halfway, the pedals can be pulled back lightly to pre-condition the gearbox. Pressing the paddle all the way then allows almost instantaneous shifts.
The gearbox itself and the engine are particularly compact, which also aids the aerodynamic efficiency of the 12C. With the small powertrain and the exhaust that exits high through the rear panel of the car, McLaren was able to produce a rear diffuser that starts well forward under the tail of the car making it more effective. This combines with the air-brake on the top to produce more rear downforce, which allows the rear brakes to be much more effective in high speed driving.
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