They say it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved before.
I’ve never understood this more than when I was handed the keys to 3 different McLaren sports cars, given free driving rein, and then had to hand them back just three hours later.
What kind of sick punishment is that?
It’s like inviting someone into Business Class on a flight, only to make them to return to Economy moments after sipping on their first glass of Chateauneuf du Pape.
For the truly uninitiated, McLaren is a car maker famous for their Formula 1 credentials, but who’ve been making eye-wateringly beautiful road cars since 2007.
Their age, and relatively small production output means its name doesn’t carry the same household-familiarity as Ferrari, Lamborghini, or the James Bond special – Aston Martin, but don’t think that means they’re any less spectacular.
Indeed, this feels a more exclusive drive for that very reason.
I’m not going to sit here and run through the specs and numbers, they can be found anywhere, I want to tell you what it’s like to walk up to one of these stunning beasts, pull up the door, and drive away as if it was your own.
Because let’s be honest, no one is buying this car because they don’t want to be seen driving it.
We were given a 540C, a 570S Spider, and a 570GT. Each has differences in style and power, some subtle others not, but regardless compared to the Ford Laser you drove at uni, these things are weapons.
The first challenge is acting like you know what you’re doing, while subtly figuring out how to open the pull-up doors.
Not as easy as one would hope.
There is a dimple under the handle you press and pull up, but given the weight of the doors it’s easy to be left looking the fool as you either fondle for the button like a 16-year-old-boy, or underestimate the strength needed to get it open.
As soon as you’re comfortable with the action of pulling-up not out, however, you’ll never tire of it.
Once in you’re greeted with a cockpit that screams pure performance.
The bucket seats feel like they are moulded specifically for you, the roof sits surprisingly high above your head, the pedals aren’t cramped, and the steering-wheel itself feels worthy of a race-car.
There isn’t a huge amount of storage space, so it’s either your girlfriend or your golf clubs for the passenger seat (You’d be best served not to make the answer to that public)
While the bonnet will open allowing you to place a bag just larger than say an airline carry-on bag.
The center console is modest in its trimmings – it is a performance car after all – the small ipad-looking touch-screen does everything you need; other buttons focus on the power-output of the car ranging from ‘Would you like a nice ride, Sir? Or would you prefer to melt your skull into the back of the seat?’
I opted for the compromise ‘Sports’ mode as I set off an hour north of Sydney for the drive.
There is something remarkable about being in a $400,000 car in heavy traffic.
On the one hand, you live in fear that any Joe will merge into you and you’ll have to sell your mother to cover the damage.
On the other hand, it’s a feeling of ultimate road superiority; you know that you can out maneuver, out brake, or definitely out-accelerate any car around you.
And while sitting in traffic is frustrating, you are consoled by the fact you are sitting in a McLaren, and there is something warm and fuzzy about that.
Every driver we passed would turn their head, passengers would pull out their phone to get a quick photo, some would even slow down to have a longer look and give the occasional pump of the fist.
I would of course give a knowing ‘nod’ in return. (There was no reason they should know I was handing it back)
I am certain they figured it was either my dad’s or I was a drug dealer, to be driving it at my age, but it didn’t matter – you really do feel like you are driving something special when you see how others around you act.
Sadly, the women around me weren’t quite as impressed as the men, but that’s probably to be expected given these are largely super-toys made by boys for boys who can afford such luxuries.
Emerging from the city traffic and hitting the open Freeway was where this car turned from showpiece to powerhouse.
Speed limits were not designed for cars like a McLaren, and so before you realised you were accelerating you had reached the limit and the car would be forced to temper along like a pitbull on a leash.
But you can’t understate the rush of an enthusiastic spurt of acceleration in a vehicle that is more engine than car.
It was high-speed turning, however, where you really felt you were driving the pinnacle of human vehicular engineering…
Sweeping bends were a particular riot.
Any time you’d feel the urge to challenging the car, it’d laugh in your face asking ‘Is that really all you’ve got?’ Its balance and grip were pure and precise and make cornering a genuine joy.
But as I said at the start, this love affair was short; after driving all three of these cars, I was forced to return it to its base.
The final challenge was to park, without scratching the rims or bottoming out.
Wisely there is a lever that raises the nose, so you’ll never have to worry about speed humps or car-park level changes, and there is every camera and sensor you need…
But a mark of a man is how he reverse parallel parks a sports car, in a public space.
Mercifully, I nailed it, turned it off, pulled open the 500kg door and stepped out making eye contact with as many passersby as I could.
‘Do you see me?’ I’d be thinking ‘Getting out of this car. Yeah, that was me that drove it, and parked it. No biggie, it’s my car, it’s my life. What of it?’
Sadly it was not my car, and was only briefly my life – but what a moment in life it was.
I have loved, and now I have lost – and now I need to find and marry a rich old woman so I can buy one of these and find true love again.
by Matt de Groot
Contributing Editor Rogue Homme