THERE are – surprise, surprise – very few individual cars that I’d pick as my specialist subject on Mastermind. Perhaps I could do a round on the places where Minis rot, seeing as my first car had all of them, or urban myths about the Austin Allegro. But that’s about it.
Unless, of course, John Humphrys were to quiz me on the McLaren F1, as I seem to have had most of its headline-grabbing facts hardwired into my brain from an early age. I can just imagine the studio lights being dimmed in preparation for the audience being bored rigid by a staccato succession of stats and trivia being fired back at John’s questions.
Deep breath. “232mph, revised to 241mph after another run with its rev limiter removed. Nought to sixty in 3.2 seconds. Nope, only the engine bay is lined with gold. Actually, its twin pannier lockers had more luggage space than a Ford Fiesta. Peter Stevens – who also styled the Jaguar XJR-15 and did the facelift for the Lotus Esprit. Nope, technically the BMW V12 was slightly overweight. But Gordon Murray didn’t mind too much, because it developed 627bhp, making it the fastest naturally aspirated engine ev…”
At this point I can imagine Mastermind being taken off the air as poor John keels over with sheer boredom, perhaps replaced by that old BBC test card of the girl posing next to the creepy-looking clown. I jest, but that gives you an idea of just how much an impression the McLaren F1 left on me in my earliest days at petrolhead school. It was, on account of it being a four-wheeled Concorde for the Nineties, one of those supercars that genuinely left a generation of car nuts in awe.
Which is exactly what I’m hoping Bugatti’s Chiron can now pull off. In much the same way that the F1’s biggest bit of pub trivia – being the fastest thing ever to need annual visits to an MoT testing station – was revised upwards by 9mph after a second high speed run in 1998, so the Chiron’s top speed of 261mph has been revisited after a gentle run this week with the electronic limiter removed. To 304mph, to be exact.
Normally I’m a bit dismissive of today’s supercars for being vapid Instagram fodder, normally driven around London on Middle Eastern numberplates by people too loaded to care about the parking fines, but when a roadgoing production car breaks the 300mph record for the first time, people tend to sit up and take note. I love the little bit extra, too – Le Mans winner and Bugatti test driver could have edged it to 300.00001mph, called it quits and then edged the Chiron back to reality, but he added an extra 4mph on for good measure. In much the same way Ferrari made headlines with its 201mph F40.
Why does any of this matter when there’s an average 50mph speed limit on the Tarleton bypass? Because it inspires people. There are engineers working at McLaren – and lots of other carmakers, and engineering firms – because they grew up with the F1 on their bedroom walls.
No one other than Bugatti’s top drivers are ever going to max a Chiron, but simply knowing that you can is going to inspire brilliant minds to bolt together something even better.