Crossing America with a McLaren MP4-12C: Day 1

April 16, 2013

It was dark, too early and I was feeling grismal — i.e, grim and dismal — as befitted the ungodly hour. But it was time to leave my house in New York for Newark Airport to board a flight to Los Angeles. Mercifully, in my sleep-deprived lines of work – testing cars and managing rock bands — I can crash on any plane that isn’t crashing itself. And as I write, I’ve just woken up after a long nap that lasted from Pennsylvania to New Mexico so now feel slightly rejuvenated.

Which is good because in about 40 minutes, we’ll touch down at LAX. Skipping the baggage claim, I’m going to head out to the curb where I plan to meet my old college buddy and one-time They Might Be Giants’ confederate, Bill Krauss. He wants to show me the used Porsche Boxster S he recently picked up, so we’re going to lunch in it. But then I’m heading home. To New York. By car. And not just any car mind you, but one that’s likely to make Bill’s Boxster – one of my favorite bargain used sports car buys – seem like a set of old-fashioned, metal-wheeled, children’s roller skates.

For shortly after lunch, Bill and I will rendezvous with photographer Martyn Goddard, himself just landed from London Town. Bidding Krauss adieu, Goddard and I will then shoehorn our soft luggage and creaky, middle-aged selves in for the approximately 3,700-mile journey back east, following the southerly route in a McLaren MP4-12C, one of the world’s great supercars.

What you’ll think of such idea depends a lot on your estimation of lithe, mid-engine road burners equipped with carbon-fiber mono-cells structures, twin-turbocharged, 618-horsepower V-8 engines and extraordinary handling such as might give a not-very-ancient F1 car a run for its money. It depends too on what you think about epic car journeys in general, but especially those that involve machinery whose greatest comfort lies not in their Barcalounging or soda-refrigerating facilities, or in any advanced Internet connectivity, but rather in their ability to turn any road into their servant. Of course no one can knows exactly what to think of the idea of driving cross-country in a McLaren – so far as we and its maker understand, no one outside the company’s development department has ever attempted such a long journey in one of their cars before.

Having some previous experience with the 12C (McLaren no longer insists on the longer, official, Ron Dennis-approved MP4-12C descriptor, which the marketing department has since concluded wasn’t scanning highly on the sexy-meter) I know what I think of this idea. That prior introduction -- consisting of a day at the Portimao race circuit in Portugal at its launch in 2011 – is what made me come up with it in the first place. For McLaren’s $240,000 car (popularly priced compared to its latest, the $1.7-million, hybrid P1) was fast (3 seconds to 60,) and extraordinarily capable on the track – grip was otherworldly, thanks in part to an electro-hydraulic suspension, and seriously advanced ground effects aerodynamics. Just as striking, though, was the 12C’s ride quality and comfort off the track on the pocked roads of the Portugese Algarve. It seemed to me then to be a seriously practical sports car that would not only make a credible daily driver (a la the ground-breaking Acura NSX of the 1990s) but also a long-legged pleasure capsule that was begging for a road trip. Boy is it about to get one.

Photos: Martyn Goddard

Jamie Lincoln Kitman, a New York lawyer, is the New York Bureau Chief of Automobile Magazine, a contributing editor of GQ and the manager of rock bands including They Might Be Giants, OK Go, Mike Doughty, Vandaveer and Moon Hooch. Previous epic journeys he’s taken across America have involved Ferrari’s 456, 575 Maranello and F360, Porsche 911s, a Lotus Esprit Turbo Series 3, an Alfa Romeo 164LS, a Volvo 144, a 1963 Dodge Dart wagon and an MGB with a cracked head.