McLaren takes great pride in its motor-racing heritage, which comprises not only Formula 1 but also the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans – and it's this race that provided the inspiration for the new 600LT.
LT is McLaren’s acronym for Long Tail, a name that goes back to the company’s Le Mans days, with the Gordon Murray-designed F1 GTR. Today, it defines its most serious sports cars for the road. For the 1997 Le Mans, designer Murray created a longer version of the F1 GTR race car as a way of keeping it planted on the long Mulsanne Straight. Against the odds of newer competition, the ageing motor won, instantly propelling the McLaren to legend status.
These days, LT-badged McLarens are not actually longer than the regular model, but it’s a nice deviation from the usual “sports” or “GT” badges we see everywhere to signify a faster, stiffer or lower model.
After a few days with the 600LT Spider, I have to warn you that it’s not a car for everyone – and, to be frank, I was happy to return it, despite it being enormous fun. I couldn’t live with it every day, as it’s too impractical for my needs, but it would make a sensationally decadent once-in-a-while weekend toy.
Fortunately for McLaren, there are enough people who do enjoy its single-minded focus on performance, as the original 600LT Coupe sold out before it hit the showroom floor. So we had to wait for the convertible Spider version to land before we could get into one. Like the Coupe, production is limited on the Spider and, while McLaren hasn’t given an exact number, you can guarantee it will be fewer than 1,000 units globally.
Despite it being the middle of summer when I drove it, the heat from both the sun and its pair of top-exiting exhaust stacks behind my head wasn’t going to stop me from getting re-acquainted with a marque that’s been largely quiet in this region for a number of years.
The Spider is 48 kilograms heavier than the Coupe but also 50kg lighter than the 570S Coupe and 100kg under the 570 Spider it’s based on, so the engineers have worked miracles to shave fractions of a kilo on many areas to bring the curb mass down. There are many ways this has been done, but it effectively brings its curb weight down to a minuscule 1,297kg, which is at least 80kg lighter than its nearest competitor, effectively offering a car that weighs the same as a VW Golf but with six times the power. The 600LT is also marginally wider than the 570S and features a more aggressive, 27-millimetre deeper front splitter, new side sills, a massively oversized rear diffuser and a chunky fixed rear wing. This all helps it develop an impressive 100kg of downforce at 250 kilometres per hour.
As with all McLarens, the carbon fibre tub is so rigid that, unlike any other car you’ll find, removing the roof has had zero impact on its structural integrity, meaning it doesn’t require extra bracing and therefore adding more weight.
Inside, it’s a familiar layout for McLaren buffs, with a tablet-like display dominating the console and a minimalist rule applied liberally, including the lack of any buttons or controls on the steering wheel. Storage is also on the minimal side, with no glovebox or door pockets, an awkwardly placed cupholder under the dash behind the infotainment screen and a small covered tray in the centre console for your phone and maybe a set of keys.
Speaking of the centre console, it features two rotary dials to select engine and suspension settings, the roof button and the starter button, and that’s pretty much it. If you want to compromise slightly and add a few more comforts at the expense of weight, a luxury pack can be ordered that includes a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo, electrically adjustable seats and a power-operated adjustable steering column.
The low-slung 3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine and seven-speed sequential transmission are the same units McLaren has used since the 12C, but at 592 brake horsepower with 620Nm of torque from 3,500rpm, it has been tweaked to produce 30bhp more than the 570S. In full acceleration mode this is a violent car off the line. On a track test its traction control allowed muted wheel spin to get maximum power to the road through the rear wheels before it launched to 100kph and 200kph in 2.9 and 8.4 seconds, respectively. Keep it planted and, where you’re allowed, it will wind out to 324kph.
Lowering the roof takes 15 seconds and can be done at up to 40kph but once down, or in this heat with the roof up and the small rear window between the head rests lowered, the sound from those pipes was nothing short of operatic. Add to this the massive air inlets that feed the turbos just behind the doors – and next to your left ear – and driving the 600LT Spider makes you feel like you are sitting in the middle of the mechanical action, as if the driver’s seat were somewhere in the bowels of the engine bay.
It is intoxicating. I have never driven any car that returns that kind of sensory explosion. The steering is hydraulic rather than electrically assisted, so the feel coming through the fingers gives you a natural connection to the road and you know exactly where you are with available grip. At a steady cruise with the chassis and powertrain settings in Normal, the 600’s ability to isolate its occupants from rough roads is exceptional and, despite fearing speed humps and looking for the suspension buttons to raise its skirts, it rarely needed to, as it soaked up bumps with ease.
For those who enjoy driving, preferably alone and early in the morning, the 600LT Spider is magic beyond words. But in any other situation it requires concentration and acceptance that you will compromise comfort and convenience to indulge your supercar dreams.