Apparently the McLaren 570S Spider is “sick”. The epithet came from the 40-something gent who runs our village garage, and it was a compliment, as “sick” is apparently street argot for anything that’s beyond cool - although he substituted the word “cool” for something entirely unprintable.
I’d been loaned the McLaren for a week, and had decided to take it for a tour of Northamptonshire. Friends expressed envy, but far from being thrilled I was nervous to the point of queasiness. The car arrived during a blast of arctic weather that left roads near my rural Kentish home with surfaces like cambered mirrors. Perfect for one of the most powerful cars I have ever driven.
Before heading to the Midlands it was used in a BBC Radio Kent item recorded at Dungeness, about five miles from broadcaster Dominic King’s Romney Marsh home. The journey took forever, crawling at about 10mph and we were stopped several times with warnings of lethal black ice patches. We waited 15 minutes for some villagers to extract an unconscious cyclist from a ditch.
Afterwards about the only things I’d discovered about the 570S was that it sounded like a well-bred hot rod and had an excellent heater. Still, the Midlands jaunt would reveal its character, weather permitting.
For a bit it looked as if the weather wouldn’t permit anything, with predictions of thick fog, but I set off in the pre-dawn gloom, detouring via west London to collect 19-year-old animation student Dan Grant, a distant cousin and a supercar fan.
I thought he’d bring a less jaded perspective to the McLaren than I would. I also hoped he’d be able to make the car’s satnav work.
Amazingly, the fog began lifting as we rumbled to the M1. I’d got the hang of the car’s clever, quite minimalist minor controls, and felt more comfortable in its compact, leather-lined cabin that, like the seats, seems to enfold its occupants. Apart from a horrid threequarter rear blind spot the 570S is easy to place and I began to enjoy rather than feel intimidated by it.
Dan loved its flowing, cohesive styling, preferring it to the sharp-edged McLaren Senna uber-supercar, which he considered far from “sick”. In fact he called it “disgusting”. A little harsh, I thought.
Although unspeakably young and pulled together, I’m pleased to report that Dan couldn’t make the 570S’s satnav work either so, using an ancient Garmin, we thundered up a sunlight M1, waving to the van passengers taking smartphone pictures of us.
We rolled past frost-covered fields and into rural Northamptonshire, proceeding with care for fear of lurking black ice. Our destination was the pretty village of Stoke Bruerne, and its charming canal museum. This sits next to a picture postcard set of locks, and is filled with the sort of “I-didn’t-know-that” artifacts that make for a very entertaining browse.
The 570S Spider has doors that open like penknife blades and an electric roof that folds away with theatrical panache. Heater on and suitably hatted, Dan and I unfurled it to have the car’s picture taken, and blatted up and down the twisting roads that undulated from Stoke Bruerne, reveling in the mix of superheated cabin air and eddies of outdoor coldness.
I could write the usual car clichés about the Spider’s accelerative prowess (think 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds), and Dan did say something about feeling his lungs compressing during one drive-past, but yes, the steering is a precise delight, the rapid-fire seven-speed automatic/paddle shift transmission remarkably smooth, the thing displayed prodigious levels of grip, eyeball-squashing braking power and didn’t ride like a rampant pile driver.
For guilty pleasure fun there’s little to touch it.
Our next destination was the Silverstone racing circuit; which turns 70 this year, and offers guided tours among other attractions. We snaked along empty lanes and through Towcester, an attractive place with plenty of little shops. It’s also close to villages like Greens Norton, which are excellent places for wandering and pub lunches.
Silverstone is reached via the swooping, fast-flowing A33, and on race days is often as interesting for people-watching as it is cars doing gladiatorial things.
Northampton was our next destination. Down came the roof and we yowled and bellowed our way back along the A33, lit by patches of watery sun. Northampton itself was quickly reached, but its centre, which actually has many fine buildings amid the architectural mediocrity, takes an age to get to and features a challenging sort of ring road - and it is also a difficult place to park a wide, low supercar such as the McLaren.
We were looking for 78 Derngate, an early 1800s house remodeled by Arts & Crafts pioneer Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916 for model engineer W.J Bassett-Lowke. Rennie Mackintosh’s only domestic commission outside Scotland, it’s a fascinating place, but one we drove past three times before spotting it.
The McLaren might be obscenely fast but it will slow you down in other ways. People want to talk to you about it. We’d stopped to consume horrid petrol station sandwiches outside a terraced house whose garden was stuffed with plants and ornaments. The owner, a large old gent holding a chipped teacup, rhapsodised about the car then talked about his days in the Army during the Suez Crisis.
Soon he was joined by some swaggering, friendly young men for more “What’ll she do mister?” banter.
The 570S’s near-£165k price drew mild gasps, so too the revelation that the options list could add about £40,000 to this sum.
Such encounters are part of McLaren ownership and meant dusk was gathering and the temperature dropping as we slipped out of Northampton and made for Althorp House, an elegant, imposing place where you could easily spend hours just enjoying the vistas. It is the seat of the Spencer family estate, with attractions including Princess Diana’s island grave and a museum.
In the best sense there’s an element of performance about the way country estates such as this look.
Although the aesthetics are very different, the same could be said of the McLaren 570S Spider, for which the word “performance” means a lot more than simply going fast.
McLaren 570S Spider
ENGINE 3,799cc twin-turbo V8
TOP SPEED 204mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 3.2sec
FUEL ECONOMY 26.6mpg (EU Combined)