I like how at one point this retrospective piece about the McLaren F1 as the World's Greatest Car turned into a discussion of the quite old laptops McLaren had been using to do maintenance on the cars since their mid-1990s heyday:
In the excerpts that follow, Henry Winkworth-Smith is McLaren Special Operations Heritage Manager. John Meyer is Senior technician, BMW of North America. Jay Leno is, well, very, very rich indeed.1
WINKWORTH-SMITH: Until three months ago, we were using those [original 1990s] laptops [for diagnostics]. Our technicians were being stopped in airports and asked to prove that it was a real laptop, because [security] thought it was a bomb. They were like, "No one uses those laptops anymore."
MEYER: It runs on a DOS program!
WINKWORTH-SMITH: There was a Jalopnik post, someone took a picture of a laptop here. First off, our workshop manager was furious, because there was a car up in the background and it didn't look all smart and neat. But that article was hilarious, because I probably got 45 or 50 emails offering me laptops. Ranged from, "I have one of these laptops. I'm not using it. I would like nothing more than the thought of that laptop looking after a McLaren F1. Please give me your address, and I will ship it," to some guy who was like, "Well, if you haven't got them, I've got one. I want $20,000."
One of the interesting points about McLaren getting into the production of road cars was that, given that they wer dealing with small numbers of high-value models, they really had to think about long-term service and support:
WINKWORTH-SMITH: We've got very few windscreens left, for instance. They have this special coating between the two laminates, which means you don't have wires in them, which gives you a heated windscreen.
To be British, they're jolly expensive. And, you know, you could put a cheaper GTR screen in, but the voltage is different, you haven't got your wiring, and it hasn't got the same blue tint. So we said, Okay, the only way we could do it is to invest in [ordering a complete glass set]. It's hundreds of thousands of pounds. But it's important to do it, to keep these cars on the roads.
LENO: When I first got it to the dealer for service, they said, "Oh, replace the wiper blade." I said, "Well, I don't drive the car in the rain." They said, "It's part of the service." I said, "How much is the wiper blade?" They said, "$1500." I said, "You know what, don't replace the wiper blade! I won't take it out if it rains."
You're at the point now where anything on the car . . . it's a house.
I guess they're dealing with a customer base who take pride in the knowledge that their vehicle doesn't share a windscreen wiper design with three or four other models.
Amusingly, the F1 is very much less laden with in-car electronics than a modern vehicle like a Bugatti Veyron, in order to provide the driver with a purer driving experience rather than use ABS and traction control and suchlike to make it easier to drive at the price of having microelectronics overseeing much of the driving process. The reason for the laptops is that McLaren were keen to be ahead of the game in providing good servicing via clever remote diagnostics, rather than a desire to apply computing power to the driving experience itself.
And, for those of us in the UK, Jay Leno is better known as a petrolhead friend to the Top Gear cast than for his work as an actual late-night TV host-slash-TV comedian, which we mostly haven't seen. Seriously, mass audiences in the UK are barely aware of the whole Leno-Letterman thing. ↩