There was a time when was fond of combustion-engined cars – so much so that he bought one of the best ever made: the McLaren F1. This video from 1999 ironically gives us something Justine Wilson said she was afraid Musk could miss: “a sense of appreciation and perspective.”
We cannot talk about appreciation because that depends on the viewer’s background and expectations, but we can say we appreciate what the F1 probably did for EV history. Perspective, on the other hand, is what the video above offers the most. Among other things, it helps us understand why Tesla took the right path towards becoming a popular brand.
Although some people loathe combustion-engined cars, the McLaren F1 must have taught Musk what a car should be. In the brief period he drove it, the F1 probably have amazed Musk multiple times to the point he knew the Model S would not be good enough if it did not do the same. For the record, the Tesla CEO destroyed the car trying to amaze Peter Thie only a few months later in 2000.
If Tesla and Musk followed a path of rationality, energy efficiency, and environmental concern, the Roadster would probably have been a flop, as well as the Model S. It was necessary to convince people these things could be a plus to something they already desired: speed. The electric sedan went beyond the sports car by joining an amazing performance with the versatility of carrying up to seven people and having a frunk.
In that sense, the McLaren F1 was also extraordinary. It did not seat two people, but three. It also had a central driving position and could carry a reasonable amount of luggage, making it one of the most capable hypercars in history.
It was that amazement that made people crave for a Model S and an F1. By selling it in minimal numbers, Mclaren made the F1 one of the most valuable classic cars of our times. Musk followed a different path and used the Model S’s desirability to achieve high production numbers, which the Model 3 and the Model Y intend to take to a new level nowadays.
Musk feared he would be seen as an imperialist brat for having bought the F1. Justine Wilson was also concerned they would become “spoiled brats.” On the other hand, perspective shows that the most valuable car company in the world may have a lot to owe to a then $1-million combustion-engined car from 1999.