Something I’ve always dreamed of, even before being an actual writer, was being a part of a group car test. I mean any group car test! I would have been happy to hang out with a squad of dumpy hatchbacks for a comparo. The real dream, however, was to have a selection of truly elite vehicles to myself, to wax lyrical about them. Journalist folk hero Henry Catchpole got to do the ultimate group test here: the Porsche 911 GT1, McLaren F1, and the Mercedes CLK-GTR. Now that is a comparison drive.
These cars were the original hypercar trio, and arguably the greatest of them all. Only one of these cars was designed as a road car, and even then the McLaren is the purest and uncompromising expression of what a road car can be. You must possess actual skill to pilot an F1, which isn’t very road carish of it. The other two would have basically felt like riding a washing machine set to high; the rawest race homologated cars possible for the FIA GT1 class.
While the McLaren seems like the odd one out, it certainly belongs in this group because of its aforementioned nature. We all know the story. Center seating position, six-speed gearbox, an engine that is the greatest of all time no contest, and Gordon Murray making absolutely zero compromises on the car.
The 911 GT1 in the video is a 1997 Strassenversion model with runny egg eyes. It’s the first and only mid-engined 911 road car, and is an actual race chassis with a 993 interior fitted to it. Catchpole feels that it’s the most dynamically resolved of the three cars, with a satisfying-looking six-speed manual.
And then there’s the Mercedes CLK-GTR. There is no other car with more presence and proportion ever made. It rises from the ground like it was spawned from the earth itself, and looks unbelievable with both clamshells off. The cabin is cramped and very race car. God, what a trio.
In my opinion, this is the best hypercar trio to have ever existed. The rest have been road cars, and very good road cars that were deeply impressive in their calibration and capability. But nothing beats the true, raw motorsport that these cars are born from. Something about how purpose-built and uncompromised they all are makes them attractive, makes them inaccessible, and makes them more mysterious.
It takes dedication to drive one of these machines. Maybe not the F1 so much, but the GT1 cars are raw, rough, and difficult. Something in my mind tells me that it keeps the posers far, far away from them, and has left the image of these cars as striking as they were in their day.
Anyways, Catchpole is the luckiest journalist out there. Let’s enjoy his joy driving these cars, and maybe someday we can aspire to drive things as cool and pure as he is. I don’t dream about driving a 918, or an Enzo. This is what I dream about. Give me the F1 or the 911 GT1. Please.