Twelve laps. Not that I’m complaining, but it wasn’t enough. Yes, the McLaren 600LT impressed around the launch at the Hungaroring, but leaving the track, it felt like unfinished business. Longtail, it’s become synonymous with harder charging, more visceral, engaging McLarens. Rightfully so, when you consider where McLaren took it from, the mighty F1 GTR Longtail that was created to continue the iconic F1’s success in sports car racing.
They shortened it to LT, stuck it behind the number 675 and created something of a bar to aim to, a set of goals defined by that racing predecessor. It introduced LT to the road with the 675LT and popularised by this car, the 600LT. It won’t be built in limited numbers, if you want one, you can have one, there’ll be a Spider if you prefer your 74mm longer 600hp Sports Series McLaren without anything between you and the sun above your head.
I’m looking at that now, in Palm Springs, eyeing up the details on the 600LT before me. The 570S it’s based on is a great-looking car, proportionally right, its stance taut, the LT adding a more assertive, uncompromising look. The specification underlines that, the engine’s power gain is 30hp, thanks to a combination of a re-tuned ECU, freer breathing and a shorter, top-exiting exhaust. There’s less weight, as much as 100kg if you go crazy and delete kit like AC and audio equipment, and pay even more for the seats pinched from the Senna.
That fixed wing actually adds a bit of weight, but you’ll forgive it that, as combined with all the other aero revisions it allows add around 100kg of downforce to the 600LT. With it though it’s as much about the stuff that you can’t see that makes the real differences, the brakes being borrowed from the 720S, with a brake booster borrowed from the Senna. There are forged suspension arms from the 720S too, while the spring rates are up, as is the roll bar stiffness front and rear, with the dampers tuned accordingly to suit.
McLaren is never anything but obsessive in its details, the cumulative effect of that being a significantly greater whole. That much was evident on the racetrack in Hungary, but it’s here, on the road where it really has to count, the difficult part for any firm making a track-biased car work well on the road.
And what a road. I’ve been here before, in other cars, and I know what’s ahead of me. I’d like to think the fact that Highway 74 was chosen for the sensational route it offers, but a little bit of me can’t help but think on a subliminal level McLaren’s PR operation has linked its number to the 74mm stretch the LT brings over the 570S. Whatever, it’s a fantastic stretch of tarmac, coiling and winding not unlike the rattlers that you might encounter if you stray off the beaten path here, connecting the dusty, dry desert below, rising up where the desert turns damp and to forest, its Pines to Palms name about as descriptive a one as you could give a road, only we’re heading in the opposite direction.
Leaving Palm Springs, the golf cart serviced homes soon make way for the barren rock-strewn side of the mountains as the road heads skyward. There’s nothing out there but the side of a mountain and the road climbing up and over it.
The 600LT is in its element here, the 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine’s response immediate, its character more naturally aspirated than forced induction, the kick above 6,000rpm ferocious, as the rev-counter’s needle chases the redline with wild abandon. Those top-mounted exhausts, so mellow and reserved in normal driving, change in character, blaring with blazing intent, quite literally at times, the superheated gasses igniting in the hot pipes as they exit behind you.
It’s addictive stuff, the acceleration, the speed of response and the gearshift’s immediacy sees pace rise with blistering force, but for all the eye-widening speed, it’s the subtleties that define the LT. Here its 50 per cent stiffer front anti roll bar, and 25 per cent rear is matched with firmer spring rates, by 13 per cent front and 34 per cent at the back could unsettle and disturb, but the 600LT’s damping is such that it copes with the tarmac’s unpredictable topography with real sophistication. The wheel and body control is exemplary, the grip from the bespoke Pirelli Trofeo R tyres unerring, the 600LT’s poise and control something to enjoy, and exploit. There’s every kind of corner up here, from steeply, helpfully cambered 270 degree switchbacks, to the sort of challenging unexpected flicks that challenge and demand fine control when the mass has to chance direction quickly. Throw in dips and crests and the suspension is working hard, yet it does so with real composure.
You’d be wise to leave it in Normal for the chassis, Sport and Track adding a brittleness, that’s upsetting and unnecessary, both best reserved for the glass smooth tarmac of a track, rather than a state-maintained public highway. The brakes, which impressed so much on track, remain as mesmerising here. Resolute in their stopping power the pedal feel is wonderful, you really can feel a connection to the Senna that’s gifted its brake booster, or at least an interpretation of it. The steering, too, is utterly faithful in its response, the weighting perfect, the turn-in immediate, the rim, thanks to McLaren’s persistence with a hydraulic set-up, rich in detail.
It’s all that which gifts speed as much as the mighty shove from the engine behind you, the ability to control it, to read to the limits, be it grip or traction, the 600LT’s limits so biddable, and exploitable to allow them to be brought in to play at will.
It’s a fantastic stretch of tarmac, coiling and winding not unlike the rattlers that you might encounter if you stray off the beaten path here.
It’ll move around underneath you if you want it to, the playful, engaging side to the 600LT’s character being core to its appeal. It’s very much the essence of a driver’s car, where you feel like you can make a difference. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, the transmission in Sport mode, the one you’d think would be good for fast road driving, punches through gears with an unnecessary brutality, it is uncouth, unbecoming and unsettling dynamically if you’ve got it loaded up exiting a corner and you pull for another of the seven ratios. That’s easily fixed by putting the gearbox setting into Track, where you get the fast shifts, without the punch in the back.
Nothing that can’t be dialled out to your preference then, my expectation that the 600LT might bring some compromises on the road, due to its incredible ability on the track, not materialising. It’s a phenomenal road car, and just to be sure I wasn’t wrong with my first impressions in Hungary there’s a track in the valley below to be certain.
Thermal Club’s the location, an incredible, high-octane playground for car enthusiasts who are time poor but cash rich. Track driving when they want it, how they want it. The 600LT reconfirms that it’s mighty here, even accounting for the heat and dust on some early laps, its breadth of capabilities even more astonishing have experienced more of them. It’s not just the best Sports Series car McLaren has yet built, or even LT, it is arguable that the 600LT is the best car ever to come from Woking. I suspected that with my first encounter, but on the road the LT left me with absolutely no doubt. You can keep the 12 laps then, I’ll go back up the mountain again.