cars: genuine excellence vs. milking the ultra-rich

zOMG, the 25th McLaren F1 built with only 242 miles on the clock, including the luggage, the watch, the magnesium toolkit, … 😍

Side view of the 25th McLaren F1 built
Photo by Mike Maez, © Gooding & Company


Back in 1995 McLaren built a jaw-dropping advance on any production car and most race cars for “only” $1M, and struggled to sell 106 of them over 9 years. Now McLaren, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and obscure marques all routinely announce “limited” editions of so-called hypercars you’ve never heard of, with worse performance for MORE MONEY, and all 200+ cars sell out before production even starts. The increased wealth of the ultra-rich over 25 years is astounding, and an entire section of the car industry has cynically evolved to extract money from them like milking cows 🐄. Tax wealth!

Classic is another word for old and out-of-date

Most cars depreciate, but there are still dozens of vintage car models worth many times more their original cost. This McLaren F1 with its gold foil in the engine compartment, central driving position, bespoke V-12 engine, and 241 mph top speed is almost priceless (this example will probably auction for over $15,000,000). But in general there’s objectively nothing that makes an old sports car with less tech and performance than a $100,000 Tesla Model S worth six figures. For now there are ever-increasing numbers of crazy rich people with money to burn who want to own the sports cars they lusted over in their youth. As multi-millionaires age out and newer ones lose interest in combustion engines, I’m not sure how long the million-dollar vintage car party will continue. Fans gush over the visceral thrill of a thundering V-12 engine or screaming V-10, but noise is no longer a signifier of performance, any more than the smell of a thoroughbred horse is.

Even the coffee-table McLaren F1 book now costs 4 figures. What I really want is a reproduction of the black & white Ralph Lauren Purple Label ad that’s a closeup of his two F1s parked side-by-side.

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