Anyone Could Buy This McLaren P1 When it Goes to Auction

At Amelia Island, a venture capitalist and retired professor hopes his no-reserve P1 will raise $2 million or more to endow his former college. Go ahead, make an offer.

© 2016 Mark Hardymon

It’s a typical auction maxim: Sellers of rare collector cars set a reserve price, a minimum bid they will accept, to ensure that no one steals their car for a relative pittance.

That Caveat venditor rule, or “let the seller beware,” is flying out the window March 10 at Gooding & Co.’s Amelia Island Auction in Florida, where a pristine 2015 McLaren P1 will be sold to the highest bidder, no matter how low that bid may be.

That brings us to our rock-bottom question, enunciated in the snappy, cash-stoking cadences of a seasoned auctioneer: Readers, what would you give us for this McLaren P1, this Faberge-rare example of the hypercar art, one of just 375 ever made? From the Mustang owner in back, do I hear $30,000? From the cute suburban couple, would you trade your Lexus RX straight-up for this British bauble, a plug-in hybrid with 903 horses and a 217-mph top speed?

All images courtesy of Gooding & Company. Copyright Mark Hardymon

Middle-class dreams aside, Gooding & Company and the P1’s anonymous owner are confident the McLaren will fetch $2 million to $2.3 million. A few reasons: This McLaren, chassis number 209, has just over 1,100 miles on its odometer. It’s the only P1 painted this shade of cobalt metallic, named in McLaren's books as "Professor 2 Blue" in honor of the owner's former job in academia. It’s one of only two P1’s equipped with  Daytona-style seats, in red. Note the distinctive crimson exterior striping, and interior controls painted to match the blue livery.

Copyright Anna McGrath

Just as importantly, the P1 comes with an inspirational story: Its owner—a lover of technology, education, and McLarens—will donate his auction proceeds to endow a teaching faculty chair at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Now, a Rose-Hulman may sound like some obscure pre-war convertible. In fact, Rose-Hulman’s undergraduate engineering school, with peaks with a Master's degree, is often ranked as the nation’s finest, including in a national survey of engineering department deans by U.S. News & World Report.

Take it from the owner-alumnus, who turned his 1969 mathematics degree from what was then Rose Polytechnic Institute into a doctorate from Duke, a successful career as a venture capitalist, and his own professorship and department chair at Harvard Business School.

“It’s been one of the best investments I’ve ever had,” says the 70-year-old owner, a McLaren fanatic who splits time between Cambridge, Mass. and the Berkshires. He recalls poring over Indy racers in the basement of what was then an all-boy’s school, and helping a friend drop a Chevy engine in an Alfa Romeo at the school’s shop.

“It’s always been this hands-on kind of place, a cross between a powerful, academic engineering education with the practical,” he says.

When his venture capital firm staffs companies, “It’s nice to have some Cal Tech and MIT grads to decorate the department, but if you want boys or girls who can really do shit, you go to Rose-Hulman or Northeastern.”

The owner, who divides time between Cambridge, Mass. and the Berkshires, daily-drives a McLaren 12C with 31,000 miles, and a Subaru WRX STI for New England winters. His garage also includes a 1963 Jaguar coupe, a 1967 Mini Cooper, a 1987 Ferrari 328 GTS and an Aston Martin DB7 that’s also being auctioned at Amelia Island. Oh, and an original Mazda Miata.

Regarding the P1, “I wanted to own the fastest car you can put on the road, and up until the (Bugatti) Chiron, that was probably true. But I bought the car with the idea that I would use it to endow a chair." The company’s cars and legendary engineering prowess, he says, dovetail neatly with the philosophy behind his endowment.

“The McLaren is the thinking man’s supercar, the technologist’s supercar,” he says. “The P1 represents everything that is important in engineering in the early 21st century. It’s literally a car that could not have been built 10 years ago.”

“Think what it took to build the P1, the computing systems it takes to switch between the turbo engine and the hybrid system; the fluid dynamics to manage two turbos on a small V8; or to build a completely carbon-fiber car that doesn’t cost what an airplane costs,” he says.

Named for a beloved professor at the private college, the Alfred R. Smith Chair for Teaching Excellence will allow instructors to develop new curriculums for new generations of students.

“We better figure out how to teach this stuff we’re inventing in Boston and Bangalore and Silicon Valley,” he says. “We need more engineering schools in this country, and more teachers of complex material."

One bespoke feature of his P1 is less complex, but still costly: A passenger-side vanity mirror, requested by his wife, that McLaren had to design from scratch, with the words “you look beautiful” etched into the glass.

“So now I have a vanity mirror that cost one-third of a Subaru,” he says with a laugh.

The retired professor says that while the P1 might have netted more money via a private sale, the high-profile auction can put a spotlight on his scrappy Midwest alma mater.

“I want to get the school out there,” he says. “It’s in Indiana, not generally recognized, but it ought to be recognized for what it is. It’s a national treasure.”

So, ladies, gentlemen and esteemed readers of The Drive: If your hearts are warmed, how about your wallets? What will you bid for this gorgeous specimen of plug-in philantrophy, the McLaren P1? Going once, going twice…