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This One-of-One McLaren F1 Headed to Auction Fixes Its Only Flaw: Headlights

The only flaw with Gordon Murray's near-perfect design was fixed by an old BMW convertible.
RM Sotheby's

It’s hard to imagine a McLaren F1 that could be even more valuable than it already is. The F1 is one of the most valuable cars in the world, with pristine examples selling for over $20 million. However, this very special one-of-one McLaren F1 that’s currently headed to an RM Sotheby’s auction block in Monterey, could become the most expensive F1 ever, thanks to one seemingly insignificant detail: its headlights.

The McLaren F1 is still regarded as one of the greatest sports cars in history. It was the first and only McLaren road car to be designed by Gordon Murray, whose nearly endless attention to detail and engineering excellence cemented into the automotive hall of fame, if there were such a thing. However, despite all of its engineering and design brilliance, its headlights were still pretty crap. Murray himself recently compared the F1’s headlights to “glow worms in a jar.” Subpar headlights at night, in a car that can reach over 230 mph, aren’t exactly ideal. Murray and McLaren decided to try and fix the headlights, toward the end of its production run but they only made one car with the new lamps, chassis number 059.

Chassis 059 had headlight innards from a BMW Z1, itself a rare oddball of a car, and the housings themselves were a bit shorter. It’s no surprise Murray turned to BMW for some spare parts, as he was already partnered with BMW for the F1’s engine. The naturally aspirated 6.1-liter V12 built by BMW M was a masterpiece in its time. The BMW-built S70/2 engine made more than 100 horsepower per liter, without forced induction, had variable valve timing, and a 7,500 rpm redline, back in the early ’90s. It was, and probably still is, BMW’s finest engine work and is one of the biggest reasons why the F1 is so beloved. So it’s kind of ironic that the BMW supplied headlights, from a quirky convertible few people even remember, are what will make this F1 even more valuable.

To be perfectly honest, the chassis 059 McLaren F1 should be worth more on looks alone. The BMW Z1 headlights actually make the F1 look significantly better. Its twin-bulb headlight, with a rectangular inner bulb and round outer bulb, fits the car’s front end design better than the stock double round bulb headlights. As does the slimmer headlight housing, which looks a bit more elegant.

This car was first owned by John Studholme, from Boston, Lincolnshire in the UK. Studholme was a successful businessman, who founded Dynamic Cassette International and owned several F1s. Chassis 059 was his second F1, which he bought in 1998, and he drove it quite a bit, putting about 16,000 miles on it in his 14 years of ownership. During that time, he had it regularly maintained by McLaren and the car comes with impeccable service records. In 2012, Studholme sold it to a U.S.-based collector, under the show or display exemption, which it’s still under today (it still isn’t old enough to register in the U.S.). Due that show or display exemption, it’s only had less than 300 miles put on it since the second owner took delivery.

To recap, not only is this McLaren F1 a one-of-one, incredibly well kept example of the most valuable car in the world, it’s the only one in history to fix one of the F1’s biggest flaws. How much will this chassis 059 McLaren F1 end up selling for? I’m not sure my peasant brain can comprehend numbers that large.