by Gabe Beita Kiser
It's a dream most of us have as kids. I know I did. To be buried somewhere in the Italian alps on a road tracing each of its million ridges, the roar of a furious engine bouncing between the offspring of ancient forests and rocky ranges formed before the first hominid started hobbling on two legs. To be slung low and close to Earth in a cockpit not even George Lucas could imagine, the outraged hornet's nest rumbling in center-chassis shaking senses too raw to realize skin has turned to goosebumps. It becomes a battle against physical and metaphysical forces, Pirellis clawing for grip, mind clinging to focus in the middle of an out of body experience. And somewhere, somehow, amid the maelstrom, the beauty and ecstasy becomes so pure that tear ducts go to work celebrating the joy of being alive.
3.8-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
Don't make me feel weird about getting emotional behind the wheel, you'd do the same if McLaren tossed you keys to a bright orange 600LT Spider at sunrise and said, "see you at lunch." Between me and lunch stood a hundred miles of aimless Arizona roads traversing wrinkled desert and taking the place of Italy's snow-covered Dolomites. Given the scenario, the McLaren 600LT Spider was the perfect car for the job. Not just because it's a supercar capable of delivering my empty stomach to the lunch table faster than 99% of cars on the road, but because its roof could be peeled back so I could enjoy clear Arizona skies along the way. Because as much as McLaren will say this car is designed to post dizzying lap times, it's true mastery lies in its ability to dispense joy.
As a descendant of the 1997 McLaren F1 GTR 'Longtail' not in genes but in driver-focused spirit, the 600LT twins mark the first time the LT designation makes it to McLaren's Sports Series. The first step in accomplishing the transformation from road-going supercar to the first pick on track days is by looking the part. Like the 600LT Coupe, the Spider is chiseled to take the 570S Spider on which it's based and improve its relationship with the atmosphere. The fact it ends up with more good angles than a supermodel is a bonus. It parts the air with greater ease using carbon fiber aerodynamic elements, which include a widened front splitter, extended side intakes, protruding side sills, a longer rear bumper, a wider and deeper rear diffuser, and of course, that fixed rear wing straddling the roof of the engine bay. The wing may be the most eye-catching new piece, but it sits behind a central 600LT feature: a top-exit exhaust. Exotic, sure, but function is its main justification for existence.
Along with giving a stylistic nod to the McLaren Senna, it reduces back pressure, cuts out three-and-a-half-feet of stainless steel piping and 27.8 pounds that the 570S is usually burdened with, and rips eardrums to attention when the roof or retractable rear window is down.
As with all other McLarens, seeing the 600LT Spider in person uncovers details and nuances not easily spotted in photos. The defragmented aesthetic provided by buttressing on the door and black lines on the sides that are actually deep indents to channel air into the intake, for example. Or even the way the side sills and carbon bits on the bumper extend away from the body to reap aerodynamic benefits without adding the weight of a thicker body panel.
These parts add a combined 220.5 pounds of downforce to the 600LT Spider at 155 mph, but the weight manipulation only continues inside where swaths of Alcantara pad hard carbon-fiber panels to lend a degree of warmth and comfort to the cabin, even if the Carbon Black and Graphite color scheme on my tester anonymized the interior to keep focus on the road.
McLaren interiors have always championed the elegance of simplicity, a theme the stray pieces of exposed carbon, body-colored stitching, and orange centering stripe on the steering wheel uphold in the 600LT Spider. The cabin isn't exactly beautiful like the body is, but its dramatic and focused, even without creature comforts like a glove box or door pockets, the absence of which saves 2.2 pounds. This kind of sacrifice sounds obsessive until you realize McLaren has cut 60.4 pounds from the 600LT's interior by removing the carpets, using Alcantara instead of leather, thinning out the windscreen glass, and utilizing padded carbon fiber seats rather than the 570S' sport seats. Real masochists and track devotees can bring that weight loss figure to 104.3 pounds by getting rid of the air conditioner, audio and navigation systems, and by optioning a carbon fiber interior package and the super light 7.4-pound carbon fiber racing seats borrowed from the McLaren Senna.
Like most of Hollywood's leading actors, McLaren had the tall order of making the 600LT Spider leaner yet more muscular. Though the "Long Tail" moniker does more to give a shout out to the McLaren F1 Longtail than indicate a larger butt, the 600LT Spider is actually 3 inches longer than the 570S Spider. Wheelbase remains the same, meaning the extra length goes to the tail in pursuit of bullet-like aerodynamics, but the front track grows by 0.4 inches over the 570S Coupe to better plant the front end.
Weight reduction measures, like the 10-spoke forged alloy wheels with optional titanium bolts, optional MSO carbon fiber front fender louvres, the top-exit exhaust, lighter suspension components, carbon fiber aero pieces, an anorexic wiring harness, and lighter brakes, all help to make up for the 7.7 pounds added by the larger rear wing and contribute to an additional 112.2 pounds of weight loss when compared to the 570S Spider's mass.
More impressive than the work conducted to lighten the 600LT Spider is the work that didn't have to be done. A fruit of McLaren's efforts to become the industry's carbon fiber expert is that it's learned how to build a carbon chassis so rigid that the 600LT Spider needs no additional strengthening to reinforce the loads previously borne by the roof. In fact, even with the stowable top and the motorized components that allow a button press to raise or lower the lid, the 600LT Spider weighs just 2,859 pounds without fluids. That's only 110.2 pounds more than the 600LT Coupe and 219.1 pounds less than the 570S Spider.
The revisions hardly end there. Saving weight may be crucial to building a car that can handle, but horsepower is where the bragging rights are. That's why the 600LT Spider's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 has been tuned to make an extra 30 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque, making for a grand total of 592 brake horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque, both of which are sent to the rear wheels. Couple that with McLaren's seven-speed double-clutch gearbox and it's easy to see how the 600LT Spider becomes a topless rocket capable of hitting 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds, just like the coupe, and 0-124 mph in 8.4 seconds, only 0.2 seconds slower than the hard top. With its roof down and wind blowing around the cabin, the 600LT Spider can clear 196 mph as long as a driver's hairdo can stand it.
If it can't, the 600LT Spider's 201 mph roof-up top speed should be enough to console anyone afflicted with wealth and a vanishing head of hair.
Looks aside, what really counts is what's on the inside. A resilient person, regardless of good looks or a bad case of hair loss, can weather life's twists and turns better than a neurotic one. Similarly, the 600LT Spider's sex appeal would do nothing for it in the corners if it didn't have a solid suspension system to lean against. Fortunately, the 600LT has just that. It inherits its front and rear double wishbones and uprights from the 720S but keeps the 570S' analog-feeling dampers and front and rear anti-roll bars, which have been stiffened by 14% up front and 34% at the rear.
The 600LT Spider also gets a 0.3-inch drop in ride height, which is then accompanied by 15.4-inch front and 15-inch rear carbon ceramic brake rotors, large aluminum calipers to handle them, and a brake booster stolen from the McLaren Senna for more track-appropriate pedal feel.
Central to the 600LT's handling is its set of Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo Rs, which have been developed specifically for the car, and track-oriented driver aids like a stability control system that's been tuned to work with the Trofeo Rs and can accommodate drivers across a wide spectrum of skill levels. By using Formula 1 derived brake steer technology, which brakes the rear inside wheel mid-corner to make the car feel as if its pivoting around its center, the 600LT Spider manages to eschew a heavy limited-slip differential while reaping most of the benefits of having one.
Building a supercar means setting lofty numerical targets and using the latest technology and engineering tricks to surpass them, but a car is much, much more than the sum of its parts. The 600LT Spider is no exception. Its highlights, aside from jolting me to life as I zoomed up a Phoenix onramp attempting to beat morning traffic, is scarily quick acceleration and an almost familial bond with the road. But never does that polarize a driver because the 600LT Spider's capabilities feel freakishly accessible from the moment you step inside.
The steering wheel is so connected to the road that it jiggles on smooth, straight freeways if you try to drive with a single hand. But once the elongated tail is facing the city and the nose is pointed towards tangled, cactus-flanked roads, the 600LT lures your throttle foot closer and closer to the firewall.
With bone-chilling air blowing through the cabin (I really wanted to experience open top driving, even if I had to suffer for it), the 600LT Spider comes to life under speed, encouraging a driver with the sheer amount of its capability. It advertises its limits progressively, oversteering evenly without snapping its tail wide in a fit of temper. But the confidence it builds meant I had to take care with the throttle since it's too easy to become intoxicated by the clean roar of a V8 unencumbered by a roof, by the increasing pitch of turbochargers impregnating cylinders with desert air. I didn't want McLaren to find me cuffed in the back of an Interceptor Utility before the first rest stop.
It was hard to tell where the next stop was because with the top down and a pair of polarized glasses on, it's nearly impossible to read the 7-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment display.
After a few more hard corners, the road opened to reveal miles of visibility, and with brakes that can take the 600LT Spider from 124 mph to zero in just 397 feet encouraging more violence, it was a good thing that lunch and a subsequent track session lay ahead. As fun as it is on the road, the 600LT Spider has to be experienced on the track to reveal it's other party trick: being indistinguishable from the its roofed counterpart.
The extra weight, a slight sense that the chassis has gotten shaky in the knees, none of these convertible attributes hints are there. Steering is another constant, never changing its behavior during the transition from Sport to Track Mode, or even when it's in Normal for that matter. At all times, it remains ready to attack with sharper on-center response, a ratio that's 4% faster than the 570S', and a more direct line of communication with the road.
Thanks to the wider front track, aerodynamics, and Trofeo Rs, the front end endures more abuse without turning its efforts into understeer. Each tug at the carbon fiber shift paddles uncovers another layer of attack and changes the engine's pitch faster than human perception can pinpoint. Then the next corner comes up and you shove a few gears down the engine's throat before the brake steering system swings the 600LT Spider's nose towards the inside of the corner from its anchor point at the rear, allowing the V8 to more quickly resume its mad dash towards the next braking zone.
Unfortunately, getting to braking zones on the track in the 600LT Spider means overcoming the biggest hurdle that forces dreamers to put the brakes on a McLaren purchase: the asking price. The bare minimum for the 600LT Spider is $256,500, which is $16,500 more than the 600LT Coupe and $47,700 more than the 570S Spider. Buyers have access to an extensive options list as long as their wallets can stand the hit, and for those looking to truly up the ante, keep in mind that the MSO outfit will accept almost any request as long as it's realistic and the check large enough. Our testers were spec'd with options like exclusive paint, a 12-speaker Bowers and Wilkins sound system, the carbon fiber interior package, McLaren's Track Telemetry pack, and a host of visual upgrades like MSO carbon fiber louvres, carbon fiber sill finishers, gloss black wheels and the dark palladium roof.
Even with the cash, getting your hands on one won't be easy since McLaren will only build the 600LT Spider for a year and keep production numbers limited, though it won't give us an idea of just how limited. Your best bet is to express interest now, have the cash on hand, and act like you have a personal vendetta against Ferrari.