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Warning: Autoerotic Content

Before we get into our discussion of the McLaren F1--the fastest, most expensive and least air-conditioned street-legal car in the history of automotive science--let's look at a couple of equally eccentric makes and models designed with the enthusiast in mind:

If he or she looks around a little, the eagle-eyed collector can probably pick up a rare 1968 Sloshmobile Road Emperor--a real classic--for a measly twelve or fifteen thousand bucks. It will take up three parking spots, get 1.4 miles per gallon highway and require one of those "wide load" placards you always see on mobile homes barreling down the interstate in a gale-force crosswind. And to tell the truth, the Sloshmobile's brakes have never really been adequate. After all, the car weighs four tons and eats up nearly two miles of pavement before coming to a full stop from its top speed of 88 miles per hour.

But what's a little sacrifice when you consider luxury this grand? You can hold your daughter's wedding reception in the back of the Emperor without even calling your decorator. You can stage tennis tournaments. And if you really need to communicate with someone at the opposite end of the car, most used models still come with their own brace of carrier pigeons.

By the way, there's absolutely no truth to those recent stories that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been assembling his own fleet of Sloshmobiles in a secret factory near Basrah. In 1992 a team of U.N. inspectors termed the Emperor "one of the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction ever developed" and urged immediate and massive air strikes should Saddam be discovered reviving the big cars and building his own arsenal. So far, he's apparently limited himself to SCUD missiles, nuclear bombs and canisters of anthrax.

At the other end of the spectrum, environmentally aware motorists looking for transportation with a conscience may want to consider the 1998 Land Flea. It's a bargain at a list price of just $29,995 and has all the features you're looking for: one-wheel drive, seating for nearly two adults (as long as they're both under 5-7 and adhere strictly to the diet of brown rice and raw seaweed prescribed in the owner's manual); a two-cylinder, 38-mousepower engine, which runs on an earth-friendly mixture of ground ginseng root and white-wine cooler; and biodegradable particle-board fenders and body panels.

In recent tests, the latest Land Flea models have attained speeds of 13 miles per hour on smooth, level pavement. If rumors seeping out of the factory in Boulder, Colorado, prove to be true, 1999 editions of the car will be equipped with their own AM radios (and reverse gear!) for a reasonable additional charge. Manufacturer's specs claim the current Flea can cover 267 miles on a gallon of fuel but acknowledge that no driver to date has actually used up an entire tankful (3.1 gallons): That's because the Flea continues to experience problems with its balky two-speed transmission, which is constructed entirely from hemp.

Looking for something different in personal transportation? Something really sporty? Something you won't see coming and going every day in the parking lot at Sam's Club?

Test drive the McLaren F1--and this time we're not kidding.
Rumors of this exotic sports car's existence--pictures of it, even--have been floating around for a year and a half, but it wasn't until the December issue of Road & Track hit the newsstands recently that the stories could be believed. Someone at the magazine has actually driven one!

Now, if you know anything about international car racing, you know that McLaren-designed cars have won nine Formula 1 world championships--with such legends of the sport at the wheel as Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost and the late Ayrton Senna--and McLarens have often dominated other forms of open-wheel racing as well.

So when the McLaren designers, headquartered in England and headed up by former race-car wizard Gordon Murray, set out to make the ultimate sports car for the road, they didn't skimp, they didn't compromise, and they didn't think very hard about the needs of old Uncle Luther putt-putting off to his regular Wednesday-night pinochle game.

Let's see here. The McLaren F1, legal on street and highway, is a sleek shark with a 12-cylinder, 627-horsepower BMW Motorsport engine, a lightweight carbon-fiber body and a reported top speed of 231 miles per hour--probably fast enough to outrun the most dedicated highway patrolman. Just like McLaren's race cars, it goes zero to sixty in 3.4 seconds and weighs only 2,840 pounds--almost 400 pounds less than your garden-variety Chevy Corvette. It's exactly one inch longer than a Porsche 911.

It's also the ultimate narcissist's car. In its most common configuration, if anything can be said to be common about it, the F1 seats exactly one person--the driver--right in the middle of the cockpit. There are small luggage compartments on either side (and slightly to the rear--as befits monarch and subject) that can be converted into two passenger seats. But what the hell. How many passengers do you know who are willing to travel 200 miles an hour? Or stop for gas every twenty minutes?

Did I mention that in its U.S.-approved version, the McLaren F1 costs $1,131,120? That does not include license plates. It does include $81,120 in luxury taxes. This puts to financial shame the other cars (both of them) in its class. Ferrari's unruly race-car-for-the-street, the F50 (513 horsepower and luggage space sufficient for your American Express Gold Card), goes for a mere $480,000--if you can find one. The Bugatti EB 110 (no longer made, because the company promptly went out of business--again) set bargain hunters back just $350,000 when it came out in 1994.

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