During the mid-1990s my daily commute used to take me past the McLaren showroom on London’s Park Lane. The premises were small, styled in a sort of cave-like fashion and occupied by a bored-looking saleswoman who presided over a single, silver-coloured McLaren F1 that remained in precisely the same position for several years. Its price tag, of around £600,000, made it about the most expensive production car on the market, and it’s fair to say that the 64 road-legal examples produced between 1993 and 1998 didn’t exactly fly off the shelves.
But things have changed a bit since then. In 2008, for example, the very car that sat in the Park Lane showroom for so long changed hands at auction for £2.5m, and the value of the best F1s has since soared to around four times as much now that Gordon Murray’s creation has come to be regarded as one of the greatest cars ever designed.
In fact, had the F1 been launched today, McLaren probably wouldn’t have needed a showroom at all, or a salesperson to sit in it. Because, it seems, a car manufacturer needs only to announce its intention to create an ultra-high-end supercar and the order books start to fill up fast, thanks to an intriguing combination of factors that, paradoxically, seem to have made the world’s most expensive production cars even easier to sell than the average family hatchback.
For a case in point, look at Bugatti’s highly anticipated Chiron, the replacement for the celebrated Veyron that was phased out last year after a 10-year run, during which it became famous for being the fastest series production car in the world and one of the most expensive, with the €1.4m price tag of the original rising to €2.35m for the Ettore version of the six, run‑out Legend models.
The initial Chirons – which boast 1,500hp engines and a potential top speed of almost 300mph – will not be delivered, according to Bugatti, until “the first quarter of 2017”. Yet at the time of writing, deposits have already been taken for more than 200 of the 500 due to be produced, with most customers choosing to spend an additional €300,000 on “extras” over and above the base price of €2.4m. Some have even ordered two or more examples, with one customer rumoured to have reserved no fewer than six – and all without a single test-drive having taken place. “We took a bold move by introducing the Veyron at a cost of more than €1m in 2005, when its nearest rival – the Ferrari Enzo – was priced at just €665,000,” says Dr Stefan Brungs, Bugatti’s director of sales and marketing. “Back then, we were new in the market and, while people were used to paying seven-figure sums for aircraft and yachts, they were not used to spending that sort of money on a car. In the beginning it was difficult to get buyers to see the Veyron’s value, but as they began to realise that it broke all boundaries in terms of performance and technology, people started to appreciate its worth and the different versions quickly sold out.”
Now, pre-owned models such as the Veyron Super Sport are commanding almost twice their original price – with the consequence that many who have ordered a Chiron have done so with the expectation that their €2.4m purchase will rise in value rather than fall.
According to Dr Brungs, however, the cost of the Chiron is unlikely to be of much concern to the people who will buy it: “The price is relatively insignificant to a billionaire with numerous homes, a private jet or two, a collection of around 40 cars, a superyacht,” he says. “The cost may represent a small fraction of the owners’ wealth, but they still like to feel that they are making a good investment. They also enjoy being part of the Bugatti lifestyle – they meet other drivers on our organised ‘grand tours’ and like to buy other Bugatti goods, which range from watches, clothing, furniture and luggage, to boats designed with Palmer Johnson and our Bugatti villas in Dubai.”
Indeed, James Banks, head of bespoke cars at McLaren Special Operations, says the act of spending £1m-plus on a hypercar is something that, nowadays, is regarded eminently sensible. “Now that people are not making any significant returns by leaving cash in the bank, the right cars have come to be regarded as an asset class, offering an investment opportunity that is both fun and exempt from capital gains tax,” says Banks. “As a result, all 375 examples of the hybrid McLaren P1 road car and all 50 examples of the track-only GTR model sold out within a few months of being announced, despite being priced at £866,000 and £2m respectively.
“Around 95 per cent of clients specified some sort of bespoke detailing, and the road cars have now comfortably doubled in value. Exclusivity is the name of the game these days, and the fact that the P1 was a leader in technology and engineering and was built in limited numbers undoubtedly reinforced its investment potential,” adds Banks, who would not be drawn on the possibility of a successor to the P1, referring only to McLaren Automotive’s recently announced six-year, £1b investment plan dubbed “Track22”, which will see the launch of a host of new models.
But if there is to be a new McLaren hypercar, it is likely to enter a far more competitive arena than existed in the 1990s during the days of the brand’s original F1. Aston Martin, for example, is looking to 2018 for the launch of its potentially game-changing AM-RB 001, which will be the result of a joint venture between the marque’s design director Marek Reichman and Adrian Newey, chief technical officer of Formula One team Red Bull Racing.
The radical creation promises to be the fastest Aston yet and will be built in an edition of up to 150 road cars plus 25 for track use only. Featuring ground‑effect aerodynamics, an F1-style prone driving position and a V12 engine in a carbon-fibre body, the car’s high-tech specification has led to predictions of a price tag in the £2m-£3m mark. Aston Martin customers who previously bought other exotic limited editions of the marque – such as the One-77 or the Vulcan track car – are expected to be “invited” to purchase an AM-RB 001, and then asked to pay a deposit of around £500,000.
A similar approach was adopted at Ferrari – historically the bluest of blue-chip investment marques – which was careful only to offer its LaFerrari hybrid hypercar to longstanding VIP customers when the edition of 499 was launched in 2013 with a price tag of €1.1m. The aim was to reduce the likelihood of “flipping” – yet cars appeared on the market relatively soon at considerable premiums.
At the Paris Motor Show in September, the Prancing Horse unveiled a removable-top version called the Aperta, limited to 209. Marketing boss Enrico Galliera says the car will cost “about 50 per cent more” than the original LaFerrari – and all have already been sold to past Ferrari customers on the same invitation-only basis.
The Italian niche maker Pagani, meanwhile, continues to attract a following of ultra-wealthy performance-car enthusiasts, despite the fact that it has built little more than 250 cars since the unveiling of the original Zonda C12 at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999. This month, the firm commenced deliveries of its Huayra BC that debuted at the Geneva show in March with the announcement that only 20 cars would be produced, each priced at €2.3m, plus local taxes. They sold out within days – and the order book has already filled up for the 100 Huayra Roadsters due to enter production within the next two years, even though a finished vehicle has yet to be revealed to the public. “They sell very quickly, because buyers see them as a combination of artwork, investment and ultra-high-performance car,” says Pagani’s global PR and communications manager Luca Venturi.
Ironically, however, Horacio Pagani – the company’s founder and former head of the composite materials department at Lamborghini – never expected his outlandishly fast Mercedes-AMG-engined creations to become a major commercial success. “It was almost a modern-day Renaissance concept, a Leonardo da Vinci-like blend of art and science,” says Venturi. “The result was a car that offered exceptional performance at a high price, but also one that proved really attractive to both collectors and drivers. Some customers really do use their cars every day, even if they are only driving to work – but others just want to look at them and actually put them on display inside their houses. Other than the fact that they are extremely wealthy and tend to keep a very low profile, there isn’t really a typical Pagani customer. We have sold cars to people aged in their 20s, but also to others who are in their 70s.”
It is also unlikely that anyone who has bought one will have been disappointed by the return on their investment. A Zonda F press car that was sold in 2006 for €650,000, for example, was recently bought back by Pagani’s museum for €1.4m. And one of the final Zonda Cinque models (just 10 of which were made, five coupés and five roadsters) this year changed hands for €4.5m – more than four times what it cost new in 2010.
According to Steven Wade, public relations officer at Swedish marque Koenigsegg, it is a combination of giant leaps in both technology and wealth that have seen the recent surge of interest in hypercar ownership. “The number of potential buyers has increased for the simple reason that there are now many more billionaires in the world than there were back in 2002 when Koenigsegg first entered production,” says Wade. “When we launched our first car, it had a 655hp engine – but these days you don’t need to buy an exotic car to get that sort of power because it’s available in an off-the-shelf BMW or Mercedes. However, now that companies such as Ferrari with its LaFerrari, and McLaren with the P1, are building truly extraordinary sports cars, niche makers such as Koenigsegg are having to become even more extreme.”
The result is the latest Koenigsegg model – the Regera – which combines a twin-turbo, V8 combustion engine with a trio of electric motors to produce what the firm claims is the most powerful, fastest-accelerating production car ever made – one that offers 1,500hp and a top speed in excess of 250mph. Hand-built at the marque’s Angelholm factory, it will be produced in an edition of 80, more than half of which have already been accounted for, despite carrying a price tag of around $2m apiece, plus taxes.
And that’s without any extras, of course.