That title isn’t a metaphor for how sexy a convertible sports car is. Somehow, the McLaren 570S Spider is designed in just such a way as to blow a driver’s skirt over their head and unfasten their undergarments. Droptop, indeed. Yes, I went there. The car literally undresses you as you drive. How that isn’t in the press materials I have no idea. Let’s go back to a time when I was still fully clothed at the beginning of the day.
McLaren as a modern carmaker is probably most famous for the P1, a million-dollar super car introduced in 2012 that boasted 904hp, was made almost entirely of carbon fiber, ran a 9-second quarter-mile well before the Dodge Demon and was built using technology banned from McLaren’s F1 race cars. Of course, they didn’t make very many of those, and you’ll rarely see one out and about as a grocery getter. The McLaren Sports series on the other hand is intended as a daily use, “affordable” sportscar. Now, in my world, and I’m assuming yours (if not, hey, call me) a $200,000 two-seater is not what I’d call affordable, but in the world of the million-dollar P1, it’s quite reasonable. Pocket change. The 570 comes in a hardtop, a GT variety, and now, a convertible. It was in that last variant, the 570S Spider, that we headed out on the highway at the foot of the Malibu hills in California to see if one can have Roadkill adventures in a decidedly unRoadkilled car.
My first destination was the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley for no reason other than that it has a fun windy road leading up to it, and an F14 at the top. I was hoping to pose the car with Air Force One in the background, but it is tucked safely inside of a giant building, up a flight of stairs for which even the useful ride height lever on the 570’s steering wheel couldn’t get me enough clearance. With that plan thwarted, I slid the car back down the hill and through the suburban traffic of Simi in search of destination number two: Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village.
Bottle houses are high on the list of Things That Are Roadkill. They are made, almost always by a strange and delightful character, out of glass bottles and concrete, and are most often found near old west ghost towns and out in lonely deserts. You can see why we so often run into them on Roadkill shoots. Grandma Prisbrey’s is unusual in that it is smack dab in the center of a modern neighborhood, surrounded by minimall corners and condos. It stands out in the area the same way the McLaren does, bright glassy colors, handmade and imaginative, powerful yet fragile.
While I peered through the gates at the village, the car attracted its own admirers. A tap on the shoulder made me jump, and a trio of ladies pointed at the car and asked for photos. “We followed you to see if we could ask about it,” one of them said. “We love it. What is it?”
What is it? Well, it’s a lightweight, mid-engine, RWD two-seater with a twin-turbo 3.8L V8 making 562hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, backed by a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. That’s what fancy cars call their super-quick shifting clutchless manuals, which are basically automatics. It matters if you are an engineer and take them apart. As a driver, it’s an auto with paddle shift options. If you let it shift itself it hangs and clicks and snaps into gear with satisfying racecar sounds, gorgeous in tunnels, wildly out of place in stop and go traffic. Fun all around. As is the case with most cars at the edge or past of supercardom, there is no three-pedal option, and in the 570 there wouldn’t be anywhere to put it if they did offer one. The footbox is small and offset inward, possibly a leftover from being designed originally as a right-hand-drive car? It’s not a problem, just takes some wiggling in the seat to find the best angle of attack. Perhaps it’s all the seat wiggling that undid my clothing?
To make the 570 usable as a daily, the car offers three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Track. I found Normal to be dull and a bit laggy–says something about me, maybe, but Sport was fantastic, crisp throttle response and tight turns without rattling your teeth out or jumping lanes on bumpy highways. There was no way in hell (SoCal roads at rush hour) that I would have been able to test out the 570’s top speed claims of 204mph (roof up) but in a short moment where there was space ahead of me, I was well past the place where approaching sirens made me anxious. Turned out they were fire engines headed out to the burning hills in Ventura. Way to highlight the fine line we walk between glory and tragedy, world. I kept it under 80 for the rest of the afternoon.
Going slow on the highway in a sporty car isn’t much fun, but twisty roads with a nice view are a great place for a topless car. The McLaren’s retractable hardtop will go down at 25 mph, so a flick of the button on the offramp heading into Malibu and I had a sky above me as blue as the oceans around Caracao island, from which my flashy turquoise machine got its paint name. McLaren is big on color, offering fully customized exterior and interior shades to suit the grimmest black-clad collector or the wildest teenage child of privilege. Even brake calipers and body accents can be added in hues that would make a parrot jealous. McLaren knows that its audience ranges from those who appreciate its racing history and tech-heavy design to those who want to stand out in a community where everyone has a red Ferrari. “We sell a lot of the sports series McLarens to children in wealthy families in China,” one of the McLaren reps told me before the drive. “A surprising amount of young women get one as their first car.” I try to imagine myself in the McLaren as a first car. I guess it’s possible. For a sportscar it has decent visibility, the earlier mentioned ride height adjustment and excellent brakes to go with its not-reccomended-for-a-teen-driver acceleration. I made use of the brakes to swing the car around for a photo at the famous Malibu Rock Store on Mulholland Highway. The bar was closed, so it was just me and a lone motorcyclist parked under the oak trees. “Did you have a nice ride?” I asked him. “Not as nice as yours,” he answered. Right around then is when I realized my bra was unhooked. If you happened to see a partially-clothed woman flailing around in a spectacular car, that was me, and it wasn’t what it looked like.
Rebound, and eager to escape the site of my humiliation, I tore back through the hills, my top up, and the car’s top down. McLaren is proud of the engineering that went into the convertible. It adds just 101 pounds to the 3.302-pound curb weight, and retains all the body rigidity of the hardtop. That’s a bonus to making tubs of carbon fiber. The rear window on the Spider automatically lowers to what McLaren says is the optimal spot to work as a wind buffer, but I set all the glass down and let the currents rip through the cabin. I hesitate to call it a problem, but one side effect of making high performance cars that are more civilized than the race cars they started as is that they can sometimes be, well, so civilized. Is civility what we want on a canyon road? The Spider improves on the hardtop and GT by opening the car up to the elements. With the roof stowed away and the roar of engine and air all around you, the 570 really feels racy, a car that can get and keep your attention from both outside and in the driver’s seat.