Notes: Driving a McLaren 675LT around LA

Experiencing the hypercar from photoshoot to photoshoot

by Justin Kaehler

It’s challenging to write about something like the McLaren 675LT. It’s a machine whose speed begs to be described—a hard-core track car boasting 666 horsepower, a 2.9-second 0-60 time, and a top speed of 205 miles per hour. However, I live in Los Angeles, land of traffic, traffic, and more traffic. With McLaren letting me drive no more than 250 miles in this car—one of only 500 made—getting to and from a racetrack is a no-go. There’s also the little fact that all 500 have been sold, meaning McLaren is letting me drive someone’s personal pride and joy. Were I to ball up the 675LT in a racetrack mishap, paying off the insurance would be the least of my worries.

Luckily, the McLaren 675LT also stands as a serious piece of art, begging to be photographed. I figured the least I could do was capture this beauty on film… or digital sensor. And if I’m honest, just being able to shoot this car provided me with the types of memories that last a lifetime. But McLaren gave me the car in the hopes that I’d talk about it, so let’s dig into the details really quick: the 675LT (“Longtail”) is the embodiment of McLaren’s fanatical obsession with performance, then taken to the extreme. It’s a full 224 lbs lighter than the 650S thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials. That sculpted body helps provide over 40% more downforce than the standard 650S design. Inside, there’s little sound deadening, tight fixed-back racing buckets, and well, that’s about it.

24-year-old me would have loved every single minute spent in this car. 38-year-old me, well, I still love it, but long for the comfort of the 650S. Those tight racing seats and unforgivingly stiff ride amplify the cracks found across LA’s broken roads. And given my increasing weight and decreasing mobility, there’s no way to look suave getting in or out of the McLaren. But once out, on my feet and gazing back at the thing, all is forgiven and I fall back in love. It just so happens that during my photo shoot, this car also captured the heart of Los Angeles as well.

Location 1: Lower Grand

Chances are you’ve seen something shot on Lower Grand, the moody series of tunnels directly below the Disney Concert Hall and The Broad. Upper Grand features large, gaping holes running down the center of the street, which bathe Lower Grand in a nice, even light. It’s a visual that also provides an interesting snapshot on the city’s split personality. Up top you’ve got the shiny and new, where people flush with cash are eager to soak in the latest in culture. Underground it’s dark and damp, reeking of urine and providing shelter to a small number of LA’s homeless population.

It’s a spot loved by photographers, and when I arrived in the McLaren, another shoot was already underway. This being a “run-and-gun” shoot, I park the car in the middle of the street and immediately start working. The kids running the other shoot stop what they’re doing and start a conversation. They’re shooting cars as well, and ask for a bit of advice, like I have any. I pass along whatever wisdom I have—which basically boils down to “hustle,” bid them farewell and head out to the next spot.

Location 2: Downtown LA Arts District

LA’s Arts District is an interesting place. Not too long ago it was overrun with gangs, drugs, and poverty. Now, the area is a hodgepodge of downtown grime and artisanal crafts. On one corner, you’ll find a lowrider crew doing burnouts in honor of a fallen member. On another, you’ll see a vegan bakery-slash-art space. Patrolling it all are LAPD beat cops with perfectly-waxed handlebar mustaches.

I, alongside a colleague, pull into an empty parking lot and start positioning the car. As I’m parking, one of the locals, clearly agitated, walks out and strikes up a conversation with my friend. I fumble my way out of the McLaren to see what’s going on. Turns out said gentlemen runs one of the shops that borders this lot. In between bites of his burrito, he swears he’s not mad, but is clearly irritated and is just trying to figure out why people come in and just start shooting.

As he goes on, it’s easy to see where the frustration comes from. A lot of “artists” just come in and commandeer the space during peak business hours without even asking. Not only do we hear stories of massive tourist groups climbing broken walls to get that perfect shot (a huge liability in lawsuit-happy LA), but even companies like Nike try and run in and shoot without pulling any permits. Since we’re just two guys with a car, and since we actually took the time to have a conversation, the shop owner relaxes and tells us to have a good shoot. Not wanting to push my luck, I opt to just get one angle and bounce.

Location 3: 6th Street Bridge

At my final location, I see the telltale signs of a full pro production: namely a massive RV and security. Though decommissioned, it looks like the 6th Street Bridge is as popular as ever. Learning my lesson from earlier, I ask security if the location was locked down. I’m told it’s open, but that Nike is doing a shoot just down the way. Still, we’re welcome to park in an empty space and do our thing.

This spot is used regularly for car shoots, so the McLaren 675LT is swarmed by random car guys as soon as I get out. Some are asking to film rap videos in front of the thing. Others break out their DSLRs and shoot us as we shoot the car. Through it all, I talk with heads of production companies, random cosplayers, and just guys trying to park their car next to the McLaren—all while trying not to bother the homeless population that still lives in the area. It was kind of surreal, to say the least. That said, it was a unique way to spend time with a true hypercar. On one hand, I can’t help but feel weird bringing a $400,000 machine to an area where people still struggle to get by. On the other, given the city’s new, semi-lawless vibe that mixes art, commerce, lots of new money and a slight hint of danger, there’s probably no better location to shoot this car.

Hopefully next time McLaren will let me take a 675LT on the track so that I can see what this car’s really about. In the meantime, I at least got some pretty pictures.

Photos by Justin Kaehler