Elon musk

In this screengrab from a YouTube video posted by CC, a young Elon Musk waits for the arrival of a McLaren F1.

Changing lanes: The supercar shock we think made Elon Musk go electric [watch]

Elon Musk once owned a McLaren F1. And his brief love affair with the supercar crashed after just 17,000km. Watch this before and after footage of Musk and his McLaren.

Elon musk

In this screengrab from a YouTube video posted by CC, a young Elon Musk waits for the arrival of a McLaren F1.

When old, but titillating footage detailing Elon Musk’s brief, but ultimately disastrous ownership of the globally coveted supercar recently resurfaced — it would undoubtedly have come as a shock to some.

To others though, that Musk’s managed to both “launch and land” his limited edition Maclaren F1 in a dramatic road incident in the late 90s, might — just might have been the light bulb moment that charged his pursuit of reusable space rockets and the world’s largest electric car company.

Musk and the McLaren

Turn the clock back to 1999 — to the days before Tesla and SpaceX and the intrepid South African taking his first steps towards becoming the richest man on Earth.

Back then a young and increasingly ambitious Elon Musk had just sold Zip2, a web software company, to Compaq for $307-million (R4.6-billion). The next step was his X.Com venture, an online banking firm, which was to become the definitive PayPal service.


With cash in pocket and upwardly mobile, who could blame Musk for wanting to celebrate his newfound Silicon Valley riches, while continuing his business journey in style and with a lot more speed? After all, just three years earlier, and by his own admission, Musk had been taking his showers at a YMC and sleeping on the office floor.

Why Elon Musk chose the McLaren F1

Clearly spoilt for choice, Musk opted to splash out on one of the only 62 McLaren F1 supercars in the world at the time. To him it was “no contest” choosing between “a house in Palo Alto or a McLaren F1”.

Of course, sleeping on the office floor had made it much easier for Musk to forego the creature comforts of a luxury home.

Rather get an F1 as your daily commuter…Its naturally aspirated V12 engine and acceleration of 0 to 100km km/h in just 3.2 seconds is bound to vastly improve the speed and enjoyment making the daily runs to work and meetings. And, as it turned out for Musk, the F1 also proved to have an uncanny ability to induce a wide range of emotions and in his case, in himself, his then fiancee and his colleague.

The day Musk’s McLaren F1 arrived…

In a video recently posted on YouTube by CNN from its archives, we see the then 28-year-old entrepreneur take delivery of his McLaren F1 supercar. Classic footage indeed. Take a look:

The day the McLaren magic ended

Just months later and with only 17,700km of motoring bliss on the clock, Musk sent his McLaren into low orbit. From high-flying F1 to F-all, see how Musk’s modified McLaren quickly became the world’s most expensive uninsured car wreck…

So, how did Elon Musk launch his first ‘rocket’?

There is no mention of a dare, no mention of ego, bravado or even a hint of the sort of challenges that are a hallmark behaviour of young men in their prime. And there was no countdown either. In fact, It took just five words to get the F1 airborne.

According to Musk, he and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel were on their way to a meeting in the supercar when his passenger posed what transpired to be a catalytic question: “So, what can this do?”

Musk said “watch this”, floored it and did a lane change, sending the car backwards into traffic before it hit an embankment, sending it spinning into the air. SpaceX here we come…

The carbon fibre monocoque and BMW powertrain were reportedly unscathed, and the McLaren’s two shocked occupants uninjured.

Watch this: Elon Musk, in his own words, on the day he wrecked his $850,000 (R13-million) McLaren F1, leaving him and Thiel with no other option but to hitch a ride to an important meeting.

Musk reportedly had it repaired and hung on to it until 2007 when he sold it at a profit, which isn’t that surprising considering the car is worth over $20-million (about R303-million) today. Even actor Rowan Atkinson’s once-wrecked McLaren F1 sold for $12.3-million (R186-million) in 2015.

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