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Video | I Bought the Slowest, Cheapest and Weirdest McLaren in the U.S.

Lately, I’ve been hearing growing complaints that I’ve lost my way. My hooptie fleet is slowly dwindling and being replaced with bargain exotics. Many cheap car enthusiasts out there think I’ve sold out — and on the surface, buying the cheapest McLaren in the U.S. certainly doesn’t look good. Thankfully, my new purchase was only $2,100, and it’s very broken — and it’s technically a Pontiac.

If you change the order of the model designation around to McLaren ASC Grand Prix, my car actually sounds like something McLaren would offer today — but back in 1990, the brand was still just a racing marque. Their legendary first production car was still a few years away from changing the definition of the term “supercar” — and before this, their brand name (along with some tuning consulting) was licensed out to the American Sunroof Company. This factory and aftermarket supplier of auto parts first used the McLaren treatment on Ford Capris and Mustangs, but in their final years of this partnership, they turned their sights on the all new Pontiac Grand Prix. A front-wheel-drive, full-sized coupe with an underwhelming 140 horsepower V6 seems like a horrible platform to attach the Mclaren namesake — but this actually happened.

It’s totally understandable if you’ve never heard of this car, as spotting a surviving example nowadays is very rare. Differences in the exterior from the stock Grand Prix included widened wheel arches with a custom body kit, functional hood scoops and gold basket weave wheels. Since it came from the American Sunroof Company, of course it came with a sunroof standard — and since it’s an aftermarket sunroof, it of course leaks in heavy rain. While some performance upgrades do exist to give this car some credibility, the most impressive part of this car is the interior.

The first thing you notice are the very strange seats, which look like exposed buttocks. Literally every time you enter the car, you are greeted with a full moon. The front seats have air bladders, as well, so these seats can flex to your desired firmness and comfort. The rear seats were also given this overstuffed treatment, eliminating the center seat to give a European style 2+2 treatment. The amazing thing is that after you spend five minutes pointing and laughing at the seats, you start to notice all the other hilarious features inside the car.

Of course, the steering wheel is amazing, giving redundant stereo controls in a space that was eventually replaced by a government-mandated airbag. Combined with the stereo itself, the car has over 40 buttons and knobs to control just for music, and the entire car itself must have close to a hundred buttons total. Below the stereo is a video-game-looking device that serves as a car computer and compass, and the glove box has a combination lock like an old briefcase. With the weird controls surrounding the instrument cluster, as well as a heads-up display, this has to be one of the strangest interiors of an American car in the 1990s — and to have the ability to gaze upon its weirdness is almost worth the purchase price alone.

Sadly, I can’t gaze upon this interior and drive it with very much confidence because my Mclaren has some seriously dangerous problems. The 3.1-liter V6, which had a Turbo slapped on as part of the package, runs alright. This gave it a little over 200 hp and a top speed of 128 miles per hour, which wasn’t awful in the early ’90s. The main issue is with the brakes, which are apparently special to this car, and the ABS/Brake booster assembly apparently has a 100 percent failure rate. This diminished braking capacity makes stopping pretty dangerous. Additionally, the gauges for the speedometer and tachometer do a little sword fight every time I floor it, and they are widely inaccurate — though amazingly, the heads-up display still works and reads accurate speed.

I’m confident my Car Wizard will be able to sort out these issues — but I’m not confident I’ll be on the positive end of the car’s value when its finished. Unfortunately, there’s not enough McLaren magic to make this car worth much more than an average old Pontiac — which is pretty much worthless. Oh well…

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  1. I’ve always liked this version of the grand prix. They also made it in a 5 speed version. Very cool car, I think I’m going to start looking for a nice one. A car ahead of it’s time. 

  2. You should re-badge the car so that it says McLaren everywhere on the interior and exterior, actually I change my mind that would be kind of stupid as everyone knows its a Grand Prix.

  3. $2100 is a pretty good price for this car, even with the issues that it has. Sure, the repairs may be more than the car is worth, but it’s definitely unique and I think will be worth it. I love to see these early W- body cars still on the road, they bring back great memories from my childhood. These McLaren Grand Prixs and the 91-96 GTPs are my favorites of the early cars.

  4. Very few car companies had as much unique going on as GM in the 90’s (ok, maybe Chrysler). I have very fond memories of my mom’s 96 Bonneville SSEi with those crazy seats and all the weird tech. I’m still giggle when I see the heads up display on new cars (my car has it now – awesome!). Those rear buckets in the coupe Cutlass Supreme and Grand Prixs back then are still one of the craziest things I remember

    It was my second favorite GM car, after the Aurora. I felt like I was king when we had both for a short while!
  5. The B4U package-yummy.  Understand, these cars came out at a time where buttons were all the rage. I loved these cars, sans the front wheel drive. 

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