McLaren’s F1 supercar is special in more ways than one. Even now it’s still the world’s fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine, and McLaren only built 106 F1s in total. Jalopnik visited McLaren recently, and discovered another special aspect to the F1: a 20-year-old laptop. McLaren is still servicing the existing 100 F1s with a Compaq laptop from the early ‘90s.
“The reason we need those specific Compaq laptops is that they run a bespoke CA card which is installed into them,” explains a McLaren spokesperson to Jalopnik. “The CA card is an interface between the laptop software (which is DOS-based) and the car.” If you’ve never heard of a CA card, then Jalopnik commenter Mike Herbst helpfully explains it’s a Conditional Access card. Modern PCs use smart cards or USB keys with special access codes to access sensitive systems, and the CA card was used as custom hardware as part of an integrated system for security and copy protection.
McLaren has been sourcing Compaq LTE 5280 laptops to keep servicing the F1s, but the company is “working on an new interface which will be compatible with modern laptops” so it won’t have to keep hunting for these ancient machines. For now, a 20-year-old Compaq is the key to servicing one of the world’s fastest production cars. If you’re interested in buying the F1 that McLaren is selling, you won’t be able to plug in any old laptop and disable any of those annoying dash warnings. That’s probably the least of your worries when the supercar will likely sell for more than $10 million.