If you’re been around cars for any significant period of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the supercar that captivated minds in the 1990’s and set a world record as the fastest production car at the time – the McLaren F1. Among the many incredible things about this car, the center-mounted seat was quite an oddity – though one that made sense. McLaren became synonymous with a central driving position thanks to the F1, and now both McLaren and a supercar builder named James Glickenhaus plan to bring back the unconventional practice. Even Tesla is planning on building their electric Semi with a center-mounted seat.
Though the vehicles being designed are very niche, does having three manufacturers planning center-seat vehicles mean we’ve been missing out on something important?
Here are some of the advantages that a central seating position offers:
It may seem minor, but as wind tunnel testing and aerodynamic research advances, supercar roof lines and slopes seem to get lower and longer each year. This leaves little room for the driver’s head in many cases, so putting the driver in the center gives them the maximum amount of space possible. This is also useful for race trimmed cars with roll cages, as it increases compliance with series’ regulations that dictate a minimum distance between the driver’s helmet and the cage.
Being centrally located in the car’s cabin gives you a great view of the road ahead. In a performance setting, you are able to more easily see and clip apexes – whether they be left or right-handed. The only downside is when you’re trying to see around traffic on the street, as more of the car has to be steered towards oncoming traffic to match the sight lines of a conventional seating position.
The amount of tooling, design, and money required to design a car for both left-hand and right-hand drive markets is significant. With a central seating position, much of that work is eliminated. This is especially valuable for limited production runs that might consist of a few hundred or a few dozen cars.
It’s no secret that the farther away you can get from an impact, the safer you are in a car crash. Putting the driver inboard puts more space between them and anything the car may come into contact with, and creates a larger buffer in the event of a small-overlap crash.