A crane lowers the sport car at the edge of the hottub with the Space Needle and uptown view in the background.
A McLaren Elva 'supercar' briefly graced the pooldeck at the First Light condo tower in Belltown, which opens this summer with a $5 million penthouse still available. (Doug Trumm)

A million-dollar McLaren Elva is intended to entice a buyer for a $5.1 million penthouse at First Light Tower.

Last month I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a supercar is. But last Friday, I stood among a select crowd watching as a crane hoisted one atop a new luxury tower called “First Light” at 3rd and Virginia in downtown Seattle. And we’re not talking just any old supercar. It was a McLaren Elva, which sells for $1,695,000 — that’s before you add bespoke options like exposed carbon fiber body panels, or a 24 karat gold heat shield for the engine compartment.

The Elva has no roof, no windows, and no windshield. This one was a deep purple hue, almost black until hit by the light. As we waited for liftoff, I chatted with the head of the public relations firm that invited the media. This was kind of an anti-Seattle thing to be doing, he offered, by which I think he meant out of step with the city’s culture and vibe. But it was the sort of thing Seattle needs more of. Helping to revitalize downtown and all that.

Strapped to its platform, the McLaren Elva ascended, and meantime we rode 47 floors up a very fast elevator to the rooftop pool deck, onto which the car was shortly lowered. It was sunny, the sky blue and the views tremendous. First Light’s future inhabitants will be able to gaze at the Space Needle and drink in the Sound (no, not literally) while lounging in the jacuzzi or turning morning laps in the pool. The Elva did look kinda neat sitting up there against all that scenery.

Still, I have to confess the whole procedure left me a little cold, which was disappointing. I expected to feel something, y’know?

Instead, I found myself hoping for a mild calamity. Maybe the wind would swing the car into the side of the building. Or maybe the car would roll off the platform and plunge into the pool. Nothing that would cause injury to a person, of course. Just the thrill of some extraordinarily expensive property damage. The PR people should have thought of that, really. “We’re going to set a McLaren Elva on fire on top of a downtown condo tower.” That would bring the cameras!

  • A crane lowers the sport car at the edge of the hottub with the Space Needle and uptown view in the background.

To be fair, I’m probably not the right person to write about this. I have no interest in car racing or, for that matter, in cars. (I did watch Heart Like a Wheel last year, though. That was cool.) The closest I’ve come to car ownership was driving my parents’ little red Mazda truck around my upstate NY hometown at the cusp of the millennium. When I do drive, my husband makes fun of me for white-knuckling the steering wheel and staying solidly sub speed limit while other drivers zip past. Zero to 62 in under three seconds in the McLaren Elva? No, thanks.

It turns out I may not be the only one who’s uninterested. When the Elva was first announced in 2019, McLaren planned to limit production to 399 cars. The following year that was bumped down to 249, then again to 149. Not due to flaccid demand but, the company’s CEO explained, because customers thought the car should be “more exclusive” — now that’s a spin only available to the producers of true luxury goods. And now, several years after the model hit the market, the Elva appears in this publicity stunt. Take my speculation with a grain of salt since I know nothing about the luxury car market and didn’t think to ask how many Elvas have already been sold, but maybe there just aren’t 149 ultrarich people on Earth who want to own this very impractical supercar.

McLaren shows off its butterfly doors for credentialed media. (Doug Trumm)

Of course, the pointlessness is kind of the point. Reviews with titles like “The McLaren Elva Is a Crazy $2 Million Supercar You Can Barely Use” and “McLaren Elva Is a $1.69 Million Toy with No Windshield” are giddy, not critical.

The Elva may as well be on a rooftop pool deck 47 stories in the air because it wouldn’t be any less absurd on the streets of Seattle. Picture it idling on Denny Way, perhaps stuck in traffic behind a Metro Route 8 bus. Or parked outside Dick’s Drive-In, an unlockable $2 million hot wheels toy that’s just kind of…asking for it.

Anyway. This bizarre stunt was planned as a promotion for Seattle’s McLaren dealer, no doubt, but also for the 2,000 square foot penthouse with floor-to-ceiling windows a couple floors down from the rooftop pool deck. The $5.1 million penthouse package includes a different McLaren model customized with guidance from First Light’s architect, James KM Cheng, “offering the future homeowner the opportunity to drive a vehicle that matches their residence in philosophy, quality, and style,” according to the press invitation. Presumably that car will be valued in only six figures, but I’d still be nervous about keeping it in the First Light parking garage, no matter how secure.

I have nothing against Westbank, the developer of the tower. I’m glad someone is building housing in downtown Seattle, even if it’s housing that people like me can’t afford. The tower is scheduled to open this summer, and 80% percent of the 459 condos it contains are already sold. I hope a lot more downtown housing will follow, and I hope some of it will be affordable to us common folk.

Westbank is a Canadian company and, according to their spokesperson, in Vancouver they also partner with the City to build social housing. He doesn’t think style should have to be expensive or only for the rich, he said. It was a strange sentiment to express while standing atop a luxury tower in front of a $2 million car. But it’s one I agree with.

I still wonder about that penthouse, though. I know there’s a ton of wealth in Seattle, but usually what comes to mind is the relatively modest wealth of the 9-to-5 tech worker set. Maybe some of them will eventually populate the lower floors of First Light. But I have to admit I have no idea who’s in the market for multimillion dollar penthouses with supercars thrown in for good measure.

Are they Chinese nouveau riche charmed by their country’s homage to Sleepless in Seattle? Or tech separatist venture capitalists scheming to take over our city government? Do they read The Urbanist? If this is you, Dear Reader, we should talk.

Whoever they are, I think we should figure out a way to tax the bejeezus out of them. If they stay and we can do something good with some of their money, great. If they move to Bellevue and we never see a McLaren supercar on the streets of Seattle, I’m sure we’ll all manage just fine.

Article Author

Katie Wilson is General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union, a Seattle-based organization advocating for improving transit quality and making access more equitable.