English actor, comedian and writer Rowan Atkinson is best known for his work on the popular television comedies Blackadder and Mr. Bean. He’s also made news for owning — and crashing (twice!) his McLaren F1 sports car — which long held the Guinness World Record for fastest production car. Read on to learn more about Atkinson’s remarkable career and equally remarkable car.
Rowan Sebastian Atkinson was born on January 6, 1955 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He studied engineering at Newcastle University and Oxford University, receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the latter. Atkinson discovered his love of performing comedy sketches during his Oxford days, and made his debut performance in Oxford revues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This was also where he met his longtime writing partner Richard Curtis.
Atkinson’s success on the comedy review circuit led to gigs at theater clubs and on comedy shows before a major breakthrough moment in his career: writing and starring in the BBC’s Not the Nine O’clock News in 1979. Two years later, Atkinson achieved another milestone when he became the West End’s youngest performer to headline a one-man show.
Throughout the mid-1980s, Atkinson continued to appear in theatrical productions while also exploring television work, including parts on the award-winning Blackadder and the Thin Blue Line. 1990 was another major moment in Atkinson’s career: His originally developed character, Mr. Bean, landed his own eponymously titled television show, which was later adapted for film. Atkinson’s additional film credits have included Bean: the Ultimate Disaster Movie, Johnny English, Keeping Mum, Love Actually, Rat Race and Four Weddings & A Funeral.
Raved The Guardian of Mr. Bean’s success and its impact on Atkinson’s career, “Whether or not you find its silent slapstick funny, Mr. Bean is a phenomenon; the highest-rating comedy show on commercial TV in the Nineties, it has been sold to more than 245 countries and 50 airlines. The film Bean took £152 million worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing UK film ever. Such international success, of course, means that Atkinson, worth in excess of £65m, is one of TV’s wealthiest stars.”
Indeed, Atkinson’s net worth is reported to be in the neighborhood of $130 million. One of his favorite ways to spend his earnings? On fast cars. The rubber-faced actor has owned many, including an Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz 500E, Lancia Delta Integrale Aston Martin V8 Zagato, Aston Martin DB2, Ford Falcon, Jaguar MK7, Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, and many others. He’s also a car expert, and has written for CAR magazine.
While Atkinson has kept audiences laughing throughout his career, he left them gasping for something else in 1999: rear-ending a Rover Metro while driving his McLaren F1. He later told The Guardian of the incident, “Ah yes. The prang was embarrassingly low-speed and therefore not related to my handling of the car, thank God. I was very, very lucky.”
As if that accident wasn’t enough on its own, Atkinson would later crash the dark burgundy car again, this time driving it into both a tree and a road sign. The resulting repair bill? A staggering $1.4 million which exceeded what the actor had paid new for the car in 1997. This was reportedly because the value of the car had escalated, and also because the job required specialist care.
Said specialty insurer RK Harrison of the reason for the high repair costs, “All modern supercars are predominantly carbon fiber — most Lamborghinis, most Ferraris — and the smallest ding in carbon fiber is a big repair job. And part of the engine bay is gold, that’s the best heat conductor. It’s the materials they used compared to everyday cars that make it so expensive.”
There’s no denying that the McLaren F1 is a very great car. Raved Autocar in 1994 after road testing the F1, “The McLaren F1 is the finest driving machine yet built for the public road. [It] will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car, and it may possibly be the fastest production road car the world will ever see.”
In ranking the McLaren first on its list of the 100 greatest cars, meanwhile, Channel4 declared it to be “the greatest automotive achievement all time.” In fact, the McLaren F1 is perennial pick on “best of” lists created by car aficionados.
And despite having been produced more than a decade before more modern vehicles like the Ferrari Enzo and Aston Martin One-77, the McLaren F1 was recently categorized alongside both in Top Gear Magazine’s roundup of the world’s fastest naturally aspirated cars.
Rowan Atkinson is far from the only celebrity to have owned a McLaren F1. Other famous F1 owners have included Elon Musk, Jay Leno, George Harrison, and the Sultan of Brunei. Atkinson may be alone in his willingness to actually drive his, however. He once said of his belief that supercars like the McLaren F1 should be used, “It depresses me when great cars are hidden away. It’s a crime not to use it.”
Atkinson made headlines one last time with his McLaren when he sold the twice-crashed, 18-year-old car in 2015. He got the last laugh, however: The car went for a cool $12.2 million — nearly 10 times more than what Atkinson had paid for it.