I’ve been lucky enough to peek behind the scenes of a few production facilities over the years. From hand-made, bespoke creations to robotic, mass-produced vehicles, each manufacturer has their own way of going about things. Regardless of what company or country is involved, you’ll usually find that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
So, if your apple is a McLaren, and your tree is the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), then what’s it like to climb?
Well, let’s just say the term ‘Factory Tour’ doesn’t really do it justice.
The McLaren Group’s 50-hectare site sits nestled in Woking, England. Originally a desolate slab of dirt (thanks intensive farming), McLaren replaced the topsoil, planted over 100,000 trees, and built one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever seen. Renowned architect, Norman Foster, is responsible for the main semi-circular building which dominates the headquarters.
A man-made lake lies alongside the building in what many compare to the Chinese Ying-Yang symbol due to its visual balance with the building and the lakes pragmatic functionality of cooling the facility (primarily the 145-metre-long wind tunnel). I could have gawked at the structure all afternoon, but an English-New Zealand accent broke my trance and insisted I came inside for a look around.
The accent belonged to none other than Amanda McLaren, daughter of legendary founder, Bruce McLaren. The history of McLaren’s road car division is quite young by industry standards, but Bruce’s legacy, and what he achieved in his 32 years, is nothing short of astonishing. As it turns out, astonishing stories need astonishing storytellers, and Amanda was the perfect companion to walk the sun-soaked boulevard of McLaren’s dreams.
We started the tour, as most tours do, at the beginning. The 1954 Austin 7 in which Bruce made his racing debut at age 15 (which he won, naturally) had been restored to mint condition and highlighted the humble beginnings of the talented kiwi.
As we walked along the boulevard of orange marvels, Amanda rattled off some her dad’s achievements: first Grand Prix win at 22 years old (youngest at the time), 27 Formula 1 podiums (including four victories), Can-Am series champion (both driver and constructor); it was evident McLaren could have filled that architectural lobby with Bruce’s achievements alone.
But as we all know, McLaren’s legacy as one of the world’s best constructors continued after his death in 1970, and the cars on show were a candid reminder of their success. James Hunt’s 1977 MZ6 exuded a charm only surpassed by the man himself. Ayrton Senna’s world championship-winning MP4-5B stirred emotions even being stationary. Kimi Raikkonen’s wicked McLaren MP4-20 still looked as menacing today as it did in 2005.
Regardless of the era, Bruce McLaren’s ethos lived on in some of the most successful race cars the world had ever seen.
As prosperous as McLaren’s racing division is, it’s their road cars that have been hogging the limelight in recent years. Amanda informed me that Bruce built some prototypes in the early 1970s (named the M6GT), with the intention of developing a road car division. However, it wasn’t until the decade-defining McLaren F1 in 1992 that McLaren truly showed what their road cars were capable of.
Since the McLaren Production Centre was completed in 2010, we’ve seen thousands of carbon clad beauties distributed to over 30 markets around the world, and after beholding the production line, it was easy to see how.
Every millimetre of McLaren’s cathedral was precise. Precise in its looks, precise in its operations, it was the only production line I’d seen that blurred the lines between an operating theatre and a fashion showroom. Paradoxically, the overall mood in the (huge) room was far from sterile. There seemed to be plenty of smiles and banter between workers and even though tasks like hand-adjusting carbon parts were giving me anxiety, the professionalism from the entire team was unquestionable.
I asked Amanda about some of the vehicles with unusual colour combinations at the end of the production line, to which she replied: “They are from MSO, would you like to build one?“.
MSO stands for McLaren Special Operations and is the custom specification branch of the McLaren Automotive tree. I was hoping Amanda may have handed me some tools and let me have a crack at building my own custom 600LT Spider, but she assured me this customisation would be strictly digital. Similar to the online configurator but with endless possibilities, McLaren have a dedicated MSO room for customers looking to take their McLaren configuration to a very personal level.
Whether it be colour matching a 720S to your dog’s eyes, or adding carbon in the few places it didn’t already exist, McLaren MSO will try and make it happen for you. I spent over an hour on the configurator (subconsciously figuring out the logistics of 3D printing a car), but with a gentle tap on the shoulder, it was time to say farewell to Amanda, the McLaren Technology Centre, and my one of a kind (yeah ok, virtual) 600LT Spider.
In its short history, it really is quite astonishing what the McLaren Group has achieved. From decades of World Championship winning Grand Prix cars to their bespoke modern-day supercars, McLaren has exceeded expectations. With Bruce, it was a case of punching well above his weight by thinking outside the box and the company has continued in the same vein.
Last year McLaren announced the ‘Track25’ project, which will see £1.2billion in research and development and 18 new cars or derivatives by the end of 2025. To think we’ve only seen four cars (600LT Spider, GT, Senna GTR and Speetail) from Track25 is a truly exciting prospect and if the McLaren Team continues on its current trajectory, then the future fruits of their labour will be a mouth-watering prospect indeed.