At the recent launch of McLaren’s potent new 675LT at Silverstone, CarAdvice was granted an exclusive interview with Amanda McLaren, brand ambassador and daughter of company founder Bruce McLaren.
Amanda was just four years old when her father was tragically killed while testing the McLaren M8D at Goodwood in 1970.
Today, she talks to us about the company founded by her late father and his aspirations to build a series of McLaren road cars 45 years ago.
McLaren Automotive is a sister company to your Formula 1 constructor business and builds the road cars, but actually under your father that business kicked off many years ago, didn’t it?
“It sure did. In the late 60s, my father designed, built and drove the McLaren M6BGT. He had plans to diversify and start building road car versions.
The M6GT was based on the M6 Can-Am chassis, and really came about as a result of winning Le Mans in the Ford GT40 Mk11.
My father had plans to enter those famous sports car races with a McLaren car, but the project was also never completed.
I think the road car project was something he really wanted to work on and was passionate about. He even drove his prototype M6BGT for a number of months as a daily driver before his death.
Apparently, people would know he was coming from about five miles down the road such was the noise it made.”
Why didn’t someone else pick that project up? After all, Ferrari and Jaguar were already producing highly desirable road-legal sports cars.
“There were a number of reasons; the homologation rules actually changed and the number of cars Bruce McLaren Racing would have had to produce in order to meet the regulations was going to stretch a fairly small company too much, so that’s the main reason why the project was shelved.
However, Trojan made quite a few customer race cars, one of which is here at the McLaren Technology Centre, in Woking.”
What was Trojan?
“Trojan was a company that Bruce McLaren Racing had a technology partnership with that built both the customer racing cars and the prototypes, known as the M12GT.
They were fabulous cars and very much ahead of their time for the era in which they were designed and built. While it was designed as a road car, it was obviously very capable on the track, as all McLaren road cars are, but originally designed as a road car.”
McLaren’s sports car business seems to be moving along at decent rate of knots these days, but it took a while to get there, didn’t it?
“Well, yes, it did take a while, but in 1992 we launched the amazing F1, which at the time, was the fastest road car in the world with a top speed of 372km/h (with the rev limiter enabled).
Then in 2003, we had the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, which was also a carbonfibre construction with 617 bhp and 780Nm.”
Is the road car business part of the Formula 1 business?
“No, its called McLaren Automotive, which is a sister company to the McLaren Group companies, like the McLaren Technology Group. So, it’s quite independent from other McLaren companies, but of course, shares the name, shares the brand and draws heavily on the research and development from Formula 1 through the years.”
How much of McLaren’s Formula 1 technology goes into the road cars, and is there any crossover from your F1 team to the road car business?
“There are no crossover engineers as such, but some of the original McLaren Automotive employees came from the race team.
The most obvious piece of technology that came from Formula 1 was the carbonfibre chassis; MP4/1 being the first F1 car that had such a chassis. McLaren pioneered that.
Because of the properties of carbonfibre – it’s so strong, so rigid, and so light, it’s ideal to make a racecar and road car chassis from – so, all the McLaren cars, whether it be for the road or track since the MP4/1, have had that carbonfibre chassis.”
Any other process from the racecars that have been carried across to the road cars?
“We’ve also taken a number of other technologies like ‘brake steer’ from MP4/13 that Mika and David raced, which is the ability to defeat understeer by braking the inside rear wheel to turn the car into the corner.
It meant that the drivers could carry so much more speed through the corners, as you’ll see when you drive our road cars on track – the cornering ability of a car like the 675LT is simply phenomenal.”
Can you explain the model names for the road cars – it seems a tad confusing with the likes of MP4/12C and now 650S, etc.
“So, lets start with MP4. After the merger in 1980 with Ron Dennis, the chassis design prior to that was M1, M2, M23 – Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt Championship winning car – M30 was the last car that Bruce Mclaren Racing ever produced.
We then moved to MP4/1, originally Marlborough Project 4 to signify the merger that Marlborough engineered between McLaren’s and Ron Dennis’ Formula 2 team.
So the first racecar was MP4/1 and the first road car that McLaren Automotive, as it is now, produced was MP4/12C – the ‘12’ being an internal index for the co-efficient of drag and some mathematical formula that’s a little beyond me – and ‘C’ for our carbonfibre technology that we’re renowned for.
Yes, that was a little confusing, and it was also quite a mouthful. So we dropped the MP4 and she became known as the 12C, which we no longer build.
We then moved onto 650S as a result of learning from 12C and P1, as well as customer feedback.
What we have now, as far as model names go, is a three-tier system – so we have our Ultimate Series, which includes P1 and P1 GTR, and Super Series that includes 650S and 675 LT where the model names denote the PS of the engines. And depending on what customers want to use the car for they can go for Ultimate, Super or Sports Series, which includes 540C and 570S.
The 540C is mainly for the Asia-Pacific market. For taxation purposes there’s less horsepower with slightly detuned engine. What McLaren Automotive has done with the Sports Series is bring in a supercar at the sports car level, and that’s really important.
We now have a McLaren car with a carbonfibre chassis and all that McLaren technology in a much more affordable package geared to appeal to a very new market, which is exciting.
The 570S is the main car within the Sports range, so this will be a new car that we will start building in Q4 this year. The 650S and 675LT are our 50:50 road/track cars, though most of owners probably won’t use them as daily drivers.”
So, Amanda, does the 570S replace the 12C and what are the future plans for McLaren Automotive – are there more models on the way?
“Not really, the 650S replaced the 12C. Absolutely, the business plan stretches out into the distant future.”
Is McLaren planning to build an SUV like some of your sports car rivals?
“Absolutely not. Mike Flewitt, our CEO has already said ‘no SUVs’.
We are a sports car company and we’re never going to be a high-volume car producer. We pride ourselves on the quality and craftsmanship of our cars.”
So, I take it you like you’re role is as brand ambassador at McLaren?
“The opportunity to work for such an incredible company at such an exciting time in its growth, as well as making the connection between my father and the McLaren Group is fantastic.
I really believe he’d be proud of what the group company has become, and especially what McLaren Automotive is doing.
He really wanted to build road cars, but unfortunately, that never really happened. So I see new McLaren Automotive fulfilling my father’s dream.”
Thanks to Amanda McLaren and her family for the use of photographs.