Ask any McLaren fan where heaven is, and most likely they’ll tell you it’s in Woking, England, the home of the McLaren Technology Centre. From classic to modern, road and race cars, this is where McLarens are born and bred.
It’s all housed under one roof, and we were lucky enough to be given a tour of the facility, which is usually only open to loyal McLaren customers.
But it's not only the cars that works of art; the centre they're housed in is equally as impressive. The entrance driveway winds around an artificial lake, that dramatically reflects the semi-circular building with floor-to-ceiling glass walls. That lake, more than just decorative, is also functional, the water piped through a series of heat exchangers to cool the building, maintaining a constant 21 degrees.
The building, and the lake, when viewed above, form the yin and yang symbol.
Stepping inside is a walk through history, with almost all the cars on display that have made McLaren so successful. There were a few empty spaces, though, as some were appearing at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The first vehicle that greets you as walk through the door is the red 1929 Austin 7 Bruce McLaren learned to drive, and won his first race in, when he was just 15 years of age. In a sign of what was to come from McLaren, he modified the car to make it as fast as possible, turning the front suspension around so the car sat lower, creating less drag.
You can see the progression of McLaren race cars. Many were painted 'Papaya' orange to distinguish them from the others on black and white TV, and so competitors could see the McLaren racing up behind them in their mirrors.
One of the orange machines is the ‘Thursday’ car, which was only used on Thursday practice sessions and was also called the 'Guillotine' for its sharp edges on the front wing.
Bruce McLaren took the Thursday car for a test run once it was built, and found the fuel cap in front of the driver was lifting and rattling at speed. To combat this, he made two holes in front of it to help with airflow. Many years later McLaren took inspiration from this and included these ‘nostrils’ on the P1.
Parked next to it is the fearsome M8D Can-Am, also finished in the company's signature orange, sporting two tail fins, earning it the nickname 'Batmobile'. It’s the sister car in which McLaren sadly lost his life while testing at Goodwood in 1970.
Walking past a Vodafone-liveried McLaren F1 hanging from the wall (yes, that photo below is the right way up), you're greeted by a line-up of F1 cars from the ’90s made famous by Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. Sitting opposite, are F1 cars from the mid-2000s with some crazy aerodynamic styling that television simply can’t convey.
Amongst other McLaren-owned cars (apart from one customer-owned P1), a 1993 F1 XPS in dark green has so much presence. It’s quite incredible that this car broke the world record five years later reaching 386km/h, at the time the fastest production car ever made.
Behind glass, we were able to watch engineers working on the team's current Formula 1 cars, but cameras were a no-no. These current racers sat before us, stripped beyond recognition, with parts plugged into giant computers, and all on an immaculately clean floor.
It’s a garage every car lover would dream of.
In another part of the room, we witness some of McLaren's display cars being maintained, and in another, a team is making carbon-fibre.
We took a walk down a long hall where all of McLaren’s trophies are on display, almost as far as the eye can see, including constructors' championships, which the brand is extremely proud of.
At the end of the hall is a lone carbon-fibre piece from a McLaren. It’s a MonoCell, which helps protect the driver and passenger in the event of an accident. Today, it takes just four hours to make and weighs a mere 75 kilograms. Twenty years ago, it took 4000 hours to make the McLaren F1's carbon-fibre chassis. Progress!
Past the room where the wind tunnel is located, is the entrance to the actual McLaren factory. From here, we witness McLaren road cars cars being born. As they are built by hand, it’s eerily noise-free of machinery and robots, and is a very relaxed environment for the few hundred employees who make every McLaren road car.
There is no order to the assembly line either – the production line dictated by customer orders. It's conceivable to see anything from a 570S to a 720S within a few metres of each other, all in various states of assembly.
Once the cars are completed, they are transported to a separate room for dynamic testing, where indicators, headlights, and other systems are checked. The cars then go to a ‘monsoon’ room where a downpour is simulated, allowing the production team to check for any leaks.
The final step in the process involves a test drive around the Woking area before the car is sent packing to its new home and owner.
It's a mesmerising experience. We could’ve stood there for hours watching the production line move in sync.
As we near the exit, we score an accidental perfect farewell to our tour. A group of McLarens are returning from a recent driving experience, and it’s a stunning sight watching them move around the lake, their reflection shimmering off the water while egrets glide nearby.
It really is like something out of a movie.
After seeing behind the scenes how these cars are made by human hands and taking a step back in time to soak up McLaren's heritage, it gives you a whole new appreciation of the brand and how passionate its people are.