Three years after our exclusive chat with Amanda McLaren at the 675LT reveal, we once again had the chance to catch up with the McLaren brand ambassador and daughter of founder, Bruce McLaren, at the launch of the 600LT at Goodwood Festival of Speed.
But this time, we got a bit more candid and personal.
Read the words below or listen to the interview.
CarAdvice: What was your first recollection of cars?
Amanda McLaren: Even though I was brought up with them, and all of our friends were racing drivers, my first real recollection was not until I was 10 years old and I was at the British Grand Prix. The late great James Hunt was driving for McLaren. At least three-quarters of the girls at my school had a poster of him on their bedroom wall, as did I.
I went back to school on Monday morning having met James at the British Grand Prix, and all these girls' eyes came out on stalks, and they started asking all these questions. A few of them said, “Doesn’t he drive for McLaren, and your surname is McLaren?”. I drew myself up very proudly and said, “Yes, my father founded the team that he now drives for”, and then I realised that was all I knew.
I went back home and very sheepishly started poking around in the cupboards, and my mother had a huge collection of motor racing books, and I started reading, asking questions, and taking notice of the cars. Thank you, James, for that light bulb moment.
Since then, I’ve really started following the F1 team. Then when McLaren Automotive started making the road cars, that was really the icing on the cake for me, because that was going to be my father's next plan for Bruce McLaren motor racing back in the late ’60s, and that’s what he was going to do next (before he passed away).
Did you have any other posters on your wall?
I did have the F1 road car, and I think a lot of people had that on their wall. As you may know, it was recently named supercar of the century. Now they are on my screensaver because I think we’ve moved on from posters, although people still love them!
Whether it be nature or nurture, I’ve always been interested in cars, mechanics, engineering. I enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together.
What was your first car?
A Volkswagen Beetle. I didn’t tinker too much with the engine because it already had a lot of work done, with a 1800cc Camper engine wedged into the back of it.
She was officially called Freda, because in the UK we had a TV program called Blue Peter, and they had a tortoise called Freda, and the car was kind of the same shape. But that soon got dropped and we called her Farty because she had that big Camper engine and a big manifold, she backfired. A lot. My mum could hear me coming home – “BANG, BANG, BANG!”.
Do you ever pinch yourself and realise your dad was behind the famous McLaren name?
All the time. There are only two Formula One teams that exist today that were on the grid when Dad was racing in the ’60s – McLaren and Ferrari.
The fact that we exist as a company today, and we are doing so incredibly well, is a fantastic story of determination from the team that carried on the day my dad died, and continued on with his dream and his vision.
Wow, my father did start all this all those years ago in 1963. A young Kiwi guy at 20 years old comes to the UK having won a scholarship, lands here with a bag, gets the car he has to build himself, and we end up where we are now. It’s absolutely incredible.
How popular is McLaren in New Zealand?
New Zealand has bought more McLarens per capita than anywhere else in the world. There is a huge love of the brand because of the heritage with Dad being a New Zealander. The first year of the brand's existence, McLaren Auckland sold more cars in New Zealand than Ferraris. So if we could teach sheep to drive, they would be the biggest retailer in the world, but that’s a challenge, so we won’t go there!
For me, the people that love cars wherever you are in the world, people love cars for different reasons, and people love McLarens for a slightly different reason than perhaps other supercars.
Do you visit New Zealand much?
I do. I went out there for a six-week family holiday in 1989 and thought it was quite nice and I would stay for six months, but it became six years, and then 26 years.
My husband is a New Zealander. We would still be there now had he and I not been offered the roles as brand ambassadors for McLaren Automotive.
It was actually five years ago at this event that we met CEO Mike Flewitt for the first time. He asked my husband and me to the opening of the retailer in Auckland, where Dad grew up, and it was going to be the 50th retailer that was opened, 50 years after Dad established the company.
At the hotel afterward, we were at the bar having a few drinks and Mike discovered my husband was being made redundant, and said to him, “Have you ever thought of working for us?” I think my husband, Steven, did the goldfish impression for a little while.
Three years ago, we went back to New Zealand for the first of McLaren’s epic drives and we drove the length and breadth of the country, which was incredible. We will probably end up back there at some point because Steven has family there.
But I have a foot in both countries. Having being brought up in the UK, but living half my life in New Zealand, I still love both countries. They have very different things to offer.
I think we will spend time in both countries probably as we ease back from work slightly, perhaps a little more time in New Zealand. Because of who Dad was, we will never completely retire from it. We will always be involved in the company and that is fantastic.
Can you explain the family connection with the announcement of Muriwai White to the McLaren line-up?
I was asked to name that colour, which was incredible. I got a call from McLaren Special Operations, and they do the bespoke work on the cars, limited-edition work, special colours, and so on.
They said, “We’ve created this colour, and we want a name for it that’s got something to do with the history and heritage of the company. So I asked what colour is it, and to be honest if they said it was purple or green, I would’ve had to have thought for a while. They said it was white with a blue fleck.
The first place my dad won a race was called Muriwai Beach in New Zealand. My mum and dad were planning to have a retirement home at Muriwai Beach once my dad retired. When I was two-ish, they designed and built what became my family home, not far from where the McLaren Technology Centre is in Woking, England.
They called it Muriwai, and that house was painted white with blue doors, blue garage door, and blue shutters. So when I heard it was going to be white paint with a blue fleck, it was absolutely coincidental. They had no idea because the house is a completely different colour now, but I’ve got a photo of it how it used to be, so I sent it over to them.
It was the best colour they could’ve chosen, and it was really the only name we could’ve given that colour.
Your mother, Patty, was heavily involved in the team. Was her car passion just as strong as Bruce’s?
She always loved motorsport. She raced go-karts as a young girl, not professionally, but she loved cars.
In the ’50s and ’60s, the wives and the girlfriends were really important to the team as they made the tea and coffee, and made all the sandwiches, as there was no on-site corporate hospitality. They also did all the time keeping and lap scoring.
My mother said one day she was at a race and the electronic timing broke down, and they used her records to set the grid.
She was also one of the founding members of the Women's Motor Racing Associates Club, which got the nickname, the ‘Doghouse’. As the wives and girlfriends became less needed in the pits, it was somewhere for them to go, talk to each other and look after each other.
Motorsport back then was so dangerous, and so many of their husbands and boyfriends were killed, so it was a support group, and they raised money for charity, and that’s their main work now. I’m a patron of the club now, because of Mum’s history with that.
Do you race cars?
I’ve never wanted to race.
I love cars and I love driving fairly quickly, but if I was going to do it, I would be a test driver. I’m not particularly competitive when it comes to wanting to be first come sports place.
I like being first when it comes to writing an essay or getting the silver medal for the top veterinary nurse in New Zealand, and working full time getting my master's degree at the same time. Things like that, I do like to push myself.
When it comes to getting to the first corner, with 30 or 40 other people around you all wanting to get in front of you, it’s like, 'Okay, away you go. I’ll just enjoy the drive'. For me, that’s so much of what it’s about – being out there on my own and doing lap after lap, and testing a car would be okay, but I just love taking them out on the road.
You can go around the corners twice as quickly (in a McLaren) as you can in any other car, and you still know you’re going to stick to the road.
Do you think the industry is changing with females starting to be in the spotlight?
Absolutely. As we gradually get women in, they are still very small in numbers, because of the history of male domination. As more women come in, they see it as something they can do now.
These days, they can now drive cars, get out there and race, run a team, be involved in the design and engineering, or any part of it. We are just as good as males and have different things to offer. Moving forward, I think it will balance out, whether it will ever be equal, I don’t know.
But we are seeing more women saying, “Yeah, this is something I would like to do”.
To you, what is McLaren?
Passion. Innovation. Inspiration.
All those superlatives often get thrown around quite easily, but you talk to the people who work for McLaren, and it is a special company to them.
We’ve got one chap who worked with my dad in the ’60s and still works for McLaren today. He works in the Formula One side of the business.
There’s something about the company and the brand that draws people. We all want to produce something that is the best, whether it be a product or a process. So there is that drive for that innovation and technology, and that is so exciting.
Perhaps that’s one word that sums it up.