True Brit!…or as close as we can get to it – Part 3, McLaren
A New Zealand mechanic and racer enjoyed meteoric fame in F1, first time winning the US Grand Prix at the age of 22 in 1959, recalls Iain Robertson, building both racing, as well as road cars, before dying in a crash at Goodwood aged just 34.
If legacy were an art form, Bruce McLaren painted a masterpiece. As with both Morgan and Ginetta, motorsport was central to McLaren, whom had been enticed to relocate from his father’s Auckland garage, by Jack Brabham his mentor, only to be ‘adopted’ by another British racing genius, John Cooper, in 1958. To suggest that he scarcely had time to look back would be an understatement. In just twelve all-too-brief years, he won several GPs, drove for both Aston Martin and Jaguar and was part of the 1966 Le Mans winning Ford GT40 team.
Three years prior, he set-up his company and commenced building racing cars. The development of his first road car, the M6GT, of which only two examples were produced and remain in private owners’ hands, was curtailed by his premature demise. Ron Dennis merged his motor racing business with McLaren in 1980, continuing a history of innovation, including the creation of the first carbon-fibre tub for F1, in the renowned MP4/1, which became the safest F1 racing car of the era. By 1988, work had commenced on the second McLaren road car, the aptly-named F1, which drew together the immense talents of Dennis, Gordon Murray and Peter Stevens, Lotus Cars former design boss. Only 106 examples were produced of the 1992 supercar, which was priced at a stratospheric £634,500.
It established new standards in the now burgeoning supercar scene. Its bespoke specification included gold foil within the engine bay to dissipate heat from the 6.1-litre V12 BMW normally-aspirated motor, which developed 627bhp and had to be detuned to go racing. Its unique central driving position, with outrigger space for two passengers and fitted luggage compartments, remains unchallenged and also meant that neither left, nor right-hand drive re-engineering was required. It would be another nineteen years before the next road car was launched, the somewhat more conventional McLaren 12C.
Millennial McLaren, still only eight years old, has been prolific in its design and development processes of several stellar supercars. It had a shaky start, with mechanical failures and even handling issues. Yet, the company rode them out and resolved all technical problems to the great satisfaction of its growing customer base. Internal boardroom wrangling led to the removal of McLaren’s driving force, Ron Dennis, in 2016, in circumstances related directly to the lack of F1 racing success.
In many ways, the Ferrari collaborative business model that involves both road and racing cars has been at the centre of the firm’s successes and, by 2015, it established its unique three-tier model format: the underpinning Sport Series (540C and 570S models), the more potent Super Series (650S, 675LT and 720S) and the Ultimate Series (epitomised by the 903bhp hybrid P1 model, the P1 GTR and the Senna). Each boasted enthralling performance statistics, with even the slowest model despatching 0-60mph in around 3.0s, allied to top speeds in excess of 200mph; the perfect calling card for high performance addicts.
Success in the upper echelons of sportscar manufacturing is normally measured by reputation followed by demand. McLaren has confounded all expectations. Every single car that it has produced in strictly limited runs has sold. It can boast that for each new model it introduces, before the first examples are delivered to their expectant clients, the range is sold out. Unlike Morgan that exercises a long waiting list, or Ginetta that wants to emulate the McLaren legacy in its own way, McLaren can state categorically that it is an unparalleled Great British success story, capable of tackling its high-end rivals head-on. Yet, it is also one that does not overplay its hand. A huge slice of its annual profits is fed directly back into its machine. It works frugally. It satisfies demand. In the process, it has become the least depreciating range of new models in automotive history. McLaren is amazing.
By 2016, in only five years of production history, McLaren sold its 10,000th car. Around May 2019, the company will have sold its 20,000th. Customer satisfaction levels are virtually unrivalled and the firm’s motorsport victories, if not in F1, are on a peak in the sportscar arena. For race car teams, it has always been stated that racing improves the breed. Road car spin-offs have seldom been less than fruitful and racing versions of McLaren sportscars prove the theory to perfection.
True Brit conclusions: McLaren Automotive is a phenomenal success story, of which its originator, Bruce McLaren, would have been immensely proud. Yet, the influence of Ron Dennis and the funding by Mansour Ojjeh cannot be understated. ISQA recognises its stance on quality and the high value it places on British automotive enterprise.
‘Make Quality Count!’