The Magic of McLaren: The man behind the legend

The Magic of McLaren: The man behind the legend

TO MARK the release of the film McLaren, Workshop Magazine was granted access to the supercar brand’s technology and production centres. The base in Woking is known for being incredibly secretive – with good reason – but for a few hours we would get to see exactly what is behind the glass sliding doors.

The movie tells the tale of Bruce McLaren’s life until his untimely death in 1970 at the wheel of a car he’d designed, but it was after this that the Technology Centre was built to Ron Dennis’s exacting standards. His name is well known in Formula One, and his reputation for wanting perfection continues in the building.

Originally, when the building was designed by famous architect Norman Foster, there were beams and pillars in place to support the impressive structure. Dennis wasn’t satisfied with this, as he wanted the clean finish you see today, so he set his engineers to work.

Therefore, this building is a product of those who work in it too, with every support engineered for peak performance as you would expect in a Formula One car, from the walkways supported from the ceilings, in what looks like an impossible way, to the high glass walls held up by very little at all.

Even some of the doors are concealed as if in a Bond villain’s lair, and require you to run your hand along what appears to be the edge of some wall panelling to reveal another room. When a McLaren employee appears through a wall that is actually a door, it only adds to the labyrinth feel of this magical place.

It’s an exceptional experience as you arrive at the famous Tracy Island-style building. Little did I think that they would allow me to drive around the lake (or is it a pond?), where the road smoothly curves around the building and dips down so close to the water level you feel like there’s a chance you might end up in it.

This is just the first example of design meeting functionality that I would see at McLaren. The water isn’t just for show, it’s used to cool the building when the powerful wind tunnel is being used to test the drag coefficients of its latest cars.


I wish I could show you the photos you really want to see, namely, inside the workshop of those designing the current season and next Formula 1 cars, but I can’t. It’s something to do with top-secret projects and trying to keep a competitive edge against the other teams – even though I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.

Incredibly, when you are in the McLaren Technology Centre, you can gaze into the workshop area, or at least parts of it, from a safe distance behind huge, glass walls. Here, engineers and mechanics were carefully disassembling and reassembling various racing cars, including this year’s MCL32 that had just returned from the Russian Grand Prix.

That said, if anything too secret is going on in here pre-season, they have the option to turn these windows into frosted glass walls.

So much of what goes on here is concealed behind screens and buried deeper inside the building, but today some of the work is deemed safe for public eyes.

This includes one man using a hair dryer to dry a moulded piece of carbon fibre that had just been bonded with an unknown substance.

The attention to detail doesn’t just reside in the building though. There is far more to it than meets the eye.

Because of rules around how high the brand could build in this green area, a large part of the business is concealed.

That’s why on my tour of the site I’m now heading underground and into the production centre, although not deep enough to confirm or deny whether the top-secret test track under the building really exists.

The special touches don’t stop beyond the Technology Centre. On our final part of the journey from the well-known glass building to the newer Production Centre, we step into a lift – and I’ll grant you that doesn’t sound too special – which is powered from the ground like a piston and rises towards a glass ceiling, so close you think you might just go through it.

The workshop is concealed behind huge heavy doors, and once passes have been swiped we can move into the next holding area. It’s very quiet, and I’m expecting as they swing open the next set of doors the noise of a busy workshop will flurry through. It doesn’t happen though, as we move on to the mezzanine and look out over the near- silent workshop.

Here, things are just as secretive, as customers’ new cars are configured to their exacting specifications. And the first thing to catch my eye is a brand-new McLaren 720S going through the final stages of a dynamic test at the forefront of the workshop.

It was not that long ago, in April, that the first production model of the latest Super Series car was completed. The move to full production marked the beginning of a new chapter in the McLaren Automotive story, as the second generation of the Super Series – codenamed ‘P14’ – replaces the first-generation ‘P11’ model family that encompassed the original McLaren 12C and subsequent derivatives, as well as the McLaren 650S and 675LT.

Here, the latest 720S to be constructed by McLaren goes through the final stages of testing. It’s placed on a rolling road and will churn through different speeds to check everything is functioning well, before driving out of this clear box with heatwaves emitting generously from the car.

There’s a long process before the cars will reach this stage, though, with every one built by hand in the clean, white environment.

How to build a supercar


Carbon-fibre monocoque
Every single production car made at McLaren starts with the core of the car, made from carbon fibre. This is what gives it strength but keeps its weight low for improved performance on the road. On one side of the workshop these are lined up ready to go, with panels and supports too.

Panels and paint
When the panels are ready for paint, they are assembled as they should be – but in an exploded way. It then takes two paint technicians to cover the car from start to finish, as the paint has to be applied at the same point, at the same time, on both sides of the car.

As part of the manufacturer’s McLaren Special Operations service, buyers can have almost any colour put on to their new supercar. One wanted the white of the snow at his chalet in the Alps as the sun rises – and he got it.

While many production plants will use robots to guide their cars through the line-up of techs ready to assemble parts, or even use this machinery to construct the car themselves, at McLaren it’s all done by hand. The cars are even pushed around to each station by hand. This means that every technician takes responsibility for ensuring that they are moved with care and without damage, but this also means that the pressure is on to keep to time – otherwise you’ll be holding up the other techs down the production line!

The first thing to be fitted to the car will be its extensive wiring loom. Here, technicians work feverishly to ensure that everything is fitted in the correct place, accommodated behind McLaren’s luxurious interiors and to power everything from ignition to the touchpad-like infotainment system in many modern McLarens.


As the new supercar progresses down the production line it will be fitted with its engine, before being started for the first time. Fortunately, most McLaren engines work better than the one currently in their F1 car, but if anything goes wrong at this stage the car can be pulled sideways out of the run to be fettled without holding up the other cars.

If everything goes to plan with the engine, the interiors can now be fitted to the car. Like everything else in the process, they are carefully fitted by hand. McLaren is well known for its lavish and curvaceous interiors that take extremely skilled people to make and fit.

Testing and quality control
Ensuring the quality of any car is always extremely important, but for a supercar manufacturer such as McLaren it’s even more important. That’s why every car goes through an extensive testing programme before it’s handed over to a customer. There are two clear cubicles: one for dynamic testing and one for ‘monsoon’ testing – both push the car to its limits and if any faults are discovered they’ll move back into the production line.

Bruce: The man and his team


It’s not very often that the career of an engineer gets told on the big screen.

In fairness, Bruce McLaren’s story is far more than just that. He was a racer, a mechanic, an engineer, a designer and an all-round fixer.

The movie McLaren portrays the life, struggles, success and ultimate tragedy of this one man in pursuit of motor racing glory.

New Zealander McLaren was born in 1937 and began racing his father’s car in his teens. It was then that he realised he had both a passion and a skill for the sport. His career became far more than just racing, though, as from a keen interest in working on the cars McLaren went on to start his own team, now renowned globally for its Formula 1 success.

It was his natural talent that won him the ‘Driver to Europe’ competition in New Zealand. This enabled him to travel to England and begin working for John Cooper alongside Sir Jack Brabham.

As the line between drivers and engineers became more defined, both Brabham and McLaren moved to start their own teams where they could remain part of the designing stages. It was a tough and expensive call for McLaren, but it paid off.

After a lot of pain and problems, the team went on to win its first Formula One race.

To make more money to pay for the team, McLaren moved into the Can-Am series while helping Ford to develop its performance cars.

However, in the ’60s and ’70s when McLaren was racing, the sport went hand in hand with death. Tragically, at the height of his team’s success, McLaren lost his life behind the wheel of a car he’d designed himself. He was testing a car at Goodwood and insisted on one more lap to try out an adjustment on the rear wing – but it would be a fatal decision. He was just 32.

The film tells this story through archive footage, re-enactments and interviews, including insights and reminiscences from motor racing legends such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Sir Jackie Stewart.

McLaren’s daughter Amanda said of the film: ‘What he did as a racing driver, a designer and an engineer is fairly well known, but what also came through is the story of him as a father and a husband, but also how fond of him everyone who interviewed him was. You’ve got men who are now in their 70s and 80s still becoming very emotional about an event that happened in 1970.

‘As a daughter, to hear people speak about your father in that way is so special.’ She added: ‘It’s widely unknown that my father wanted to begin producing road cars, but unfortunately he never got to do that. Now the film tells part of that story and the other cars he produced.’

McLaren’s determination to be a motorsport success transcended what most could ever have imagined. He was an inspiration to the people who worked for him, with one of his mechanics once famously saying: ‘If Bruce had told us we were going into the desert to build a wall, we would have done it.’

McLaren 720S facts

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 14.52.55

Rear wing
In its ‘Brake’ setting – which positions the rear wing at a 56-degree angle, giving it 30 per cent more downforce – the 720S has twice as much aero efficiency as normal. This allows it to brake from 124mph to 0mph in just 4.6 seconds when on Pirelli P Zero tyres.

The new 4.0-litre V8 engine is twin-turbocharged, producing 710bhp and 770Nm of torque. The car has a power-to-weight ratio of up to 553bhp per tonne.

Despite being a supercar, the 720S has been developed with fuel efficiency in mind. It uses 10.7 litres of petrol for every 62 miles in the official combined cycle and emits 249g/km of CO2.

The McLaren 720S has a carbon-fibre chassis, based around the Monocage II central structure. This allows the car to have a mass of 1,283kg, as well as aiding interior space and visibility.

The 720S achieves 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds and 0-124mph in 7.8 seconds. The car has a top speed of 212mph.

The 720S has a focus on aerodynamics, with double the efficiency of the 650S in this field. This is thanks to the new active chassis system – Proactive Chassis Control II.

The 720S has aluminium double wishbone suspension with adaptive dampers and Proactive Chassis Control II. McLaren claims this is the most advanced suspension system in the world.

The ‘eye socket’ light design
on the 720S has been created with aerodynamics in mind. An airflow occurs around the new LED headlight fixtures, which has a cooling effect on the car.

A new generation of McLarens

McLaren’s much-teased and highly anticipated new supercar was revealed earlier this year, with the 720S name and 710bhp output confirmed. The first production versions have now made their way along the production line and out of the factory.

At the heart of the new Super Series model is a 4.0-litre V8 engine, which is a notable change from the traditional 3.8-litre unit used across the manufacturer’s range.

It’s a higher-capacity version of that engine, with McLaren claiming that 41 per cent of the parts used are new.

Performance figures are suitable astonishing. The 0-60mph sprint takes less than three seconds and it will blast to 124mph within eight seconds.

The 720S also marks and stark evolution of the McLaren design language. The swish logo- inspired headlights have been replaced by large triangular surrounds housing a smaller headlight unit and thin daytime running lights.

The rear design is also totally transformed, incorporating a more sculpted version of the tail-light styling that first appeared on the 570S. Meanwhile, a flatter rear deck results in a more bubble-like look to the cabin.

With McLaren’s reputation for building spectacular supercars, we’re expecting the 720S to continue this with new suspension and the latest generation of McLaren’s Proactive Chassis Control.

Mike Flewitt, the chief executive of McLaren Automotive, said: ‘Super Series is the core of the McLaren business and personifies the blend of extreme performance, crafted luxury and unparalleled driver involvement that is the McLaren heartland.

‘This is the first time we have replaced a product family and the new 720S is absolutely true to McLaren’s pioneering spirit in being a revolutionary leap forwards, both for our brand and the supercar segment.’ It costs from £208,600, with three grades of specification available as well as the supercar manufacturer’s bespoke customisation service.

And you could end up spending a whole lot more if you start choosing from the extensive array of options on offer from the supercar maker.

In fact, buyers of the new McLaren 720S could buy a BMW M3 and still have change to insure it for the price of the carbon-fibre extras on the new British supercar.

While the iconic M3 will set you back a ‘mere’ £57,355, buyers who tick all of the lightweight options on the 720S order sheet will add £58,900 to the car’s £208,600 base price. From March, potential buyers were immediately able to specify their own unique supercar.

Buyers who opt for the £218,020 McLaren 720S Performance base model and then tick everything on the options list will be asked to cough up a whopping £316,070 – that’s a staggering £98,050 on options, or the equivalent of a new Porsche 911 GTS.

According to one McLaren dealer, the most popular choices on the 720S order sheet so far included the £2,070 Vehicle Lift, which stops the nose grounding out on bumps, the £2,220 Gorilla Glass roof, a 360-degree camera system for £2,480 and electric seats at £2,730. Carbon-fibre extras for the truly decadent buyers include door mirrors (£2,220), front splitter (£5,990), rear bumper (£4,480) and diffuser (£5,990).

More conventional extras don’t come cheap either, with a fire extinguisher costing £150, branded mats at £330 and a fitted luggage set for £810. And if you want a strap to secure said luggage, that’ll cost you another £510.

The cheapest option on the list is an ashtray for £50, while the most expensive, carbon-fibre door mirrors, cost £5,990 – just five pounds less than a new Dacia Sandero.

MORE: Classic car experts create E-Type restoration manual

MORE: UK drivers use the internet to buy more car parts than groceries

MORE: Are you the best around? Here’s how you could win a Workshop Magazine Award!

On 5 Outstanding Onboards To Watch During Your Lunch Break

Latest Posts