Most people associate McLaren with Formula One and it’s not a surprise, since this is where the British company became a legend and where it is known as one of the most important teams in the sport’s history.
But today McLaren is more than that. The company creates high performance street cars. Not many, it’s true, but the ones it has created went straight into the history books. And this fall (on September 2, more exactly), they will celebrate 50 years since the company’s name was used for the first time.
McLaren. The name comes from Bruce McLaren, a young car and racing enthusiast from New Zealand. Bruce was a talented driver, but whose life and career had a premature ending. Born in Auckland in 1937, he showed a passion for cars ever since childhood and when he was just 14 years old he modified an Austin 7 for hill climbing. He took part in his first race at 16 and continued hill climbing for several years until he was noticed by Jack Brabham during the 1958 New Zealand championship (after he was runner-up in the 1957 season). McLaren was enlisted in the “Driver to Europe” program sponsored by the New Zealand International Grand Prix organization which meant he took off to race in Europe.
McLaren joined Cooper where he stayed for seven seasons. Among his most notable achievements is the victory at the 1959 United States Grand Prix, making him the youngest driver to win a Formula One race at that time (he was 22 years and 80 days old).
In 1962 he won the Monaco Grand Prix and a year later he founded Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd. However, he continued racing for Cooper for a while and in 1965 he announced that he’ll be racing for his own team, alongside Chris Amon, another driver from New Zealand. McLaren’s first and only win while racing for his team was in 1968, at the Belgian Grand Prix.
McLaren also entered the Can-Am championship which was becoming extremely popular in the United States and Canada. His team’s cars dominated the competition for a few years but, unfortunately, he lost his life when he was just 32, while testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood. On June 2, 1970, a rear part of the M8D car he was driving came loose and caused McLaren to lose control of the car which hit a bunker at full speed. Nothing could be done to save his life.
Shortly after being founded, McLaren became an important name in motorsport. First there was the Can-Am championship, a competition the team dominated between 1967 and 1971. The team also took part in the famous 500-mile race at Indianapolis, where it finished first in 1972, 1974 and 1976.
However, Formula One has always been McLaren’s main “playground”. The team debuted at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix and after McLaren’s death, Teddy Mayer was the one to take control of the team. The first Formula One constructor’s championship was won in 1974, when drivers were the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt. 1974 is also the year when McLaren used the famous red and white color combination for the first time. This change was made to honor the new partnership with Marlboro.
In 1981, McLaren and Project Four Racing merged and Ron Dennis, who was Project Four’s founder, became the new head of the team and the man whose career basically became synonym with McLaren. Dennis started an era of victories and famous associations in Formula One. McLaren used Porsche and Honda engines, while drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna won several championships while driving for the British team. Other famous drivers that have their name associated with the team are David Coulthard and world champions Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton.
Since 1966, the McLaren team has won 182 Formula One races, 155 pole-positions and recorded 151 races where its cars set the fastest lap. The team also won 8 constructor championships and its drivers won 12 titles. As an interesting fact, McLaren has also set the Formula One record for the shortest tire change, during the 2012 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim (2.31 seconds).
McLaren street cars
The street cars division, McLaren Cars (currently known as McLaren Automotive), was founded in 1989. However, earlier attempts were made to create a street-legal car, let’s take a look at them:
McLaren M6GT (1970)
Bruce McLaren himself made the first attempt at building a street car, in the late ‘60s. The M6GT model was based on the M6 car that was racing in the Can-Am championship. McLaren wanted to race the M6GT at Le Mans, but in order to do that, regulations said that the company had to build 50 street legal units. Even though homologation issues forced the team to drop the project, McLaren never gave up and wanted to build a functional model and sell 250 units each year.
However, only two units were ever built, one of them serving as McLaren’s personal car until his death. After that, the project was completely abandoned.
1980 McLaren M81 Mustang
A less known project is a special Ford Mustang created by McLaren in 1980 for Ford’s then recently founded Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). The McLaren Mustang produced 175 hp and 250 units were supposed to be built, but the prohibitive price tag of $25,000 limited production to only 10 units, including the prototype.
1993 McLaren F1
Even though earlier attempts failed, McLaren never abandoned the idea of creating a successful street car and in 1993 a legend was born, a car that amazed everyone back then and it still does today, 20 years later. We’re talking about the McLaren F1, which was created by Gordon Murray. The three-seat supercar featured a central-mounted steering wheel, just like in Formula One and was powered by a 6.0-liter BMW V12 engine that produced 630 hp. Its performances were incredible: 0 to 62 mph in just 3.0 seconds and, with a recorded top speed of 242.97 mph, it held the top speed record for a road legal car until 2005, when it was broken by another impressive automobile, the Bugatti Veyron.
2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
McLaren already had a successful Formula One partnership with Mercedes-Benz since 1995. Work on a jointly developed supercar started in 1999, when the two companies were really close: Mercedes supplied the engine used by the McLaren Formula One team and DaimlerChrysler was one of the British carmaker’s largest shareholders. The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was launched in 2003 and many considered it one of the best supercars available at that time. Several other versions followed, such as the convertible, the 722 Edition and the Sterling Moss Edition. Even though production was scheduled for 7 years, poor annual sales (a little over half of what Mercedes was anticipating) forced the company to discontinue the model earlier than planned, in 2009.
In the late 2000s, with help from several Asian investors, McLaren started buying back stock from Daimler and in 2010 the company was renamed to McLaren Automotive. And the first car to be announced was the…
A new supercar, a new approach. The MP4-12C was McLaren’s first attempt to create a supercar by themselves, since the legendary McLaren F1. And, according to feedback from the press and customers, they did a pretty good job. The car is powered by a 3.8-liter turbo engine that delivers 600 hp, it sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds and reaches a top speed of 207 mph. A convertible version followed, called Spider, plus a GT3 racing version.
Unveiled for the first time at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, the McLaren P1 looks simply astonishing. And that’s not all, because its specs are also amazing. It is powered by a hybrid powertrain that features an electric motor and an upgraded version of the 3.8-liter V8 on the MP4-12C, whose power output has been increased to 727 hp. Total output is 903 hp, 0 to 62 mph is made in 2.7 seconds and top speed is electronically limited at 217 mph. As for the price tag, at more than £850,000 it matches the car’s performances. But even so, McLaren probably won’t have any problems in selling the entire production run of just 250 units.
So what does the future has in store for McLaren? We don’t know, but from the recent news coming from Surrey, things look pretty good. We’re looking at a carmaker that survived the financial crisis, bought back its stock and actually managed to develop not one, but two models. Happy birthday, McLaren!