Nothing like a tour of the McLaren Technology Center before driving down to Goodwood in a McLaren.
Walking through the main entrance of the McLaren Technology Center in Woking, England is like entering a car museum, only it’s much more than that. Even the outside grounds are an amazing sight. The MTC is a semi-circular building with tall glass walls up front and a functional and gorgeous lake surrounding it.
Water is actually fed through heat exchangers to cool the building, which is maintained at 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The front lobby consists of a parked parade of iconic McLarens, including the modified 1929 Austin 7 driven by a 15-year-old Bruce McLaren when he won his first race in New Zealand in 1954.
From there the timeline moves forward. A long line of ‘Papaya’ orange Grand Prix and Can Ams, and Formula 1 cars including James Hunt and Lewis Hamilton’s 1976 and 2008 World Champion-winning cars, respectively. Parked in between are even more McLarens not found anywhere else on this planet. The is situated next to the F1 XP1 LM prototype are just two examples.
Like I said, it’s a museum for gearheads and racing people who are fully aware they’re surrounded by iconic cars and their drivers’ spirits.
And so began my factory tour of the MTC, a privilege normally reserved for McLaren customers. McLaren graciously invited me to the facility prior to setting off for the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a convoy of McLarens later in the afternoon. I was also given a sneak preview of a prototype before its live debut the following day. Life can’t get much better than days like this.
On top of that, my tour guide was none other Bruce McLaren’s only child, Amanda McLaren. Today she serves as a brand ambassador and it’s immediately clear she has immense pride for her legendary father and his accomplishments in his far too short 32 years.
I once asked Amanda at a past event what her father would be doing today if he were still alive. She didn’t hesitate to say he’d still be a driver, engineer and, businessman, just like he was until his last day on earth on June 2, 1970. His presence can still be felt in the MTC lobby, and not by the cars alone. Nearly every trophy McLaren as a racing team has won in motorsport is displayed in seemingly never-ending glass displays on both sides of a long corridor.
Unlike some competitors, McLaren’s winning drivers don’t take home the trophies but rather deliver them to home base. Achieving victory is considered a team effort. That trophy or ribbon belongs to all of McLaren.
This team spirit and loyalty dates back to Bruce McLaren’s first employees. They’d follow him to the moon and back on a random morning if he asked them. Amanda is a wealth of information about not only her father but McLaren as a whole. Immediately she recalls dates and milestones, cars and their drivers, triumphs, and tragedies. She is a daughter of motorsport, growing up surrounded by “uncles” like Dan Gurney, Chris Amon, and Denny Hulme.
Following the car and trophy tour, I was led down a long underground hallway, normally reserved for employees only. Climbing a winding set of stairs, I was kindly asked to turn off my camera because I was about to enter the production center.
And then the door opened to something nothing short of mesmerizing: a spotless, dustless, nearly all-white hangar-sized production facility where all McLarens are hand-built. There are no robots. No assembly lines, at least not in the modern sense. Instead, there are columns of workstations, where each employee has a specific list of tasks according to their training.
Every McLaren road car you’ll ever see, be it a 570S, 720S, or a Senna, is built in this peacefully quiet and low-stress factory. I counted at least three Sennas in various stages of production. Directly below me was a sparkling new 600LT. A 720S and 570 GT were undergoing a quality control checks.
Completion takes about three weeks per car, a process that involves not only physically building the car itself, but also a series of intricate and time-consuming quality checks. There’s even a ‘monsoon’ room that simulates a heavy downpour, insuring there no leaks. The final stage is a test drive around the facility, and it’s then shipped to its owner. I could have watched the factory floor for hours. But it was time for a hearty lunch because the next part of my day was only an hour or so away: driving a McLaren 540C to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for the weekend.
When I got into the driver’s seat (on the opposite side of what I’ve always known), I appreciated more than ever the hours, devotion and passion that go into every McLaren. It’s a testament of the continued loyalty Bruce McLaren earned from his team all those years ago.