MCLAREN SPECIAL Operations (MSO) is of growing significance within the company’s business activities as it seeks to increase the volume of personalisation and bespoke service it offers its customers. Ansar Ali, who joined McLaren Automotive last year, initially as motorsport director, heads the division. He’s a veteran of British sports car firms. Ali speaks of a common goal between himself and McLaren boss Mike Flewitt whereby the firm seeks to maintain as personal a relationship as possible with its customers. “People want to be closely associated to the brand and have a sense of belonging.” said Ali.
McLaren has previewed the styling of its three-seat homage to the F1 road car for the first time. The new model will eclipse the PI as the most powerful road-legal McLaren yet when it arrives in 2019. The new model, codenamed BP23, will slot into McLaren’s Ultimate Series – the range-topping tier for its most exclusive models – and is billed as a ‘hyper-GT’. It will bring hybrid technology back to a McLaren for the first time since the P1, ahead of a roll-out of similar technology across its mainstream models in 2020. Continue reading “Brand New McLaren F1 Offers Impressive Tech”
What it is: Possible confirmation of the availability of high strength psychotropic drugs in the Woking area of England. The BP23 is a three-seat model inspired by the legendary McLaren F1, sharing that car’s central driving position and continent-crossing Grand Tourer brief. It’s the work of McLaren’s Special Operations (MSO) division, and all 106 have already been sold, despite a price tag of more than $2 million.
There’s nothing more exciting than an invitation to drive something ludicrously fast, sophisticated and far beyond the realms of even a normal supercar. Something that gives you a glimpse at the outer edges of what’s possible shy of a big-budget single-seater racer.
We’re in Scotland, so far north that it feels lawless. Any farther north and it becomes godless. We’ve been blessed with bright sunshine for three days straight, but fog is hiding the scenery this morning and photography is off the agenda. Thankfully visibility is good at road level, which means we can at least drive.
They share many a component, but the difference between the 570S and GT is all in the detail
Despite this being the first time I’ve driven a 570GT, I’ve got an uncanny sense of deja-vu. Ever since I first sat in a car, I have like most people assimilated through hands, feet, backside, nose and inner ear all sorts of sensations relating to different cars.And right now my brain is slowly going through the filing system, checking the microfiche, looking for a match. It doesn’t take long.
Just like the P1 and the mighty F1 long before it, the 540C breaks new ground for McLaren. Far from being the fastest or most expensive car to come from Woking, though, the 540C is actually the slowest. And the cheapest. It’s also the least powerful, and the first to have a sub-200mph (322km/h) top speed.
The model, codenamed P14, will achieve 0-124mph in 7.8sec and a standing quarter mile in 10.3sec, according to the Woking-based firm.
McLaren’s road car ambitions nearly ended that tragic day in 1970 when Bruce McLaren lost his life testing a Can-Am racer at Goodwood. His daily driver was a prototype McLaren road car — the M6GT — which used a tuned Chevrolet V8 engine. It weighed less than a Mini, and had 10 times the power. It also had manually operated pop-up headlights that were raised or lowered by hooking your finger inside the light pods. Can you imagine that getting signed off for production today?
McLaren will build a £50 million factory in Sheffield to manufacture its carbonfibre chassis. The new facility will create 200 jobs and construction is set to begin early this year, with full production slated for 2020.
There is only one fundamental question to answer here. Is it worth saving £17,000 – some 15 per cent – and having the 540C instead of the 570S? After all, you’ve still got 533bhp and 398lb ft, drops of just 29bhp and 45lb ft, and although McLaren has equipped it with a marginally different front bumper and rear diffuser, plus a new wheel design, I’d have a heck of a job playing spot the difference.
Is McLaren’s most affordable car ever a cat amongst the usual sports car pigeons?
For people who really care about the finer points of driving, the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI was always a more appealing car than the faster, all-wheel-drive R32 model. Similarly, in Porsche circles the base-level 911 Carrera has often been considered the superior car to the faster, more expensive Carrera S. In fact, there are many examples In recent history of the cheaper, simpler version of a performance car being preferable to the range-topping model It Isn’t just a matter of affordability, either In the case of the Golf GTI and R32, the front-driven model was genuinely more engaging and rewarding to drive (although the R32’s six-cylinder engine was a much sweeter thing than the GTI’s turbocharged four-pot). All this considered, then, what is the chance that this new McLaren 540C is actually the pick of the company’s Sports Series line-up?
At $325,000, the 540 isn’t only the cheapest Sports Series model, it’s also the cheapest McLaren yet. It’s the least powerful, too, with 397kW and 540Nm. This entry-level model undercuts the rather brilliant 570S by $54K and gives up 22kW and 60Nm. In order to keep production costs in check, the 540C also gets aluminium body panels where the more expensive car uses carbonfibre.
It still delivers meaningful performance, though, recording a 0-100km/h time of 3.5 seconds with a 320km/h (199mph) top speed. That makes this the first McLaren road car ever to have a sub-200mph top speed, which neatly demonstrates an important point: the 540C treads new ground for McLaren, a territory where buyers have subtly different expectations.
The $54,000 price difference between the 540C and 570S doesn’t seem like a huge amount, but it means the cheaper car is vying for the attention of buyers who would otherwise consider an Audi R8 V10 or a Mercedes-AMG GT S; buyers who are more likely to have just the one sports car rather than a small fleet.
To that end, the 540C gets revised suspension settings designed to improve ride quality over the 570S and make it more amenable in day-to-day use.
Getting here entailed six months of planning, days of driving and mild heatstroke. It was worth it…
There is no such thing as a “practical supercar”. It’s a contradiction in terms on the same intellectual level as “moderate terrorist” or “diet cake”. The point of a supercar is to be impractical. Whimsical, even. Fantastical to look at, and with a poisonously narrow go-faster brief that means it’s about as useful in real life as male nipples, or those cheap spanners you can buy made from metallic softwood. Yes, you can get searingly fast cars that are also practical – the Porsche 911 Turbo being one – but is that really a supercar? It’s got four seats, for goodness’ sake. And there are approximately seven hundred lesser models which all – bar a few extra bits of bodywork – look exactly the same. The Audi R8 comes close – it looks suitably unsuitable, has the engine in the right place and goes very fast indeed. But it’s an Audi. And Audi also makes the A4 2.0-litre TDI. And it has normal doors. And as we all know, a supercar needs ridiculous doors. Even a practical one. Step forward, then, the McLaren 570GT.
McLaren does not make city cars, small cars, saloon cars or cars that you can walk past without looking at. It makes – exclusively – supercars. And while all the other practical fast things mentioned previously are perched at the top of their respective family trees (or at the expensive bottom end of the brochure), the 570GT is one of McLaren’s more “affordable” models. Not for normal people, obviously – the GT starts at just over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds – but for the gilded rich, this is basically the financial equivalent of a VW Up on nice rims. And while it has the same carbon tub, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 and grand-entrance beetle-wing doors as the PI hyper-hybrid or 650S, it also gets a… hatchback. A panoramic glass roof and soft-close doors. And softer suspension. And a quieter exhaust. And generally less white-knuckled, let’s-take-the-Tesla-to-the-shops intensity.
This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. A bewinged and dive-planed racetrack-refugee like a 675LT might have the car-park kudos, but to be honest, you never really get to drive one hard on the road past third gear. A PI might get all the plaudits, but it is essentially a fairly single-minded, pretty little psychopath, ruthless in its pursuit of speed. The 570GT purports to offer the look and a more accessible experience without the unceasing daily drama. And so, to test the hypothesis that the McLaren 570GT really is a universe-bending paradox, we have decided to do something perilously impractical in McLaren’s most practical car. We’re having a little road trip.
Now, when I say “little”, obviously I mean “fairly large”, and when I say “perilously impractical I just mean ‘”perilous”. Because I’m going to load up the 570GT with everything it can take, and then try and drive every decent road in the United Arab Emirates – and slightly beyond – in a couple of days. This means filling the front boot with photographer John Wycherley’s camera kit, the rear, side-opening hatch with my increasingly disturbing bag of laundry and several other unidentified items, and hitting the road. First up: city driving, Abu Dhabi style.
The 540C is McLaren’s least expensive car. As such there’s much that’s missing. It lacks the 650S’s Proactive Chassis Control, which replaces mechanical anti-roll bars (and their intrinsic compromise) with interlinked hydraulics for a plush ride with circuit-ready body control. The 540C also uses iron brake discs rather than carbon-ceramics, and four-piston front calipers as opposed to the 570S’s six-piston units.
It obviously also goes without the hybrid powertrains of either the P or McLaren’s MP4-31 Fi car (a relief in the case of the latter), and at 533bhp, 398lb ft and 199mph is down 29bhp, 45lb ft and 5mph on the £143,250 570S. The 540C costs £128,550.
What’s compelling though is just how much the 540C retains. McLaren’s ultra-stiff carbon-fibre monocoque stays (for a piffling dry weight of 1311kg), as does a barely less potent version of Woking’s twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8, and there are three-stage adaptive dampers. The 540C is also quite fabulous to drive.
The elegant dihedral doors and wide sills are familiar, as is the cockpit architecture, which is either nicely snug or claustrophobic depending on your size. The driving position is nigh-on perfect, forward visibility good and the interior rife with the firm’s now trademark purity of purpose.
The chassis tune is on the firm side, even in Normal – the 540C may be the lowest rung in the Sports Series ladder but it is a sports car nonetheless. On rough roads the C never settles, jiggling endlessly. It’s a world away from the supple, big-mile refinement of the 650S. And when you clear the corners you may even miss the greater performance of that car and the 570S, the relatively torque-light 540C requiring a semblance of the right gear ratio for a meaningful response.
But find yourself on a proper road and all reservations will likely evaporate. The generous recompense for the busy ride and steering is a fantastic sense of connection to the car, with feedback flooding in from seat and wheel (if not brake pedal which, in stark contrast to many over-servo’d set-ups, asks for a meaty, analogue shove).
Snug in your seat, machine-gunning through gears on the 540C’s nicely tactile shift paddles, you’re soon tuned into what could, given its bald figures and thick, turbocharged delivery (wet conditions demand restraint), have been a pretty intimidating tool. Instead you find yourself ramping up the drive modes for their still-greater feedback, poise and response and probing deeper into the McLaren’s deep reserves of performance, grip and addictive togetherness.
That suspension set-up you dismissed as too harsh ten minutes ago hardwires you to the shifting loads and grip levels at each corner of the car. And de-tuned though the 540 C may be, this is still a monumentally quick car (3,5sec to 62mph, 10.5sec to 124mph…), its marginally less ferocious delivery merely encouraging you to be braver with it.
Engine: 3799cc V8 turbocharged
Power: 533bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque: 398lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed sequential with paddleshift, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 199mph
On sale: Now
Only a stunning engine short of world domination
McLaren has confirmed it will launch a three-seater inspired by the original F1 that will bring hybrid power to the company’s line-up for the first time since the P1. The new model is being billed as a ‘hyper-GT’ rather than a hypercar in the mould of the original F1 and its P1 successor. According to McLaren, this means it is “a car designed for long journeys but with the high levels of performance and driver engagement expected of any McLaren”. Just 106 examples will be built, the same number as the original FI, and each has already been sold.
Codenamed BP23, the model is the work of the McLaren Special Operations (MSO) division, headed by ex-Caterham and Zenos boss Ansar Ali. The ‘BP2’ in the codename signifies that this is the second bespoke product to come from MSO and the ‘3’ refers to its three seats. McLaren has revealed a sole image of the model, an abstract bird’s-eye preview sketch. Look closely at it and it reveals the car’s most significant feature: a three-seat layout, with a central driving position and a seat on each side of it, just like the FI.
Owners have been told that the model will be produced as a coupe only, with no open-top or track-focused GTR variants planned. This is in keeping with McLaren’s brief to make a hyper-GT. The firm reckons a fixed roof is most befitting of the ultimate grand tourer. McLaren has given little away about the as yet unnamed model’s powertrain, save for the fact that it is a hybrid. It has also revealed that the car will be one of the most powerful McLarens yet produced.
As with all McLarens, a version of the twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine will be at its heart, but this time it will be hooked up to an electric motor and battery pack, as with the P1. The fact that its power output is described as ‘one of’ the largest yet seen suggests it will not top the 903bhp of the P1 but will exceed the 666bhp of the 675LT. Insiders previously mentioned a figure far greater than 700bhp.
McLaren’s Track22 business plan, announced in March by company boss Mike Flewitt, confirmed more hybrid models as part of the 15 new cars -both regular production and limited run – it plans to launch by 2022, of which this F1 homage is one. The car recognises and promotes the increasing influence of the MSO division, which offers McLaren owners anything from individual paint finishes and trims to full-blown one-off creations. It has created one bespoke product before: the one-off X-1 of 2012.
This new F1 homage will showcase MSO’s ability to develop its own models, with insiders promising a “streamlined” exterior “shrink-wrapped in a carbonfibre body of great elegance” and an exquisitely finished interior with bespoke switchgear. Each of the 106 owners will work with MSO to create bespoke colour, trim and personalization combinations for their individual cars. McLaren has given little away about the styling of the car, but it has revealed that its dihedral doors, a feature of all McLaren Automotive models to date, will be powered for the first time and extend into the roof, as on the FI.
Sources have revealed that there will be other nods to the Flin the styling, with a roof-mounted air scoop among the features. Performance will be explosive, but McLaren will also focus on making the F1 homage its most refined car yet. A McLaren statement read: “The car will deliver the highest levels of refinement, enabling significant journeys to be undertaken with up to three people aboard.” McLaren has not yet confirmed pricing, but sources have indicated that the new car will cost around £2 million when it arrives in early 2019.
The acronym GT is probably one of the most commonly used badges attached to the rear end of a car. Manufacturers think that by adding it to one of their humdrum models, it immediately gives an otherwise bland and boring car immediate street cred as a ‘grand tourer‘.
McLaren has expanded its Sports Series line to three models with the new 570GT. But this is not simply a case of slapping a GT sticker to an existing car; far from it. It’s easily one of the finest models th e British company builds and without doubt the best all-round sports car it has made to date.
That’s quite a definitive statement, but one that’s easy to stand by. We were highly impressed with the 570GT when we first got behind the wheel, but now we‘ve spent time with it on UK roads, it has confirmed our impressions. Essentially McLaren has taken the brilliant 570S and sobered it upa little to create a car that’s as civilised and refined as it can manage without adding a smaller en gine and extra seats.
At a quick glance, the 570GT looks like the 570S, but there are some significant differences between them. The 570S’s flying buttresses have made way for more rounded bodywork that includes a side-hinged glass hatch. There’s a 220-litre boot under there, while the 570GT gets a new roof that’s mostly glass, bathing the cabin in more natural light.
The engine, normally on show in the 570S, now lives under a leather-covered floor that’s well insulated, so any Fortnum & Mason food purchases aren’t cooked before you get home. Bespoke luggage can be ordered to fit the space, along with the front boot, and combined capacity is an impressive 350 litres; that’s more than you get in a Ford Focus hatch.
Inside the GT gets more soundproofing, electric heated seats with memory function, an d soft-close doors, while under the skin a quieter exhaust system is fitted as standard and the suspension has been softened.
Spring rates have reduced stiffness by 15 per cent at the front and 10 per cent at the rear. The steering response rates have been made a little gentler, too. All of these tweaks and changes add up to a very different driving experience. The softer suspension is immediately noticeable – there’s a little more cushioning when thumping over potholes – and there’s less booming on the motorway.
But that’s where the GT references stop – because when you’re not cruising around and attack the asphalt, this 570 goes, stops, sounds and looks like all other McLarens. While the steering is a little slower than the 570S‘s, there’s little difference; it’s direct, still alive with feedback and responds immediately to inputs, with the only real difference being the GT’s tendency to understeers lightly more under hard cornering than the 570S.
Press the starter button and the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 helps into life. The acceleration is almost violent thanks to the 562bhp, and ‘clicking‘ the paddle-mounted gearshifters is a real delight. The gearbox is not as quick as Audi’s S tronic or Porsche’s PDK, but it’s a tiny bit less responsive.
The GT is just two-tenths of a second slower than the S from 0-60mph, still clocking a mightily impressive 3.3seconds, with the same 204mph top speed. That slower 0-60mph dash is due to it being 37kg heavier, but it’s a minimal penalty and in the real world the GT responds like the S.
Despite the extra luxuries, the cabin remains essentially the same as in the 570S. It’s a masterpiece in modern sports car interior design and a farcry from the button- frenzied Ferrari 488 or functionality of a Porsche 911 Turbo. You sit low but upright in the 570GT, so visibility is great and it’s an easy, comfortable car to use everyday.
The same can’t be said for McLaren’s infotainment system. Simple tasks like inputting a destination into the sat-nav can be hugely frustrating. But as this is a high-end sports car, such criticisms are trivial.
While the changes from S to GT could be seen as relatively minor, they make a significant difference to the driving experience. McLaren has built a car that’s as serene as a McLaren can be, while losing none of the drama or desirability.
Price: £ 154,940
Engine: V8, 3.8-litre, twin-turbo, petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 204mph
On sale: Now
The 570GT isn’t simply a 570S with a GT badge slapped on the rear. It shares similar bodywork, but has been extensively reworked to offer a different driving experience. McLaren has shown its true skill and expertise in taking a hard-edged sports car and softening it to make it easier to live with, but no less desirable or exciting. This is the most convincing road-biased car McLaren has made, and it’s highly impressive.
NEED TO KNOW
570GT’s total boot capacity is 350 litres, which is more than a five-door Ford Focus hatch can muster
The McLaren 540C has lived in the shadow of its brilliant 570s sibling. Is the 540c an unsung hero with equally beguiling talent, only at a cool £17,000 saving?
Car buyers come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll search a long time before you find a supercar owner whose proud boast is that he chose the cheapest model going.
In my experience, a person who buys something as gloriously unnecessary as a Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren belongs to one of two types. They’re either so passionate about performance, driving and fine engineering that they’ll shell out whatever it takes to get the best car going. Or they simply want to demonstrate to you and everyone watching that they can afford the ultimate toy.
The first of these two supercar shoppers maybe the nicer to know, but for either case, a bargain simply doesn’t come into it.
The 540C was launched about 18 months ago, not far behind its much bigger-selling sibling, the 570S. In the accompanying bumf, McLaren displayed its understanding that no 540C owner would want his car labelled a bargain by delicately referring to it as “the most attainable McLaren yet”, at £126,000. But the truth was it had the potential to save its owner around £17,000. For a year and a half, while the UK’s road testers focused on the sublime £143,000 570S, they commonly posed the same question about the 540C: why would the buyer of a £140,000-plus car care about saving £17k?
Yet for a few of us, that 540C question continued to burn. Which £140,000 car owner cares about saving £17,000 on a car? The same sort, of course, who likes the idea of saving £9000 on a car worth £70,000. Or £1800 on a car worth £14,000. A potentially great car was being ignored for the weird reason of its affordability.
Before the drive, some stats. The 540C, comparatively packed with equipment in most buyers’ books, carries beneath its elegant engine cover a 533bhp twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 closely related to that of the million-pound McLaren P1. It sits on an all-carbonfibre single-piece chassis that, if not the same, is closely related. It is a picture of efficiency and design sophistication. It also has huge performance. How much more quickly does a reasonable person want to sprint to 125mph from rest than 10 seconds? And how much faster does this owner want to go – assuming a place could be legally found – than 199mph?
What’s more, the 540C closely resembles the 570S in styling. Only experts and the car’s actual creators are likely to spot the small differences in front splitter design, especially as the 540C isn’t identified by any exterior badge. Ironically, as we were soon repeatedly to discover, a decent proportion of the people who recognised our car as a McLaren were inclined to confuse it with the P1 costing nine times more…
McLaren’s own purpose in launching the lower-priced car is based entirely on financial logic. In places like Singapore, where supercar taxes run at around 100%, the price difference between the 540C and 570S swells to £40,000. Back in Blighty, where personal contract purchase is big business, this ‘most attainable’ McLaren is on offer to a 10,000-miles-a-year buyer over three years for less than £1000 a month (after a £35,000 deposit). The deal is keener than you’d get on an equivalent Audi R8, Woking’s people insist, because their cars’ residual values are well ahead of the Audi’s.
But is the 540C any good? One quick way of finding out, we decided, was to take a brisk one-day tour of well-known, inspirational roads in the lower Cotswolds, a 300-mile tour that would take in a wide variety of road types, corners and surfaces. This would be a short, enjoyable grand tour, if that term can still be used with validity away from the Haunted Fishtank.
In a car of the 540C’s potential, full-noise driving isn’t necessary or even possible on public roads.
We set out to drive the 540C as an owner would – discreetly sprinting where it was possible and feeling the car out on favourite corners and back roads. Down the M3 we’d go, turning north-west on rolling English roads to Marlborough, then up an unspoiled secondary route to Swindon’s outskirts, before zipping up to the east of Cirencester.
I’ve driven most of the current McLarens in recent months, but my major experience still flows from the 12C long-term test car we ran three or four years ago. Step into a 540C and the familiarity is instant, followed by the realisation a second later that everything – everything – has been developed, improved, refined or tuned. The door aperture is bigger, the doors open wider and there’s more room in the cabin and better adjustment for the steering column. You see the instruments better. The pedal area seems roomier, too, and the infotainment system, almost laughably incapable in our 12C, is quicker to repond and hugely better.
That’s just the start of the story. The car feels more sophisticated now. The steering wheel turns the car more quickly and the effort is more appropriate and consistent from lock to lock. When you thumb the button, the engine starts with the same neighbour-disturbing blip and settles into the same disappointingly farty idle, but when you move off, the clutch’s take-up is perfectly predictable in a way it never was.
Left to its own devices, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox changes smoothly and chooses its ratios with perfect precision, but the manual change (one of several things selectable via still-confusing rotary switches on the lower fascia) is such superb fun that I drove most of our 300 miles changing my own gears.
What else? Even without the Super Series’ hydraulic anti-roll system, the ride is flat and beautifully damped; one of my conceits on this trip was following decent cars and watching how much more their bodies were affected by dips and humps than my own. Now and again, severe bumps do crash right through, though. Likewise, you occasionally hear a rumble-rattle typical of cars with carbonfibre structures. But if you know what’s beneath, it’s almost a badge of honour.
Are you noticing anything? Truth is there’s precious little to criticise about the 540C that hasn’t already been said about the 570S. Sure, the cheaper car has iron brakes, not the carbon-ceramic variety used on more expensive McLarens, but you hardly notice the difference on the road.
Perhaps the carbon rotors’ rate of retardation is a shade more predictable, but they’re also noisier, more expensive and not as effective when cold and wet. And yes, the 540C’s cabin decor is less ornate than that of its pricier siblings, but we actually enjoyed the simplicity, which did nothing to disguise the abiding impression of quality.
The most telling comment came from a man shepherding two little boys into a service station, where we’d stopped for fuel. “That’s the McLaren P1,boys,” said the seen-it-all dad. “It’s worth over a million pounds.” As the kids stared at us like we were superheroes, I tried to smile an ordinary smile. Correcting their dad would only have put him down. But his comment stood for the impression of several we encountered: this was a McLaren, which made it very, very special. I felt a pang of triumphant sorrow, if such a thing exists, for the many dozens of car owners we must have passed in a day’s driving who had spent £126,000 on vehicles of less impact.
“Like the 570S, the 540C surprises you with its agility in tight spaces. It feels compact and capable”
We tried some cornering shots on a bumpy bend behind Wroughton airfield, soon to be made famous by Clarkson & Co. It was a place we’d used before and the McLaren arrowed through it at a very decent lick, exactly on line, riding beautifully, with its wheels never leaving the road. Like the 570S, the 540C surprises you with its agility in tight spaces. It feels compact and capable, and you can definitely feel that as a result of a carbonfibre tub, alloy panels and a light powertrain, it weighs just 1311kg.
After a lifetime of hearing marketing men bigging up their cars ’emotional’ styling, I’ve come to associate the e-word too often with a tawdry lack of taste. Yet there was true beauty and emotion in the way the 540C combined its asymmetric stainless tailpipes, blued with heat, into the sculptural but very efficient rear diffuser.
“I simply don’t care how the 540c relates to other supercars. Or other McLarens. It is my kind of car”
As night began to fall, we drove quietly home. Now shifting its own gears and slipping easily along with the traffic, the car rode beautifully, kept a lid on the road noise for which supercars are usually infamous, and slipped confidently into traffic gaps fit for a supermini. Our time with the 540C was nearly over.
I simply don’t care, I decided, how this car relates to other supercars. Or to other McLarens.
The 540C is my kind of car: modern, hugely quick and beautifully made but easy to use in every driving mode, with an irresistible overlay of simplicity.
Price: £ 126,055
Engine: V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power: 533bhp at 7500rpm
Torque: 398lb ft at 3500rpm
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1311kg
Top speed: 199mph
Economy: 26.4mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 249g/km, 37%
Rivals: Audi R8 5.2 FSI, Porsche 911 Turbo
Apple sees the acquisition of McLaren as key to its Project Titan plan to enter the car industry and use FI to promote its tablets and smartphones to younger buyers. Autocar has learned. The impetus is to acquire McLaren’s vast technical know-how and R&D expertise, including the main automotive engineering disciplines of body structures, powertrains, chassis, electrics, battery technology and aerodynamics in both road cars and F1. Apple’s board is understood to have decided that acquiring McLaren in a single transaction is a much faster route to becoming a car manufacturer than building a business from scratch. “McLaren is one of the only businesses like this that might be available and isn’t tied up with anyone.” Sources have told Autocar.
“It’s a golden opportunity.” While Apple remains tight-lipped. McLaren is also playing down speculation about the deal, but both companies are understood to have cleared a statement from McLaren regarding the rumoured talks: “McLaren is not in discussion with Apple on any type of investment. But the nature of our business is that we have all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people that are subject to confidentiality.”
Despite the denials. Autocar understands that Apple is continuing to pursue McLaren. One stumbling block is understood to be the role of Ron Dennis in an Apple-controlled McLaren. Dennis owns 50% of McLaren Technology Group and 10% of Automotive – McLaren’s two operating arms – and is executive chairman of both.
Talks have centred on Dennis taking a non-executive role, with power focused in an Apple-appointed executive chair. There is conflicting information about Dennis’s desire to remain in charge. Some sources suggest he is willing to give up control, but those close to him maintain he still has the desire to pilot the company that he has shepherded since 1981. To break the impasse, Apple might have to raise its current £1.5 billion bid – £1bn for Automotive and £500m for Technology Group. If Apple doubled its bid. Dennis would make £700m personally.
Long-standing McLaren shareholder Mansour Ojjeh is understood to be ready to cash in his 25% holding in Technology Group. Ojjeh’s health has been failing and Autocar has been told it is an “open secret in F1 that Ron has been looking for an investor to replace Mansour”. Bahraini sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat is also prepared to divest some of its holdings – currently 25% in Technology Group and 55.5% in Automotive. Apple is particularly attracted by the tax-efficient opportunity to invest cash it has accrued in Europe, rather than spending billions in tax repatriating it to the US. Running its planned car business from Europe would be more financially efficient. Some estimates put Apple’s global reserves at £163bn, with possibly £55bn of that available in Europe, dwarfing the estimated £1.5bn to £2bn purchase price of McLaren.
Apple also has a huge supply of cash to pump into McLaren to fund development of its own car and develop McLaren’s four main businesses. McLaren Technology Group and McLaren Automotive each has its own share structure and board. McLaren Technology Group includes Racing. Applied Technology and Marketing. McLaren Automotive is the stand-alone supercar business. Nudging six years old. Automotive has made a highly successful debut in the cut-throat and notoriously unreliable supercar business. McLaren says Automotive has been profitable for the past three years and last year made £23.5m from a £451m turnover. This strong business performance is understood to be attractive to Apple.
Automotive rapidly broke through its 1500-car-per-year break-even point and last year built 1654 carbonfibre-tubbed supercars. The launch last year of its most affordable model, the £126.000 540C, is spurring a major increase in production to 4000 units per year by 2017. Although Automotive might seem the obvious acquisition target. Apple is understood to be keen to buy all of McLaren’s businesses. McLaren’s FI involvement is seen as a new route to market Apple’s core technology products. Strategically, there are concerns that the gloss is rubbing off these products and that competition is stiffening. Despite its image as a technology market leader. Apple has only 15% of the global smartphone market, behind Samsung, which dominates with 24%.
To give Apple’s marketing a boost, a move into FI would raise its global image, particularly with younger smartphone buyers. Apple’s cash could also boost McLaren’s FI budget, which is understood to be around half of Ferrari’s £300m a year. The arrival of Apple as title sponsor would go a long way to replacing Vodafone as McLaren’s key sponsor, the loss of which has been felt hard at Woking. A commitment by Apple to match Ferrari’s budget and push McLaren back up the grid rankings would be a persuasive argument for the highly competitive Dennis, who has to make the momentous decision to sell his shareholdings if Apple is to take control.
Apple’s cash pile also has the potential to move Automotive into a new gear, where it could challenge Ferrari for leadership of the global supercar market. Automotive’s production capacity is capped at 4500 per year on two shifts at the Woking factory, a number that McLaren says is profitable for a long-term future. A second shift of 250 workers has already been introduced to build the 540C, 570S and 570GT. raising the assembly line workforce to 750. However, industry experts predict that McLaren will need to match Ferrari’s 7000-per-year production in the long term to ensure a stable and profitable business. Aston Martin is strategically heading in that direction, targeting 10.000 per year as it prepares a new wave of investment to build a more stable business.
Apple’s cash could easily accelerate expansion to 7000 a year, which will either require a third shift at Woking or, if the expansion is to come with additional models such as an electric SUV or a four-door Tesla beater, a second production line. Since Project Titan will require a new plant, the extra McLaren models could easily be incorporated into a new Apple factory. Automotive is already eyeing expansion and is in the early stages of a £1bn investment programme, dubbed Track22 and announced at the Geneva show in March. That £1bn will fund 15 new cars and derivatives over the next six years, including a new engine range and hybrid powertrains for 50% of those models. McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt said in March the new model plan included a fully electric powertrain for a future ‘Ultimate Series’ car, a reference to the replacement for the P1 hypercar, which is now out of production after a total run of 375 units. Time will tell if Apple can convince Dennis to relinquish control of his company, but there’s no doubt the cash is on the table and the vision is there.
LAST week, Internet speculation suggested technology giant Apple was planning a bold takeover bid for supercar maker McLaren. But hours after the rumours started, a McLaren spokesperson quashed them, telling Auto Express: “We are not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment.” Online reports had suggested Apple was considering a “full takeover” or a “strategic investment” of McLaren and its subsidiaries.
The iPhone maker has been readying a self-driving electric car for several years, but was thought to be scaling back on R&D of late. In recent months Apple has lost several key employees, many of whom were said to have been working on the EV project. Since their departure, stories had hinted at Apple changing tack by focusing on the systems required to power and run an autonomous car, rather than manufacturing it outright.
Here’s a little gap in the traffic. Enough to pin the accelerator and hold it there all the way to the limiter in third. We’re heading home, day nearly done. No lag, the power comes in hard and without hesitation. I’ve caught Gus’s attention. At about 4500rpm the rear tyres light up for maybe a second before the traction control tempers the delivery just enough to restore traction. Then the fury ramps up again. The photographer, a veteran of Veyrons and the like – is grabbing at fresh air, trying to restore his own grip on reality.
“Oh my god… Oh my GOD… JETHRO!” Then the familiar cackling as I flick into fourth and hit the brakes. ‘I’ve never felt anything like that‘he says. It shouldn’t be on the road. It just shouldn’t.’
He’s right, of course. Well, half right. The P1 GTR was never intended to be a road car. Designed for track use only, the P1 GTR cost £1.98million – more than twice the price of a ‘regular’ P1 – has even more extreme aero (660kg at 150mph) and more power. The 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 produces 789bhp and the electric motor contributes a further 197bhp for a total of 986bhp (or 1000 PS), as compared with the P1’s 903bhp. The GTR is wider, lower, 50kg lighter and more extreme in every way. McLaren Special Operations created just 45 P1 GTRs and, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the owners liked the idea of popping to the shops in their new baby. Step forward Lanzante, a company with a rich history with McLaren that includes winning Le Mans with an F1 GTR in 1995. Clearly not a company to shy away from a challenge, Lanzante is now flat-out converting GTRs to road spec.
This car belongs to Andy Bruce, a man with impeccable taste in cars and a collection to make you jump for joy and then weep when you realise that you’ll never match it. Chassis 044 and road conversion 014, his GTR wears a distinctive learn lark livery, which is a tribute to the Team Lark Mclaren F1 GTR that contested the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship in 1996. Why? Well Andy owns that, too. Of course he does. And it is also road-registered. Of course it is. When we arrived at Andy’s the F1 GTR, tucked up beside the P1 GTR, could render pretty much any other car I can think of suddenly invisible. But not tills one. It is outrageous in every detail. Walk around it (in a daze) and wherever you stop, the P1 GTR looks wildly exaggerated and sinister. It might wear a number plate, but the P1 GTR isn’t fooling anyone.
Pull the driver’s door up and forward and the interior seems to float in a massive arc of polished carbon weave. The dash is simple, the elegant shapes formed from a cool satin-finish carbonfibre and sparingly trimmed in Alcantara. It’s not raw and ugly like, say, an F40, but there’s an economy about the architecture and it looks like a place of business. And then there’s the steering wheel. Modelled on the 2008 championship- winning MP4-23 F1 car’s, the chunky rectangular carbonfibre controller is a thing of real beauty and an extraordinary centrepiece to the driving environment. It’s actually tacky to the touch, almost like it’s coated in Blu-Tack. Driving gloves are never cool but this material is clearly designed for use with racing gloves, its gloopy texture feeling odd against bare skin. Fortunately, the width of the handles and the apertures that you wrap your fingers into feel utterly natural despite the alien shape.
There are 11 buttons and two three-position toggle switches to play with, but for now I just need the starter button. Push it twice to awaken the electrics, then press the brake pedal and stab the button one final time,.. The engine fires instantly, the electric motor taking the place of a conventional starter and creating a switch-like reaction. While you’re denied the time-honoured supercar drama of a high-pitched whizz followed by an evocative pause and then a big, rumbling explosion of cylinders, the P1 GTR makes up for it with a deep, booming idle that pours through the carbonfibre MonoCage. Yes, I could just go into E-mode, but time is short and there are 986 reasons that lead me to ignore that option.
Next I press the Active button to bring the toggle switches to life. They’re familiar from 12C, 650S, 675LT and PI, but rather than tuning the handling and powertrain respectively, here the left-hand switch simply controls the ESC settings and the right-hand one the Race Active Chassis Control setup. For today the suspension will stay in its least aggressive setting (the ride height, by the way, is fixed, unlike the road P1’s) and 1’ll use the ESC’s base mode, with an exploratory few minutes in the more lenient one. ESC Off? Think that can wait for another day and a racetrack, don’t you?
The small but thick paddles are mounted on a central rockerjustlike in McLaren’s road cars. The paddle travel is perhaps longer than you’d expect but feels wonderfully mechanical in operation.
There’s not much steering lock to play with but I manage to manoeuvre the GTR cleanly out onto a mini roundabout, thankful for the front lifting system that helps negotiate a steep angle of attack. It feels instantly and fabulously illegal.
The noise is quite extraordinary, an ever- changing series of chuffs, wheezes, sneezes and bone-jangling baritone roars. On a steady throttle the air pressure builds and builds with an intense hissing sound that grows ever more furious. It’s not tuneful, it’s not beautiful, but it is everywhere. Andy’s riding with me for these early miles and he shouts something with a smile, ‘What?’ I reply. Shouting louder he repeats: ‘It’s not too loud. In the F1 GTR you need to use cans and an intercom.’ I agree (with a nod, it’s easier) and chuckle that his frame of reference for what’s ‘loud’ is a car that competed at Le Mans.
“It feels absurd, wonderful, illicit and terrifying to bounce through West Sussex, in this thing.”
The ride is harsh at low speeds and on some of the lanes near the Goodwood estate the GTR judders and jumps around.
“Suddenly the steering wheel has melted onto my palms seems rather reassuring”
It tramlines too and suddenly the way the steering wheel has melted onto my palms seems rather reassuring. There’s no question a normal P1 – god that sounds ridiculous – would be more comfortable here and faster, too. Having said that, I’m wearing a grin as wide as the GTR’s rear wing. It feels absurd, wonderful, illicit and terrifying to bounce through West Sussex, in this thing.
We find some slightly smoother tarmac and the GTR starts to flow. It’s still a hard-riding car, but the new 19-inch front and 20-inch rear centre-lock wheels stay in touch with the road, and the way it changes direction is startling. It feels a foot wider than the regular P1 (the front track is actually 80mm wider) and the rear melds instantaneous response with absolute stability, creating a sensation of the nose of the car being laser-guided by this hyper-alert rear axle. If you’ve ever driven a car with a dualclutch ’box you’ll know the geeky delight of a rev counter needle that digitally snaps rather than sweeps between ratio changes. The GTR comers with the same precision and startling speed. You don’t feel the forces building, the tyres giving slightly and then biting. It just turns. Snap left, snap right, input and reaction locked together with titanium strength. Tve not driven a road car with this level of agility. Ever.
The immediacy is amplified by the drrvetrain. The 197bhp electric motor of the GTR might only be 20bhp stronger than the standard P1’s but it seems much better equipped to perform the torque-fill function. Be it in third gear at 4500rpm or sixth gear at 1500rpm, the GTR delivers instant acceleration and then just keeps on pushing you into the seat-back. It’s surreal, feeling the shot of electrical assistance helping even at low engine speeds in a higher gear. And if you downshift a couple of times and open the throttle the reaction is almost painfully brutal.
The swirling noise, the fluid blur of digits on the display, the rapidly ascending shift lights and the feeling of your leg being lifted away from the accelerator is genuinely shocking. Now add in the fact that even with the ESC fully engaged the rear tyres momentarily flare when the turbos hit full boost and you end up with a frenzied, panic-inducing free-falling quality to the performance. You do come to terms with the sheer scale of the relentless acceleration, but I’m not sure you’d ever fully get used to it. It makes the standard P1 feel almost tame.
So what happens when you try to combine the unearthly performance with the chassis’ intense agility? So much. A raging storm of turbo thunder and lightning (I can hear if not see the flames blasting from the tailpipes), your body on high alert as the drivetrain delivers all it can over and over, and the supreme Akebono brakes wiping away speed with bruising efficiency. The noise and sensations are something akin to being trampled in a riot, but what’s really amazing is that beneath all the volcanic fury, the GTR responds with such clarity and clinical precision.
Sometimes you might have to fight off the effects of the wide tyres and stiff suspension as the car hunts left and right on the brakes, and you always need to think carefully about unleashing the drivetrain on the exit of bumpy corners, but for the most part you find yourself just picking braking spots, turning in calmly and shaking your head in disbelief as the GTR responds without a millisecond of processing time. It simply does what you want at the instant you want it. Action and response as one. You don’t so much become immersed in what it’s doing as feel you’re picking the road apart all by yourself. Your forearms, hands and feet are integrated into the machine and the P1 GTR enacts every thought the moment it pops into your brain.
The problem with having this great power at your disposal is that roads are designed for the puny. They have speed limits and traffic lights. They have corners that require the weak to brake.
And there’s nothing more annoying than hitting the DRS button, watching the rea r wing flick flat in the side mirror and then another of these normal cars pulling out in front of you before you feel the benefit of the P1 GTR in low-drag configuration. GET OUT OF THE WAY!’ you scream, internally at least.
“Restraint is a very big part of driving the P1 GTR on the road.”
Then you remember that you are on the public road and, although you might temporarily have superpowers, you’ll be a mere mortal again when the key turns in a heavy cell door behind you. Restraint is a very big part of driving the P1 GTR on the road.
In fact, you might wonder what the point is of having a P1 GTR converted to road spec at all. It is patently too fast, too stiff, too loud and too low. I get that. I don’t dispute any of It for a second. But for these few sweet hours I couldn’t care less. Why? Because whether you’re doing l0mph, l00mph or no doubt 200mph, the P1 GTR is absolutely enthralling. It requires commitment, leaves your brain with no spare capacity. Your mind can’t wander back to the mundane. Did you lock the door behind you or send that crucial email? All that stuff evaporates. You’re just driving. For all of its complexity and vast potential, the P1 GTR offers a driving experience of absolute purity. It’s a drug and I’m an addict. Escapism comes no more immersive or spectacular than a P1 GTR with number plates.
Lanzante’s road conversion for the P1 GTR is highly detailed, meticulously developed and infinitely adaptable to the owner’s taste. Many of the changes are dictated by simple legislation; catalytic converters for the exhausts, a handbrake, changes to the headlights, road-legal wheels and tyres. Others are for practical purposes, for example the increase in ride height and the retuned suspension rates.
However, Lanzante go beyond the minimum requirements and work on the minutiae, too. Andy Bruce’s car went back to the tub for the transformation and a huge amount of time was spent refining the interior trim. Andy wanted to keep the race- car feel but add sections of Alcantara and replace functional but slightly unrefined edges and seams with perfectly executed finishes. The result feels as beautifully flawless as you’d expect given the price of the GTR and the conversion.
Speaking of which, Lanzante won’t be drawn on the cost to convert a GTR, as each case is very different depending on where the car wll be registered and the customer’s vision. Andy’s car is the 14th GTR converted for road use and there have been a couple more completed since.
Engine: v8, 3799cc, twin-turbo, plus 147kW electric motor
Power: 986bhp (combined) @ n/a rpm
Torque: 664lb ft (combined) @ n/a rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive, Brake Steer
Front suspension: Hydro-pneumatic proactive suspension, adaptive roll control
Rear suspension: Hydro-pneumatic proactive suspension, adaptive roll control
Brakes: Carbon-ceramic discs front and rear
Wheels: 19in front, 20in rear
Tyres: 245/35 ZR19 front, 305/30/ZR20 rear
0-62mph: sub-2.8 sec (est)
Top speed: 217mph (limited)
Price when new: £1.98 million (excluding road conversion)
The combination of German engine technology and advanced British racing-car design capability has seen the McLaren Mercedes team achieve success at the world’s Grand Prix circuits. They have also teamed up to produce one of the world’s most impressive sports cars, the Mercedes SLR McLaren, assembled at McLaren’s ultra-modern Woking HQ.