Automotive

Under the hood of the mysterious McLaren Technology Center

Under the hood of the mysterio...
The McLaren Technology Center at Woking is a seriously impressive piece of design 
The McLaren Technology Center at Woking is a seriously impressive piece of design 
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The soapbox racer Chris Goodwin used to take out the speed record at Goodwood
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The soapbox racer Chris Goodwin used to take out the speed record at Goodwood
The McLaren Technology Center at Woking is a seriously impressive piece of design 
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The McLaren Technology Center at Woking is a seriously impressive piece of design 
The McLaren Technology Center sits on a man-made lake
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The McLaren Technology Center sits on a man-made lake
There's an indoor gym in the MTC
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There's an indoor gym in the MTC
This wall of trophies includes driver wins as well as constructors' championships
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This wall of trophies includes driver wins as well as constructors' championships
The boulevard in the MTC looks out across the lake
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The boulevard in the MTC looks out across the lake
There's a wind tunnel in the building
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There's a wind tunnel in the building
McLaren's first road car since the F1, the MP4-12C, sits next to the lake in Woking
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McLaren's first road car since the F1, the MP4-12C, sits next to the lake in Woking
Contruction of the McLaren Technology Center was completed in 2004
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Contruction of the McLaren Technology Center was completed in 2004
A look at the McLaren Technology Center from the sky
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A look at the McLaren Technology Center from the sky
The McLaren Technology Center is in Woking, United Kingdom
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The McLaren Technology Center is in Woking, United Kingdom
A customer McLaren P1 sits in the foyer, but the customer does come to drive it occasionally
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A customer McLaren P1 sits in the foyer, but the customer does come to drive it occasionally
The floor of the McLaren Production Center is pristine, but busy
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The floor of the McLaren Production Center is pristine, but busy
A veritable cornucopia of classic race cars sits on the floor in the McLaren Technology Center
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A veritable cornucopia of classic race cars sits on the floor in the McLaren Technology Center
The glass fronted building makes a strong first impression 
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The glass fronted building makes a strong first impression 
Bruce McLaren's Austin 7 on the floor at the McLaren Technology Center
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Bruce McLaren's Austin 7 on the floor at the McLaren Technology Center
The Le Mans winning McLaren F1 by the water in Woking
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The Le Mans winning McLaren F1 by the water in Woking
McLaren's legendary F1 supercar on the ground in Woking
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McLaren's legendary F1 supercar on the ground in Woking
The production center at McLaren now houses more workers 
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The production center at McLaren now houses more workers 
Cars start as carbon tubs, but make their way across the factory floor
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Cars start as carbon tubs, but make their way across the factory floor
All McLaren cars are hand built
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All McLaren cars are hand built
McLaren has come a long way from the days of the MP4-12C
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McLaren has come a long way from the days of the MP4-12C
The M7A was the first F1 racer to use a 410 hp Ford Cosworth engine
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The M7A was the first F1 racer to use a 410 hp Ford Cosworth engine
The tiny Austin 7 is the first car on the boulevard at MTC
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The tiny Austin 7 is the first car on the boulevard at MTC
The McLaren MP4-12C alongside a 1970 Can-Am racer
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The McLaren MP4-12C alongside a 1970 Can-Am racer
The Can-Am car is remarkably simple compared to the modern racer
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The Can-Am car is remarkably simple compared to the modern racer
Carbon tubs have been at the core of the McLaren brand since it got into racing 
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Carbon tubs have been at the core of the McLaren brand since it got into racing 
The legendary McLaren F1, in full racing trim, on the floor of the McLaren Technology Center
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The legendary McLaren F1, in full racing trim, on the floor of the McLaren Technology Center
The Ueno Clinic McLaren F1 is a past Le Mans winner
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The Ueno Clinic McLaren F1 is a past Le Mans winner
A veritable Skittle-packet of colors in available
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A veritable Skittle-packet of colors in available
A technician gets ready to put the 3.8-liter V8 into a car
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A technician gets ready to put the 3.8-liter V8 into a car
McLarens on the floor of the production center
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McLarens on the floor of the production center
Everything from the P1 to the new 540C is built at the MTC
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Everything from the P1 to the new 540C is built at the MTC
50 years worth of McLaren racers grace the halls of the McLaren Technology Center
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50 years worth of McLaren racers grace the halls of the McLaren Technology Center
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As headquarters go, few come can come close to the McLaren Technology Center (MTC) for sheer drama. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the kidney shaped building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 and serves as the base for the company's automotive arm, Formula 1 team and the boffins at McLaren Applied Technologies. It also wouldn't look out of place in a James Bond film. New Atlas, guided by Amanda McLaren, was recently given the chance to take a look around.

As if its dramatic glass facade wasn't attention-grabbing enough enough, the kidney-shaped MTC building sits on the edge of a man-made lake, which is used to keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter. Having arrived at the gatehouse, guests are driven around the lake on a circular road, before pulling up at sliding glass doors. It might look like a maniacal villain's lair, but there's no balding megalomaniac waiting behind the doors.

Instead, New Atlas was met by the smiling Amanda McLaren, Brand Ambassador for McLaren and Bruce McLaren's daughter. She's the designated tour guide for guests to the MTC, and has a wealth of knowledge about the cars displayed along the long, tiled boulevard running from the building entrance to the cafeteria, as well as a personal connection to most of the people who drove them.

Along with Bruce McLaren's Austin 7, the car in which he claimed his first race win, the entrance is home to Jenson Button's 2015 MP4-30. Safe to say it's not the most successful car in the building, after failing to reach the podium all season, but it's a part of the team's history.

A veritable cornucopia of classic race cars sits on the floor in the McLaren Technology Center
A veritable cornucopia of classic race cars sits on the floor in the McLaren Technology Center

Beyond the Austin 7 sits a 1970 Can-Am car, resplendent in glossy orange paint. It's absolutely massive, and remarkably simple compared to the intricately detailed Formula 1 cars sharing the floor. It's also so loud, Amanda says, that it shattered the workshop lights when the technicians fired it up indoors a few years ago.

The thought of firing up a priceless 46 year-old racer might seem a bit crazy in a world where classic cars are becoming pampered museum items, but all the cars on show in the MTC are in working order. They're frequent entrants in classic car rallies and events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, putting on a show for loyal fans of the race team and classic motorsports alike.

For many, the most recognizable collection of cars will be the red and white Formula 1 cars sitting halfway along the boulevard. Even stripped of Marlboro branding, their liveries are utterly unmistakable, although there are little details that only become clear when you're up close and personal, like scrutineering stickers left untouched.

The boulevard in the MTC looks out across the lake
The boulevard in the MTC looks out across the lake

Moving away from the cars on display means walking past yet more Formula 1 championship winning cars, the 1995 Le Mans-winning McLaren F1 and the aero-trike that holds the Soapbox Speed Record at Goodwood. You could spend hours gazing at them, and Amanda has enough stories about the cars and their drivers to make that time pass in a flash, but time is limited and there's plenty more to see.

Getting to the next stop in the tour involves walking along a hallway lined with the spoils of racing success. Whereas most racing teams let the drivers keep silverware from race wins, McLaren houses all the trophies won under its name, making for a seriously impressive lineup of prizes from series ranging from Formula 1 to Le Mans. There's even an Indianapolis 500 trophy in the collection, making McLaren the only race team to have won the F1 World Title, Le Mans and the Indy 500 triple crown.

This wall of trophies includes driver wins as well as constructors' championships
This wall of trophies includes driver wins as well as constructors' championships

Had this tour been conducted before 2011, it might have ended at the end of that trophy-lined walkway, but a lot has changed for McLaren in the past five years. Since the (now discontinued) 12C launched, the range of road-going cars wearing the brand's little orange speedmark on their noses has expanded to include three unique branches: Sport Series (540C/570S), Super Series (650S/675LT) and Ultimate Series (P1/P1 GTR).

Although it's still very new to the supercar game, the company is already putting the heat on established players like Ferrari with its detail-driven approach to manufacturing a supercar. Just like the McLaren Technology Center itself, cars wearing the little orange McLaren badge have a meticulous feel about the way they're put together.

All these painstakingly-detailed cars need to be built somewhere, and that somewhere is the production center, which sits at the end of a long, shiny white corridor – the sort of place Le Chiffre or Goldfinger might take James Bond to (almost) die. Visitors look down on the factory floor from a raised platform, hidden behind an innocuous white sliding door.

The factory floor is a hive of activity, with workers in black-and-red McLaren polo shirts beavering away at the full range of Sport and Super Series cars. The team working on the cars has grown since the production facility opened, and technicians are currently being trained as demand continues to increase. All the cars to leave the factory are hand built, a fact made abundantly clear by the lack of robots on the floor.

Cars fitted out with McLaren Special Operations options, or cars finished in bespoke paint colors, are assembled on the same production line as the regular models. Customization is increasingly important to the supercar business, and there are a myriad of possible combinations when it comes to speccing the perfect McLaren.

A veritable Skittle-packet of colors in available
A veritable Skittle-packet of colors in available

A veritable Skittles packet of brightly-colored cars is assembled on the glossy white factory floor, with 675LT Spiders sitting alongside more subtle 570GT Coupes. Although the cars range from entry-level to fully-optioned racers, they all share an obvious resemblance, especially when looked at from directly front on. According to Robert Melville, Chief Designer, the close family ties aren't an accident.

"They all have very, very similar front end graphic treatment and the same face," says Melville. "That's not because we were lazy, it's because we wanted to communicate what McLaren's identity is. We're a new brand, a new company in relative terms, so let's get the message out there. Let's really strongly communicate [what a McLaren is] from the halo car down all the way to the everyday cars."

The current design philosophy might make a shift when the replacement for the 650S arrives, although Melville remained tight lipped when asked whether his team would be pursuing a more aggressive look in future.

"You just have to wait and see. I really can't say anything, it's a hot topic at the moment," he says. "The feel is going to be 100 percent McLaren, but the rest is going to be a surprise."

Beyond the distinctive front end, there's a sense that everything on the outside of a McLaren is there for a reason. The "tendon" running down the door of a 570S might be striking, but it's also completely functional – evidence of the design and engineering teams working together to package complex powertrain components, meet strict pedestrian impact legislation and turn out a car that still turns heads.

"The design and engineering team we have here is absolutely amazing," says Melville. "We'll say we want to have a shape, and they'll go off and find a way of meeting legislation and giving us a shape nobody has done before. It's working as one team that enables it. It doesn't really happen anywhere else. It's something which is gaining more and more momentum here because we realize it's the way to deliver projects quickly, innovatively and on time."

Everything from the P1 to the new 540C is built at the MTC
Everything from the P1 to the new 540C is built at the MTC

Leaving the Technology Center means another loop of the lake, before pulling into the Woking countryside. It might be jaw-droppingly impressive up close, but the building is actually hidden by hills and woods from a distance to meet strict rules about construction on protected land.

Passers-by may be clueless as to what lies hidden in the landscape, but showboating has never really been a big part of the McLaren makeup. Having seen what that means from the inside, it's a philosophy we can well and truly get behind.

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7 comments
bfearn
And none of these cars produce zero CO2 emissions!!
Techtwit
bfearn, nobody cares. Beautiful works of art cloaking amazing technology. Like all top car brands, they are producing amazingly beautiful machines. By the way, name a car that doesn't cause the emission of CO2, either directly or by the generation of electricity, production of hydrogen, tyres, batteries etc etc.
Island Architect
Immediately you have to compare this with Eero Saarinen's GM Technical Center which was and remains high tech... stunning for it's day. And Norman has a way of doing unbelievable things. Yes, this is stunning and somewhat Reminiscent of the Beijing Airport with highly elevated Automobiles. Norm is an announced advocate for High Tech so this is simply one more great design by Today's Master. Frank Gehry would have done something stunning as well but probably not quite so elegantly restrained. Bravo!
Bob Flint
Wind tunnel, but no test track?
toyhouse
What a beautiful building! Not sure about the zero emission comment. Electric cars aren't usually zero emission either but I guess that's irrelevant for this story. Anyway, it sure was awesome to see mention of the can-am car. That orange sure brings back memories. As a kid, I was lucky to see many of the can-am races at laguna seca and we saw bruce race there. Yeah, they were loud! And there were some crazy designs. Many of them seemed really big, (lots of fiberglass), and it must have been tough on some tracks to pass. Sad the way the series died-off - it sure was big back in the day. Thanks for story and pics.
yawood
@bfearn. Why do you bother even reading a story like this with an attitude like yours! I suppose it is just to be a troll and get up the nose of someone like me. As Techtwit said, nobody cares. These are magnificent cars and what a great history they have from Bruce's racing beginning. Being on the mountain at Bathurst early this year and watching Shane Van Gisbergen set a lap record in the McLaren in the Bathurst 12 hr was magical. Let's hope they get the F1 car sorted out soon so that they can take the fight back to the Mercedes and Red Bull cars.
Olivier
"...Having arrived at the gatehouse, guests are driven around the lake on a circular road, before pulling up at sliding glass doors. It might look like a maniacal villain's lair, but there's no balding megalomaniac waiting behind the doors." There is. Hidden within the complex there is the office of Ron Dennis, wuahaha