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Exploring McLaren's inner sanctum

Gattacar: McLaren's extraordinary headquarters in the south of England was built with perfection in every element.

McLaren shows GoAuto how to build supercars in silence


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2 Jul 2015


THE futuristic complex housing McLaren Technology Group’s cutting edge racing and road supercar operations in the lush countryside of southern England points to the future while keeping an eye firmly on its illustrious past.

Built to produce more than 4000 McLaren road cars a year – more than double the current annual turnout of about 1600 units – while also driving technology advances for McLaren’s Formula 1 team, the McLaren Technology Centre at Woking also houses a collection of the most significant cars from its 52-year history.

Founded in 2003, expanded in 2011 and with more facilities planned, the centre’s inner sanctum is normally off limits, but GoAuto was granted a rare peek inside, starting with the Boulevard – a gallery running the full length of the elegant lake-fronted headquarters.

Nearest the entry doors is the only vehicle on the premises not built by McLaren – an Austin 7 carrying a 58 racing number driven to success by 15-year-old New Zealander Bruce McLaren, who later founded the company.

Young Bruce heavily modified the topless two seater with inverted front suspension for a lower centre of gravity and significant engine modifications that increased the top speed by 25 per cent to 140km/h. Not bad for a car built in 1929.

A little way past the tiny Austin is the more imposing form of the McLaren M6GT – technically the company's first road car as it was converted from a Le Mans 24 hour race car and was used for some time by Bruce as his daily drive.

Next in line is the Boulevard's noisiest vehicle – the 1970 McLaren Can-Am M8D.

In 2010, on the 40th anniversary of Bruce McLarens death in a race testing crash, a congregation wheeled the car outside and fired up its 7.6-litre V8 for “a minute's noise” to mark the date. All vehicles on the Boulevard are fully serviceable.

More modern racecars line the historic parade, including a trio of TAG turbo Formula 1 cars proudly displaying the fluorescent red and white livery, but to maintain the established relationship with the British government, McLaren has removed the original Marlboro advertising.

Perhaps McLaren's most famous car is the remarkable F1, of which three are on display. The first of the road versions is the final XP5 prototype and the same car that still holds the naturally aspirated production car top speed record – a dizzying 391km/h.

Parked to its left is a detuned GTR race car, and next to that one of only five road-going F1 LMs, minus the restrictive intake required for racing. The Papaya Orange F1s are the ultimate version of the ultimate car.

With the glass-walled race team garages lying directly behind the historic cars, photography is strictly forbidden as a rogue snap might accidentally (or intentionally) capture one of McLaren's closely guarded Formula 1 secrets.

At the end of the Boulevard is a clear representation of McLaren's abilities on the track with a 170-metre trophy cabinet containing the largest collection of motorsport awards in the world. Not all the cups and ornaments are for racing achievements, with one award recognising the company as the 1st carbon-neutral F1 team.

The staff restaurant (not a canteen) is immediately next door to the trophy corridor, not that you would know it because its air pressure is kept slightly lower to prevent cooking smells escaping into the rest of the building.

Beyond the extensive glass display boxes is the most sound insulated room in the production facility, but even though the massive wind-tunnel was in operation we could hear no suggestion anything was going on behind the viewing panel.

The only indication that aerodynamic testing was underway was a seemingly ornamental waterfall cascading from the lake's edge outside. The vast lake at the front of the building provides cooling water for the enormous drive motors.

At full chat, the tunnel can draw up to four megawatts of electricity– a figure so significant that the grid has to be informed before the switches are flicked. In cooler months the heated lake water is circulated to warm the production facility.

Moving into the 22,000-square-metre factory, the most notable feature is the silence. No air tools or heavy machinery are used, and the only robot in the entire building is a tolerance-checking machine.

A large glass cube contains the “monsoon test” equipment that can dump 16,000 litres of water in 15 minutes on a McLaren car to test for leaks, while a neighbouring cube does dynamic testing.

We were introduced to four of the test vehicles that lead to the forthcoming production 570S with a 12C Spider mule, XP (experimental prototype), VP (verification prototype) and TT (tall tryout) all assembled. All the time, several P1s glided along silently in the creation process.

The production facility's floor area was designed to specific measurements so that not one of the thousands of gloss-white flooring tiles had to be cut. When we say the McLaren Technology Centre is perfect, we mean it.

And that eerie perfection is experienced throughout the building, from the flowing pedestrian gangways hovering above open meeting places, immaculate underground passageways illuminated with fine pinstripes of white light, and even the pristinely-groomed McLaren staff who quietly mill around.

During our tour, Bruce McLaren's daughter, Amanda, described the hugely impressive facility as “80 per cent NASA and 20 per cent Disneyland”, but if that doesn't quite work, then substitute the space craft in Andrew Niccol's film Gattaca for some of the world's most desirable cars and you are getting close.

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