We were invited by McLaren to get a feel of ‘The bespoke experience of a McLaren 650S customer,’ a programme hosted at the McLaren Technology Centre in England
Invariably, Formula One racing used to bring to my mind the roar of sleek machines tearing down the tracks – that was until I recently happened to see the place where some of the best racing cars in the fray are conceived and born: the McLaren Technology Centre in England.
On entering the production area, where such cars are hand-crafted, what immediately strikes me is the hushed silence within spotlessly clean, white-clad interiors – with the workmen clothed in contrasting black – and the only sounds that I hear are the occasional squeaks of new car tyres against the white-tiled floor as the finished cars are driven into the testing bays. What a contrast to the roaring whine of the cars when they take to the tracks!
We are at the McLaren Technology Centre, the headquarters of the McLaren Group, located on a 500,000sq.m. site in the quiet town of Woking in Surrey. The Centre showcases much of the brand’s heritage and is the base, where their F1 team as well as the McLaren Automotive design and engineering groups are housed.
This is also the location of the McLaren Production Centre, where the 650S is built by hand. In fact, I am here at the invitation of McLaren to relish their programme, ‘The bespoke experience of a McLaren 650S customer.’
The new 650S Spider combines materials and race-bred technology for a unique balance of luxury and excitement. Culminating five decades of F1 success transferred to the road, the 650S can cross the 60mph mark in under three seconds to reach a top speed of 204mph. The 650S Spider’s retractable hardtop has been engineered to minimise weight and maintain an excellent centre of gravity, while its dihedral doors impart drama and aerodynamic efficiency and its stunning all-LED headlamps enable fuel-saving.
Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s Design Director, agrees that the 650S has taken a lot of design cues from the P1 “not because we wanted it to look like the P1, but simply because it works.”
Understandably, McLaren encourages customers, who decide to purchase a 650S, to visit the McLaren Technology Centre as the prelude to becoming part of the McLaren family and, very often, they use that opportunity to configure the exact mix of specifications for their new 650S.
Customers, who are unable to make it to the Technology Centre, can get all the customisation done right at the dealer’s showroom, including the exact shade of exterior colour that they have in mind, the colour and texture of the interior leathers and the type of stitching used as well as choose from a wide range of options for accessories.
For those who are trying to make up their mind about committing to purchase a car, it helps them understand all that is behind the brand they are planning to buy into – their facilities, their innovative spirit, the passion of the team and attention to detail, all of which are leading McLaren towards becoming a global luxury lifestyle brand.
Almost as inspiring as the McLaren Technology Centre itself is the place where we are accommodated for the programme – the Coworth Park, with the history of the land on which the it stands going all the way back to 1066!
Today, Coworth Park, a part of the exclusive Dorchester Collection, is a 70-room luxury country house hotel, ranking amongst the finest in the country and set in 240 acres of picturesque Berkshire parkland, near to Ascot and bordering on Windsor Great Park, being just 45 minutes from Central London and 30 minutes from Heathrow airport.
Its design and décor reflects Coworth’s origins and heritage but discreetly avoids the predictable country house clichés. It is the only hotel in the United Kingdom to feature its own polo fields, managed by Guards Polo Club, offering a full programme of polo tournaments. The hotel also offers an exceptional equestrian centre, with stabling facilities for 30 horses, together with self-contained accommodation for grooms.
Coming back to the reason for our stay in this glorious locale, the McLaren Technology Centre has around 1000 people working in the main headquarters building, which is a dramatically large, almost semi-circular, glass-walled building. An integral part of the design is a series of artificial lakes – with the largest being directly opposite the semicircular building, visually completing the circle.
Adjacent is the two-storied McLaren Production Centre, where the production cars are manufactured.
The intention in setting up the centralised McLaren Technology Centre is to allow the whole team – design, development, engineering, tooling, testing, production as well as the supply chain management and the marketing, sales and after-sales – to be fully integrated.
Frank Stephenson says that it encourages interaction between the racing teams and the production people, “When the Production guys come over for lunch they see the F1 trophies. That creates the ‘I want to work here’ feel. It’s the normal thing for engineers to talk to the F1 guys. It’s like one big family – the drivers eating lunch with everyone else.”
The underground Visitor and Learning Centre, which is the starting point of our plant-tour, is connected to the main building by a walkway.
Long, immaculately white corridors and a glass lift take us to a large indoor promenade, lined on one side with historic McLaren vehicles, right from the first car Bruce McLaren learned to drive in – still in perfect working condition – to the latest Formula 1 cars.
The other side, facing the cars, is a seemingly continuous glass wall with a view of the artificial lake. Like the dual-purpose of the waters of the lake, the glass walls of the building optimise the presence of natural light to provide a comfortable working ambience, while minimising reliance on conventional energy.
It is Andy Piatek, the Manufacturing Director, himself, who leads us through the plant-tour.
There are no conveyors, no conventional noisy production machines, and no unearthly welding robots. Even the paint is applied manually by skilled workmen rather than by robotic systems. And, everything happens in almost pin-drop silence – a “reassuring hush” as McLaren themselves describe the atmosphere.
Since state-of-the-art race car technology goes into each production car, the volumes are deliberately kept low, with McLaren producing only in the range of 1500 of all cars combined annually, with each car boasting of hand-crafted fabrication and finish.
Back from the plant-tour, we have a look around the jewel in Coworth Park’s crown – The Dower House. This is a picturesque, private three-bedroom house built in 1775 and has its own dining room, lounge and kitchen and a secluded garden, with a running stream, which is home to Coworth Park’s family of swans.
Dinner that evening with the McLaren’s Tom Pryor is at Restaurant Coworth Park, located within the main Mansion House and offering fine dining, showcasing a modern outlook on classical British dishes. Indeed, an apt finale to a most interesting day spent amidst the best of English technology and manufacturing skills – all that goes into the making of the McLaren 650S Spider.