The Goodwood Festival of Speed has become one of the greatest showcases of past, present and future motoring icons and trends. For McLaren however, it is a place of both great memories and sad ones.
On June 2 1970, the company’s founder, New Zealander Bruce McLaren, was sadly killed while testing the M8D Can-Am race car. The car left the Goodwood circuit at Woodcote corner and crashed into a marshal’s post that should have been demolished earlier.
The story is told in the new movie, McLaren, which is well worth watching, not just if you are a petrolhead but also if you are inspired by learning how others overcome challenges to achieve success.
The death of the founder is a tragic chapter, however the company has gone on to become a success, although it is probably best not to bring up the subject of its current Formula 1 campaign.
Ironically, while at Goodwood we were driven to the estate in a Mercedes bearing the McLaren logo. Purely a coincidence, said the McLaren execs.
The company really came into its own in 1980 when it merged with Project 4 Racing which was owned by Ron Dennis. He oversaw the company as it transitioned from being just a racing operation to one that created the famous McLaren F1 supercar and went on to produce a series of models and an increase in production while still ensuring exclusivity.
McLaren Automotive was only created in 2010 with a clear objective, says current CEO Mike Flewitt. “We wanted to be the iconic sports car company.”
That objective remains core to the business, with Flewitt adamant that it will not follow the likes of Porsche, Maserati and Lamborghini by creating crossovers or SUVs.
“For us as a brand it is about drivers’ cars — that will remain our focus.”
The Dennis chapter drew to a close last week, however, with the announcement that he has sold his large shareholding back to the company. At the same time, the existing operations of McLaren Automotive and the McLaren Technology Group have been brought together to become the McLaren Group.
These announcements came as Goodwood got under way and with it the continued commitment by the company to launch at least one new model every year under what it calls its Track 22 programme. The latest, shown for the first time at the festival, is the 570S Spider, which follows the 570S and the 570 GT derivatives.
It is the first convertible in the McLaren Sports Series which made up 2 031 of the 3 286 models delivered to customers in 2016, helping the company to annual sales revenue of £649.8-million.
It still features the same carbon-fibre MonoCell II chassis as its siblings, as well as the 419kW, 600Nm twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8. Remarkably it also features the same performance figures as the coupe, with the company claiming a 0-100km/h time of 3.2 seconds, 0-200km/h in just 9.6 seconds and a top speed of 328km/h with the top up (315km/h with the roof down).
“The McLaren 570S Spider is the most attainable McLaren Spider to date and adds yet another dimension to the McLaren Sports Series family,” says Flewitt. “This is a convertible without compromise; its mid-engined layout and carbon-fibre MonoCell II chassis guarantee the same thrilling dynamic performance and exceptional driver involvement enjoyed in a 570S coupé, but with the added attraction of a retractable hard-top that delivers the extra exhilaration of roof-down motoring.”
The Spider gains 46kg over its coupe sibling, which makes the performance figures even more impressive. The designers have gone with a retractable hard-top that can open or close in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 40km/h. It also features a retractable window between the cabin and the engine to reduce wind noise if you are brave enough to try to get anywhere near that top down 315km/h maximum speed.
Like other models in the series you have the option of adding a number of components from McLaren Special Operations (MSO). This division is increasingly contributing to the company’s revenue increases.
MSO is “probably one of the most interesting and exciting parts of our business”, says South African Jolyon Nash, the company’s sales and marketing boss. The division also looks after 40 F1 and P1 models from around the world.
Talking of the famous F1, its designer and another South African, Gordon Murray, was present to chat to the crowds on the McLaren stand at Goodwood. Murray was also racing up the hill over the weekend in the first car he built in Durban, a 1967 IGM-Ford.
While the focus for the company at Goodwood was on its sports cars and history, with a number of its racing cars from over the decades also taking to the hill, there was one other model which attracted attention.
This one had no chance of reaching 100km/h, unless it was on the back of a flatbed truck though.
The car in question was a McLaren 720S made entirely of Lego bricks in the brand’s traditional McLaren orange. It might not be something everyone will get excited about, but we thought it was rather cool as we placed one small Lego brick on the bonnet to make our contribution to its construction.
What’s next for McLaren? Well, it plans to be producing its maximum 5 000 units per year by the end of the decade. This will include the replacement for the P1 in its Ultimate Series line-up. Codenamed the BP23, it is due to be revealed in 2019 and there are many who will eagerly anticipate its arrival. – Mark Smyth