Let’s get something out of the way: McLaren doesn’t produce strollers. Owing its name to motorsport entrepreneur Bruce McLaren, the New Zealand–born polymath who established his racing team in the 1960s, the company builds blisteringly quick super sports cars, ultra-lightweight machines that have never met a scale they liked. McLaren’s fixation on keeping its cars bloat-free requires concessions. Weight-intensive all-wheel-drive systems, to say nothing of wood trim or glinting chrome, are best reserved for its Anglophile customers’ Range Rovers and Bentleys.
For the 570GT, which came to market earlier this summer, McLaren has allowed a touch of civility to creep into a $200,000, 200-mph, 562-horsepower super coupe. But how to deliver it to customers conditioned to the hardest of hardcore? “You need to phase it in,” says Robert Melville, chief designer of McLaren Automotive. “People expect the classic materials, which are quite heavy. But when people go to McLaren, we have this born-on-the-track philosophy, and given our commitment to going lightweight, people will stretch their notions of luxury signifiers.”
Traditional opulence doesn’t come naturally to McLaren. When the company has splashed out, it was for gold-lined engine compartments, which helped dissipate engine heat in its F1 supercars of the 1990s. Examples of the F1 can sell for more than $10 million at auction—even those that have been crashed (twice) by celebrities such as Rowan “Mr. Bean” Atkinson.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in designing the 570GT coupe, McLaren didn’t go for burl walnut and deep-pile Scottish wool carpets. A long, leather-lined parcel shelf stretches behind the front seats. A panoramic glass roof, which hinges out along the car’s fore-aft axis, runs in an unimpeded arc to the rear decking. The ride is more compliant, too, suited to quick, comfortable dispatches of the world’s great roads as much as to daylong track assaults. Throughout, Melville says, there’s a sensory buffet: “The journey of opening the door to get into the car, the sound the door makes when it shuts, the way it opens easily but not too easily. The cold touch of the metal. The smell of the leather. It has to engage all the senses. The click of the switches, how far do you press a button in before it clicks—we do a lot of work around the controls.”
The 570GT’s body, meanwhile, reflects the biomorphic, ocean-predator sensibilities of Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s director of design. Stephenson famously mounted a sailfish to the wall in McLaren’s studios in Woking, England—a dramatic mood-board mascot. But Melville says it’s time for a new spirit animal. “The sailfish has seen better days,” he says of the trophy. “We need something else. Maybe a peregrine falcon, or a hammerhead.”
Whatever the animal kingdom may bring next to inspire them, Melville says McLaren’s designers are poised to stretch its customers’ notions of luxury even further. “Think of a 3D-printed fabric that transitions from one texture to another, but all in one piece,” he says. “When you juxtapose a piece like that with traditional stitched leather, you can create a very luxurious, advanced feel. It’ll be a nice, gentle stretch for the brand.”