Inside the McLaren Technology Centre: T3 tours the high-tech dream factory

To promote the release of McLaren, the new documentary about motorsport pioneer Bruce McLaren, T3 was invited to the company’s HQ for a tour of the high-tech facility and an interview with Bruce’s daughter, Amanda. It’s opportunity any petrolhead would would jump at, so naturally, we did.

As I drive around the front of McLaren’s glistening Technology Centre, I can’t help but feel self conscious. All eyes are on me as I circle the serene lake in my dirty, dented Fiat 500 (or at least, I feel like they are). I pull up to the entrance of MTC and come to a stop, puncturing the silence with the screech of rusty brakes.

The situation doesn’t really change once I’ve parked up and finally made my way inside. McLaren’s lobby is calm and quiet, like a glass church, filled with historic race cars, but I’m late, so I rush past the F1 cars and trophies, ruining the tranquility. 

Once in the underbelly of the beast, MTC becomes like a futuristic labyrinth. The Norman Foster designed corridors are bright and modern. Doors are hidden in the wall until you wave your hand past a presence sensor, at which point the spring open automatically.

You can see why there are rumours a test track is hidden beneath the building - it’d be extremely easy to conceal the entrance. But unfortunately, it's only a rumour, as Amanda McLaren made clear to us.

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I catch up with the tour as they’re entering the factory floor, but this is unlike any factory I’ve seen before. It’s silent, well-lit, and clean. You can follow the cars as they come out of the paint workshop, onto the fitting line. They’re pushed by hand on oversized shopping trolleys. Everything is done by hand.

Once everything has been fitted it’s time to test the vehicles, first on a rolling road, then in what is essentially an extremely high powered car wash, called the monsoon test. Then they’re ready for a final inspection and road test.

A cleaner armed with a high-powered buffing machine instantly pounces on any minor imperfection on the floor. 

We’re then taken on a tour of other parts of the building, such as the wind tunnel, which is used to test the aerodynamic features on the company’s F1 cars. This machine requires so much energy there’s a phone line which connects directly to the Nation Grid, so McLaren can warn them before it’s turned on. The tunnel is cooled by water from the lake outside.

We finish by walking past McLaren race cars, from the Lewis Hamilton and Bruno Senna’s championship winning cars, to a gravity racer which McLaren raced (and won) with at Goodwood Festival of Speed.

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Amanda McLaren is Brand Ambassador at McLaren Automotive, her job is to immerse people in the McLaren brand and make a link between the brand’s legacy and its current lineup.

“My husband and I came to the UK in July 2013, for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and British Grand Prix. We were at Goodwood and it was the first year McLaren had a presence there. Mike Flewitt had recently become CEO of the company, so he was very excited to meet the McLaren family, and told us about his plans to open the company’s 50th retailer, 50 years after my father established Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, in Auckland, New Zealand."

He invited Amanda to the opening, and after that, Mike Flewitt offered her and her husband a job at McLaren. 

“To be back working for what was originally my father’s company, in this iconic building, with the fantastic team, and making the link between my Father and our current products, is incredible. I use the word work in inverted commas now, it’s so enjoyable.”

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You briefly mentioned earlier your father was developing a road before he died, could you tell me more about his plans for the company?

“It’s less well known that as well as being an accomplished driver, designer and engineer, my father in the late 60s was planning to diversify Bruce McLaren Motor Racing and starting to develop road cars. 

That really came out of two ideas. Having won Le Mans in a Ford GT40 in 1966 with fellow New Zealander Chris Amon, and being very instrumental in the development of the GT40 Mk.II. My father conceived the idea of racing at Le Mans in a McLaren car.

The rules changed for the Le Mans series, which meant a very small company wouldn’t be able to homologate the number of cars that are needed, and unfortunately, after he died the plans for a road car were understandably shelved. The company really needed to focus on keeping the racing team going.

At the time of his death, my father was actually driving a prototype road car which he had designed and built, called the M6GT, based on the M6 CanAm car. Although that vehicle never came to fruition, the basic premise of a lightweight, mid-engined, very quick car is identical to what we’re doing today.”

What do you think Bruce would think if he could see this building?

“My father was always an innovator, designer and engineer. He’d have loved this building because it’s such an iconic piece of architecture, and the engineering challenge that went into it. He would have found that fascinating. 

I think he would have also been amazed because this room we’re sitting in now is larger than the original factory. That original factory had a concrete floor, covered in dirt from the heavy machinery. 

He’d have just been so incredibly proud of the building for its construction and attention to detail, which are also traits he possessed. There are so many similarities”

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Have you seen the documentary yet?

“Yes, it’s fantastic. It tells the more well-known story of my father’s achievements through his life, but also the less well-known side of it as well, him as a father, husband and family man. I think for me, what comes through very strongly and what is lovely as a daughter, is how much he meant to he friends and colleagues. You can see that in the emotion generated from the people being interviewed about an event that happened in 1970. It still has an effect on them. 

I think his great friend and colleague Howden Ganley summed it up beautifully at the end, where said, “If Bruce had said ‘Right boys, we’re going into the Sahara desert today to build a brick wall, they’ve have done it. Without question”.

McLaren will be in cinemas for one night only on Thursday 25 May and on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital platforms from Monday 29 May 2017. 

Watch the trailer below: