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A look inside McLaren’s bespoke dept

  1. If it exists, someone will have modified it. Even when it would seem like heresy to tweak the smallest aspect of something a specialist manufacturer has spent years and countless millions developing, there will be someone out there who decides it would look better in a specific shade, or with a slightly bigger wing.

    With a company as technologically obsessed and detail specific as McLaren, you’d think that off-plan modification would provoke the kind of intense frowning that could split carbon fibre and buckle titanium. But nothing could be further from the truth. Because if you have a McLaren, and if you can afford it, you really can call… the A-Team.

    Words: Tom Ford
    Pics: Tomirri Kurek

  2. So there might be no B.A. Baracus on the timesheet, but they call it ‘McLaren Special Operations’ - a name that really should involve the wearing of branded team balaclavas and tea orders that self-destruct after you’ve read them. But, in reality, MSO is a team of 50 engineers and designers whose only purpose in life is to make your McLaren unique. As you can imagine, this is an outfit that doesn’t do things by halves.

    Launched officially at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in the US, MSO has actually existed - in part at least - since the late Nineties under the slightly more matter-of-fact tag of ‘Customer Care’, dealing with the needs of current F1 and SLR owners. After all, dropping an F1 into Kwik-Fit for an MoT test would likely cause a furrowed brow for Terry the tyre-fitter. But the department also dealt with upgrades and various bits of bespokery, and with the advent of the MP4-12C roadcar, a new, wider-reaching branch of McLaren Automotive was born.

  3. One of the key factors was the discovery of exactly how keen McLaren clients are to tweak their already fairly rarefied vehicles. As the F1 and SLR became older, customers were more than prepared to modify, with the final Stirling Moss Edition SLR Roadster - already an extreme roadcar - seeing customisation to some degree on roughly 30 per cent of the output. These days, about 10 per cent of MP4-12Cs pass through MSO, gaining everything from special trim packages to one-off colours. But perhaps more interesting is what MSO can provide, should a client have sufficient imagination past the usual run of standard optioning. And ready cash.

    MSO’s Programme Director Paul Mackenzie and Head of Sales Marcus Korbach describe what happens when McLaren’s intolerant eye for imperfect detail decides to customise a product already at the sharper reaches of the cutting edge.

  4. “If you come to us with an idea,” says Mackenzie, “we really do have the expertise to deliver whatever you require. Here at MSO, we essentially span the entire core business; so if we modify something significant, we’ll complete CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) runs, have Chief Test Driver Chris Goodwin check out the new settings, involve Frank Stephenson (McLaren’s design director) in the sketches - the whole lot.” He’s completely serious. One MSO customer had some dynamic and stylistic changes to an MP4-12C that ended up with not only factory-based consultation visits, but his heading out on track to get a feel for the changes Goodwin had made to the suspension, essentially becoming a development driver for the day. He later said after having his car ‘operated’ on that he’d not just been given the keys to his car, he’d been given the keys to the factory.

  5. The cars you see in these pictures (an MP4-12C and a legendary F1) were given the internal code name ‘Bespoke Project 8’ (the owner took a shine to the moniker and decided to keep it). It started off as a refresh of the F1, at which point he decided to theme his MP4-12C in the same style. “Collections have identities these days,” says Korbach “and we have a long history with this client. But the brief started off as simply wanting a white-and-red theme…”

    What resulted is the matching pair you see here. The F1 is completely retrimmed (the ‘high downforce’ kit was applied some years ago), and the MP4-12C rejigged to match. And the changes are comprehensive: even the flocking inside the bootliner is colour-matched and the keys have been redesigned. McLaren even went so far as to create a new method of lacquering carbon fibre to match the colour scheme and developing a specific wheel for each car. This is not stick-on pimp-my-ride, even though together they are a bit… striking.

  6. But MSO can go further than simply theming. Much further. The scale of MSO’s expertise and access means that if you were to go to them with an idea for something really incredible - an entire bespoke car based around the MP4-12C’s carbon cell and drivetrain, for instance, they could do it. A one-off McLaren supercar. The ultimate in bespoke automotive.
    The final word on the matter is probably best left to McLaren Automotive’s Managing Director Antony Sheriff about the lengths the department would go to in order to satisfy a customer’s request. He simply says: “We never say no. We just ask: ‘How much?’”

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