They design and build some of the world’s finest supercars – but what do the employees at McLaren drive themselves?
1991 Bentley Turbo R
Matthew Bishton - Press & marketing fleet coordinator
‘I was first offered this car 12 to 15 years ago by a Rolls-Royce specialist in Stratford-upon-Avon, where I’m from. He was asking something like £15,000 for it and I couldn’t afford to spend that much on a toy. Then, much later, I happened to see it on eBay.
It had been stored outside on a farm by a guy who restored Jaguars and was covered in paint overspray. I ended up buying it for just under three-and-a-half grand.
‘However… It was a non-runner, the brakes were seized, and it was very much a project. One that’s still ongoing. I do most of the work myself, apart from specialist jobs like overhauling the high-pressure brake system.
‘What makes it special is that it’s an ex-Rolls-Royce development car for the Bentley Continental T. It has the later engine, with a coil pack for each cylinder rather than Bosch mechanical fuel injection, and the later four-speed rather than the contemporary three-speed gearbox. It’s very quick! There’s masses of paperwork detailing its testing in places as far away as the USA, Japan and the Nürburgring. Despite all those hard miles, the engine is perfect and mechanically it’s spot on.
‘The body isn’t quite so good; as with all Rolls and Bentleys of this era, you really have to look after them properly, and not leave them beside a barn on a farm in Northamptonshire… But I’m getting there. Slowly but surely.’
1988 VW Scirocco
Peter Rees - SAP functional lead, MSO
Peter may have an incomprehensible job title – translated into English, he’s overseeing the installation of new software at McLaren Special Operations – but his car is much easier to understand. Above all, it’s a 1980s Volkswagen.
‘I was offered it for free by a friend’s dad, who was convinced it had a major problem with the fuel supply and had left it sitting on his drive for two years. I hooked up a battery, waggled the fuel relay a few times, and it started! I drove it straight to the MoT station and it passed first time.’
Peter has used the car daily for his commute ever since. ‘It’s in no worse condition than it was when I got it five years ago, and as long as it keeps passing MoTs, I’ll keep driving it.’
1983 Matra Murena
David Houser, senior vehicle dynamics engineer
‘I’m from Detroit and was working for Bosch in Germany when I bought the Matra,’ says David.
‘At the time I thought I’d be returning to the US and I wanted to take home a souvenir, but back then you could only import a car if it was over 25 years old. I was looking for something different and found this Murena for sale in Amsterdam. I took the overnight bus to the Netherlands and drove it home next day.’
So has it been reliable? ‘Apart from a few electrical glitches, surprisingly so!’ laughs David. ‘With its three-abreast seating, it’s also perfect for my family. We have a two-year-old daughter and she loves sitting in the central seat, between mum and dad. There’s also quite a lot of room in the back, so it’s very practical.
‘With manual steering, lightly assisted brakes and not much weight, the driving experience is very pure. OK, so the engine is no thoroughbred and the ride is a little soft, typically French, but I’m not going to be thrashing it around a track. On country lanes and roads, it’s really very enjoyable.’
1997 Maserati Ghibli Cup
Nick Tallis, principal engineer, MSO
‘The biggest problem I’ve had was with the turbochargers. The Cup model used an early type of roller-bearing core, and they failed ages ago. So I redesigned the cores with ceramic bearings and had the turbos machined to suit.’
As you do. But Nick is clearly not a man to be fazed by complex engineering. After a belt failure led to bent valves, he rebuilt the engine and ported and polished the cylinder heads himself. ‘It was a nightmare!’ he admits. ‘There were times when I had to study the manual very closely indeed. But when all’s said and done, it’s just an engine. With my modified turbos and a chipped ECU, it now puts out 380bhp and 330lb ft, from only two litres.’
Nick’s car was originally registered TOY 123 and was the Maserati press demonstrator, appearing on the front of Autocar and in many other magazines. ‘The diff makes some funny noises, probably as a result of too many journalists abusing it in standing starts!’ he jokes. ‘Overall, though, it gives the impression of a car that’s been used hard but also well looked after. And they do like to be used.
‘I guess that what appeals to me about the Cup is that it’s rather like what we produce at McLaren Special Operations: an already good model that’s been tweaked further. It’s nice to have something rare. I really should take more care of it.’
1958 Bentley S1 saloon
Jolyon Nash, executive director, global sales & marketing
‘It’s a great car for driving out to a Sussex pub on a summer’s evening,’ says Jolyon, explaining the appeal of his ’50s Bentley saloon. ‘Especially when you get out of it wearing shorts!’
But then Jolyon is from a country where shorts-wearing is de rigeur. Raised in South Africa, he had stints at BMW and Volkswagen in that country before joining Rolls-Royce in the UK, from where he moved to McLaren. ‘The car was kept pretty much under cover in my Rolls-Royce days,’ he grins. ‘It doesn’t get a lot of use even now, because I’m lucky enough to have a McLaren 675LT for everyday use – the opportunity to buy one was just to good to pass up.’
The Bentley is special to Jolyon, however, and in more than one way. It belonged to his father, who bought it in the late 1980s and spent quite a lot on its restoration. Then, realising that he wasn’t using it enough, he offered it to Jolyon, who was keen to adopt it. Jolyon also feels a particular affiliation with it because it was sold new in the UK, but was then exported to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and from there moved to South Africa, before returning to England. ‘I’ve spent most of my life in Africa and the UK, so I can empathise with that history,’ he explains.
Jolyon is something of a serial owner of British classic cars. ‘When I got my first company car allowance I bought an E-type Jag – and a pick-up that I used for work, while I kept the E-type for weekends. Sadly, I had to sell it during a moment of financial stress. I’ve also had an MGB and, briefly, a TR6.’
The Bentley only comes out in the summer months, including, of course, the obligatory trip to Goodwood. ‘It’s a joy to drive, quite easy to position on the road – although judging the rear end for parking is a little tricky. I do drive it quite sedately, because the steering is not the most precise and I don’t want to stress the engine, so I cruise at about 50-55mph. My wife Marina loves to be a passenger in it, but she won’t drive it!’
2011 Lotus Evora
Steve Crijns, designer
Not many people can say that they designed the car they drive every day, but Steve Crijns styled the exterior of his Lotus Evora – along with the Mk2 Elise and Mks 2 and 3 Exige. As he says, that’s pretty much every car on the Lotus production line for the last 15 years.
Steve moved to McLaren a couple of years ago after two decades with the Hethel-based company, and took his company car with him. ‘It’s an early V6, a normally aspirated model to which I’ve added a few options from the supercharged version, such as the larger wheels and bigger diffuser. I’ve been using it every day for five years, rain or shine, and my Black Labrador comes with me too – it’s such a usable car, and I often take colleagues to the pub in it.
‘It’s been supremely reliable. The Toyota/Lexus engine is bulletproof, of course, but even I have been a little surprised that there have been no issues of any kind, despite the car being developed on a shoestring in minimal time.
‘Of course, with the benefit of hindsight there are things I would like to change. When you design a car, you’re very much aware of the battles you lost for reasons of cost or whatever; driving it all the time is therefore a bitter-sweet experience. You just have to accept that you did your best with what you had.’
1966 Ford Falcon station wagon
Jason Savory – Powertrain controls & applications
‘Everyone waves and smiles when we go out in it,’ says Jason of his Australian-built Ford Falcon wagon. ‘With a 170ci straight-six and a three-speed manual gearbox, it’s not fast or loud, but it’s a great cruiser. You can get six people in it and, if you fold the rear seats down, you can sleep in the back.’
That’s something Jason and his wife have put to the test during long overland trips in Australia, where Jason worked in 1999-2003. ‘We had visitors coming over from the UK and needed something big enough to take them all. I stumbled across this at the side of the road for just AU$5000. It became our everyday car, driven around Australia and Tasmania, so it has a lot of associated memories.
‘When we moved back to the UK, we put it in a shipping container with our furniture and brought it over. It’s now used for high days and holidays, and has been utterly reliable. Service parts are cheap, I do my own maintenance and it’s uncomplicated to the max.’
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL
Chris Goodwin, chief test driver
Some mistake, surely? McLaren’s chief test driver, the man who developed the P1 hypercar, chooses to waft around in a boulevardier that takes more than 11 seconds to get to 60mph?
The ever-affable Goodwin has already anticipated the question, of course. ‘Sports car? Great-handling car? None of the above! It’s happiest in a straight line at speeds below 50mph… Although it will cruise at 70 on the motorway easily enough. But I have cars for different purposes, and this one suits the reason I bought it.
‘The 190SL was a cool car in its day and it’s representative of its era. I like cars that evoke a particular time in history. For example, my McLaren M1B Can-Am was the fastest car on the planet in ’66, it’s exactly as it was when Chris Amon drove it, and I’m leaving it like that down to the last nut and bolt. The 190 is diametrically opposed in its appeal. It’s from a time when Mercedes was leading the way for build quality, ride comfort and reliability. It’s the perfect antidote to a day spent testing McLarens on a track.
‘I was actually looking for a “Pagoda” Mercedes but happened to see this 190 at the dealership I was visiting and fell in love with it. I’ve done a lot of work with Mercedes, going back to the tie-up with McLaren, so I’ve been lucky enough to drive their pre-war Grand Prix cars as well as the Uhlenhaut Coupé and the “722” Moss/Jenks SLR, and it’s nice to own a 1950s example of the marque. Yes, it’s a pretend 300SL, but I can live with that.’
1971 Triumph TR6
Pete Sell, product specialist
‘About eight years ago, I was given the option of inheriting a sum of money or another car, and since I only had three or four cars then, I thought “Why not”…’ Pete, who drives a 5.7-litre V8 Vauxhall Monaro every day, was bequeathed the Triumph by his uncle – who happened to own a car dealership in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
‘One of my earliest memories is of being driven around the Scottish Borders at full chat in the TR, which seemed like the fastest thing on Earth to me back then. I was absolutely terrified! The car was originally a US import, which was brought back in about 1990, and converted to right-hand drive. It’s still on Strombergs but it has a Kent cam and overdrive, so it goes OK.
‘The bodywork was resprayed in the early ’90s and it’s lasted well, but I’ve had the gearbox in and out a few times. I love the car when it’s working, and hate it when it goes wrong – always at the start of the summer!’
1970 Ford Escort Mk1 RS1600
Ronaldo Moriano, MSO paint technician
‘Originally a demonstrator for Zakspeed, this Escort is a genuine RS and I’ve restored it to Group 2 spec, using all-genuine parts. I bought it as a drivable but rusty wreck in 1990 and did nearly all the work myself, when I was 19. Most of the panels had to be replaced, including the roof – back then you could pick up a front grille for a fiver; now it would be £400. I’m currently restoring a Lotus-Cortina Mk1.’
1998 Audi A8 Mk1 3.7 V8
Wayne Bruce, global communications director
‘I’ve always loved Audis and the car on my bedroom wall as a child was an ur-Quattro. I persuaded my father to buy an A8 but the 4.2 seemed profligate to my mother, so the middling 3.7 V8 it had to be. After dad retired, he sold it to me for £1 – but I’ve spent a fair bit more on it since. Sadly, a fuel leak means I’m here today in my A6 Allroad.’
1976 Fiat 124 Spider
Maurizio Zagarella, press fleet senior engineer
‘The Fiat was a Californian car originally, though it also spent time in New York. After a lot of searching I bought it in the UK four years ago. The plan is to restore it to as-new condition and then I want to do a road trip to Italy with my wife. I’m actually from Sicily but I’ll be happy if we get as far as the Amalfi coast and back!’
2000 Porsche Boxster
Kristian Dean, brand marketing manager
‘My Series III Landy – which is loved by the whole family, including the dog – failed to make it to this photoshoot, so I’m in my everyday Boxster, which cost just £6000 for a 55,000-mile car with FSH. I’ve tweaked the suspension and plan to fit some lighter bucket seats – McLaren 675LT alcantara seats would be ideal, if I could afford them!
1996 VW Corrado VR6
Stuart Holloman, product quality engineer
‘When the Corrado’s head gasket failed after three years in my ownership, I took it off the road to get it back into perfect condition. Then I was diagnosed with a critical illness; however, the desire to restore my car, along with my family’s love and support, helped me fight the illness. Now I’m glad to say that both the VW and myself are fighting fit.’
1999 BMW Z3M Coupe
Richard Jones, project engineer
‘The story behind the Z3M, the idea to develop a driver-focused car, struck a chord with me because of what we do at McLaren. I saw one, I couldn’t afford it but needs must; with prices on the rise, I knew it might be my last chance to get my hands on one. It was always going to be a minor project and the little fixes are getting more frequent, but we’ve now covered 60,000 miles together. After five years, it still makes me smile.’
1991 Peugeot 205 GTI
Ed Stark, press fleet engineer
‘Bought a week before my 21st birthday, it was my daily driver in 2004-2009 but is now a second car. It’s covered only 65,500 miles from new, but I’ve rebuilt the engine and refurbished the engine bay.’
2005 BMW M3 E46
Harley Gasson, powertrain design engineer
‘I’ve only had my M3 a year but to get to know it properly I’ve done a 1200-mile road trip to Wales, where I became addicted to the soundtrack – and I’ve moved house in it. Must have been the fastest removals van in Sussex.’
1992 Mazda RX-7 Type R
Michael Brown, product auditor
‘I’ve been a fan of rotaries since I first saw the RX-7s on Gran Turismo. This one had been extensively modified and I’ve since converted it from twin turbos to a single large turbo; it now produces 422bhp at 1.0 bar of boost.’
1968 Ford Mustang Coupe
Robert Holtshausen, MEAF sales support manager
‘Against all advice, I took out a loan to buy the Mustang. The steering rack broke three times in the first month… But it’s now fully restored with a bare-metal respray and plenty more, and is an awful lot of fun. It loves going sideways.’
Words: Mark Dixon // Photography: Jamie Lipman
Thanks to McLaren Automotive for allowing us to photograph its employees and their cars at its Technology Centre. Thanks also to Jack Prior, owner of the 1991 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Eunos roadster pictured in the opening image, who brought his car to the photoshoot but was unavailable for interview later due to pressure of work…