Will the longest, deepest recession since the Great Depression ever end? The twinkle of headlights from a bevy of 200-mph-plus supercars at the end of today's dark tunnel says "yes" and "soon." Next year, Ferrari will launch its 458 successor to the F430, and Mercedes-Benz will roll forth the tantalizing SLS AMG Gullwing. The McLaren MP4-12C should nudge leading economic indicators upward sometime in 2011.
Thus far, McLaren has granted only brief access to an MP4-12C mock-up as the appetizer for the technological feast it plans to serve in less than two years. Decoding the not-at-all evocative name hints at what's on the menu. The MP4 part comes from the chassis designation McLaren has used on all its Formula 1 cars since 1981. The 12 is an internal index related to the company's dedication to power, weight, aerodynamics, and overall efficiency. And the C celebrates a commitment to carbon-fiber technology for future sports cars.
Bruce McLaren planted the seeds of what blossomed into the McLaren Group in 1963. Shortly after he arrived on the British racing scene in 1958, the New Zealander proved he was one of the world's quickest drivers. McLaren won Le Mans (co-driving a Ford GT40 Mark 2 with Chris Amon in 1966) and earned victories in categories ranging from dainty formula cars to thundering Can-Am machines.
Colleagues took up the cause after McLaren died following a 1970 testing accident, and the organization he founded grew into one of the world's premier racing teams. McLaren Racing has won eight Formula 1 constructors' world championships and twelve drivers' titles. The most recent constructors' crown was added to the trophy case in 1998, and Lewis Hamilton piloted a McLaren MP4-23 to the driver's championship last year.
No stranger to road cars, McLaren manufactured 100 F1s (twenty-eight in racing trim) and more than 2100 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLarens (including 722, Roadster, and Stirling Moss variations).
American expatriate Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive's managing director, proudly guided our tour of the nonproprietary areas of the McLaren Technology Centre, a NASA-grade engineering facility in Woking, England, where MP4-24 Formula 1 racers and SLR road cars are manufactured and where work on the MP4-12C commenced in 2006.
To raise the $400 million needed for a new assembly plant, to underwrite production tooling, and to complete the MP4-12C's development, the automotive arm was recently spun off from the parent McLaren Group. The five remaining divisions -- Racing, Marketing, Electronic Systems, Applied Technologies, and Absolut Taste (a catering enterprise) -- are owned by Daimler (40 percent), a Bahraini holding company (30 percent), investor Mansour Ojjeh (15 percent), and McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis (15 percent).