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Deep Dive: BMW Might Build a McLaren-Based Supercar

Far from a sure thing, but the odds are good at the moment.

BMW and McLaren first got together in the early ’90s when the Germans supplied the 627-hp, 6.1-liter V-12 that powered the Brits’ 231-mph McLaren F1 supercar, but the tie between the two all but withered away after that. Or so we thought. Word is BMW has gone to McLaren for help on a new halo model, a supercar that would be based on the next-generation McLaren 650S.

About a year ago, BMW’s recently discharged chairman, Norbert Reithofer, nixed both the plan for the BMW M100 supercar, a lightweight, mid-engine two-seater with a 750-hp twin-turbo V-8 and adaptive aerodynamics, as well as a concessionary proposal that would have rebodied and retooled a BMW i8. So Klaus Fröhlich, head of BMW research and development, met with McLaren in hopes of creating a high-performance halo car for BMW that would complement — not challenge — the i8. The idea of building a BMW-branded supercar based on a McLaren carbon-fiber monocoque that wouldn’t tarnish the brand image of either BMW or McLaren came to life, and now the project is underway.

BMW plans to use its new 4.0-liter V-8 engine fitted with four turbochargers — two exhaust-driven, two electrically operated — and the total power output could be tweaked as marketing requires, with the 750-hp mark set by the stillborn M100 being the baseline for now. (At the moment, a plug-in hybrid or fully electric version is not on the agenda.) A coupe has first priority, but a convertible might also be in the cards. The start of production is penciled in for late 2018, which means the timing could be right for BMW to take advantage of McLaren’s updated sports-car architecture, which will be going under the second-generation McLaren 650S.

The suspension, steering, and brakes on this still-nameless joint venture will be of McLaren design, but it should be dialed in with a BMW-specific calibration. BMW design cues will be worked into the exterior and interior, so the message of this supercar won’t be reduced to a BMW-powered McLaren. Think custom door treatments, unique aero concepts, and BMW-supplied infotainment, connectivity, and assistance systems. The plan is to reveal a concept car at the 2017 Frankfurt Show and to have the production version, priced well above $225,000, at dealerships for model year 2019.

This BMW supercar is far from a sure thing and might come to nothing, a bright bubble bursting in frustration, but the odds are good at the moment. After all, the tie-up between these two partners has a lot of the right elements for success: low entrepreneurial risk, substantial customer benefit, great brand support, and ultimately two fatter bottom lines. Seems like the tie between BMW and McLaren might soon be stronger than ever before.

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