McLaren Special Operations (MSO), the division of McLaren Automotive responsible for the delivery of custom projects, will present a breathtaking one-off supercar at The Quail, an exclusive event on Friday that is a highlight of the Pebble Beach weekend in Monterey, Calif.
Called the McLaren X-1 and based structurally on the company's groundbreaking carbon MonoCell but with a totally unique body, it has been created for an anonymous car enthusiast.
X-1: the brief
It's not every day that a team gets to create something unique in a project that would take the supercar, even by McLaren standards, to a different level. The challenge began with a special brief.
“One of our clients who already owned a McLaren F1, a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and now a 12C, wanted a unique car,” says MSO Program Director Paul MacKenzie. “The conversation began with our Executive Chairman Ron Dennis almost three years ago − before the 12C was even launched. The client wanted a machine that had all the capability of the 12C but wrapped in a unique body that reflected his needs and personality.”
In a subsequent meeting, Mackenzie and Design Director Frank Stephenson went to see him to start to explore the sort of car he wanted.
“The key qualities the client desired were ‘timeless and classical elegance.' Which was some challenge,” related Stephenson.
That meeting lasted for almost three hours. From the pages of notes that were gathered, the design team brought together hundreds of images from the world of automotive, architecture, fashion, design and even film. These were then presented to the customer, and were then narrowed down to a mood book, full of inspiring images from which the design spirit of this unique car would be derived.
Inspirational cars included a 1961 Facel Vega, a 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance Ghia, a 1959 Buick Electra, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K and a 1971 Citroen SM. There were various examples of architecture – including the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao – plus a Jaeger LeCoultre art deco clock, an Airstream trailer, a Thomas Mann Montblanc pen, a grand piano – and an eggplant. 'The client liked the shiny texture of the finish,' notes Stephenson. There was also a black-and-white photo of Audrey Hepburn.
“The client wanted a competition between external designers – some outside the automotive world – and McLaren's own designers,” notes Stephenson.
In the end, a design by McLaren's Korean-born RCA graduate Hong Yeo was chosen, and completed under the direction of Stephenson.
One of the biggest design challenges faced by Yeo was that most cars that embody classic elegance and timeless values have front engines and rear-wheel drive proportions. This is the exact opposite of a mid-engined supercar. So a new visual language for the car had to be found which led to months of sketching and modeling to find that perfect visual balance.
Stephenson recalls: “From this design, we then produced a 30 percent scale model, then a full-size hard foam model. Initially, we planned to do it all digitally but the client insisted on seeing ‘real' models.
“The client was very clear in his own mind what he wanted. But the only styling feature prescribed were metal brightwork rails running from the nose, over the shoulderline and hips, to the rear of the greenhouse.”
In the words of Yeo: “X-1 embodies the McLaren value that every part has to have a purpose. No details are simply visual cues, every one has a purpose. Although I like to think the wide body combined with pontoon style rear fenders will ensure the car glides when it's moving just like a superhero's cape...'
The styling took 18 months to sign off but the result is a design that in a few decades time will be hard to pinpoint exactly when it was created ... timeless, therefore, exactly as the client requested.