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A MODERN CLASSIC
Five years ago this month, the very first McLaren 12C was produced at our headquarters in Woking, England. For Alan Foster, Executive Director of Operations, it was the culmination of years of hard work
. Alan joined McLaren Automotive in 2005, overseeing everything from construction of the McLaren Production Centre (MPC), where every McLaren road car is now built, to honing the production processes that would deliver a world-beating supercar. The completion of the first 12C represented everything Alan and the entire team had worked so hard to achieve.
I just had to be there to see the first car come off the line,’ he remembers. ‘We brought together the whole company and our executive directors thanked everyone. I had an immense feeling of pride and achievement, a sense that all those elements had come together and we’d all played a part in creating something really special.’
Today, we’re reuniting Alan with that very first McLaren 12C off the line. Finished in Ice Silver, chassis number #0001 is a road registered piece of automotive history. Affectionately known by its production nickname of ‘Job 1’, the car is still owned by McLaren, and will one day take its rightful place on the Boulevard at the McLaren Technology Centre. For today, however, we’re about 70 miles from McLaren’s HQ, on the south coast of England.
The twin-turbocharged V8 burbles deeply and its bodywork glistens in the crisp early morning light. Lifting the 12C’s dihedral door, Alan sinks down in the low-slung driver’s seat and grips the small three-spoke steering wheel firmly. Our driver quickly looks at home as he recalls the day he first drove a 12C.
‘I remember taking the 12C out late at night and accelerating hard for the first time,’ he says. ‘It felt like tunnel vision, everything just blurring either side of me – it was shock and awe! Accelerating from relatively high speed in seventh gear was like accelerating from zero. Even from my first impressions behind the wheel, it was very clear that the 12C was something very special indeed.’
The first production 12C marked a huge achievement for McLaren, starting from scratch and delivering such an advanced supercar was no mean feat: ‘The 12C pushed boundaries and introduced so many firsts,’ recounts Alan proudly. ‘The carbon fibre MonoCell used Formula 1™ expertise when our rivals used aluminium or steel; the 3.8-litre V8 emitted less CO2 per bhp than any other engine; and just driving it now brings back how easy it is to place on the road – we paid special attention to getting the scuttle [the base of the windscreen] really low for great forward visibility, and making sure the tops of the front wings lined up exactly with the front axle. That really paid off.’
The road cuts through thick woodland. Patches of bright blue sky break through the clouds overhead but the road is still damp after overnight rainfall. The 12C grips tenaciously to the surface, its Proactive Chassis Control suspension smothering bumps as Alan powers through the revs. Five years on, the 12C remains a seriously fast, smooth and exciting way to cover ground, and Alan’s clearly enjoying himself.
The 12C still takes your breath away,’ he continues, ‘but the way our engineering team has developed the cars since 2011 is amazing, the way they continue to bring more and more emotional appeal. I’m driving a 650S at the moment, and I’m in love with that – and I know I’ll fall in love with the cars that come after that too. Constant development is part of the McLaren DNA. Even when we all got together to celebrate this car, it was momentary relief and satisfaction, then we quickly focused on what was coming next.’
As a result, progress at McLaren has accelerated exponentially since the 12C’s launch in 2011. McLaren has rapidly developed a three-tier model range: Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series. In 2015, 1654 cars were delivered to customers, with the McLaren workforce growing to around 1500 employees. Now, with new models and production steadily increasing, McLaren is recruiting 250 more skilled team members and a second production shift is being introduced in the MPC. The additional shift will boost production from 14 cars to 20 cars per day by mid-2016, significant growth for McLaren Automotive but production numbers that ensure that seeing a McLaren on the road remains a rare occasion. As Alan puts it: ‘We’re a new force in the global supercar market, we’ve made a massive impact, and people know we’re here to stay.’
‘It’s been an incredibly fast five years and McLaren has changed a lot,’ he continues. ‘But when it comes to designing a car, our fundamental beliefs remain the same: form should always follow function to deliver total driver engagement. We’re courageous, we like to push boundaries with technology, but we couple that with the humility to respond to our customers’ feedback, because they really know their cars.’
Five years may be too soon to call any car a ‘classic’, but those cars that grow to deserve that status in time are the ones which blend historical significance with beautiful styling and the kind of thrilling drive behind the wheel that simply never goes out of date. Alan has his own reasons to treasure this car, but there are plenty of excuses for the rest of us to admire it too.