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A history of McLaren road cars

Charting the history of McLaren’s amazing road cars, from F1 to GT and everything in between

© Motoring Research

From Motoring Research


When McLaren hit the road

© Motoring Research

McLaren is known the world over for its success on the racetrack, but in recent years it has also challenged Ferrari and Porsche on the road. Not many race car constructors could pull off such a move, but McLaren has – and how! Here, we tell the story of its incredible road-going supercars.


From F1 to the F1

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McLaren had targeted a move into road cars for years (such as with this 1969 M6GT), but only began development in the late 1980s. Legend has it, the decision came after team boss Ron Dennis and designer Gordon Murray got chatting in an airport after a delayed flight.


McLaren F1 – 1992

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The F1 became McLaren’s first road car at launch in 1992 – and, with a top speed of 242 mph, easily the world’s fastest. Fittingly, it’s ‘P1’ in McLaren’s road car codename chronology.


McLaren F1 GTR – 1995

© Motoring Research

OK, so it’s not a road car. But we love how the McLaren F1 subsequently went full circle: back to the racetrack to win Le Mans.


Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren – 2003

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Skip forward a few years (and a few abandoned projects) for McLaren’s next road car: the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Essentially, it was a Mercedes-Benz concept that McLaren put into production – hence the name hierarchy.


Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Stirling Moss – 2009

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A faster 722 version, SLR Roadster and MSO McLaren Edition would follow, along with the limited edition Stirling Moss speedster seen here. With no windscreen or roof, it’s 440-lb lighter than a regular SLR.


McLaren MP4-12C – 2011

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The reborn McLaren Automotive’s breakthrough road car was the ‘P11’ MP4-12C (you’ll note a few more ‘P’ concepts were lost along the way). At launch in 2011, McLaren proudly announced it was a Ferrari-beater. It wasn’t quite, but it would soon develop into one.


McLaren 12C Spider – 2012

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At the end of 2012, McLaren dropped the ‘MP4’ bit from the name: now it was officially just ‘12C’. As well as adding a drop-top Spider, it boosted power from 600 horsepower to 625 horsepower, tweaked other parts of the drivetrain and fitted proper door release buttons, rather than the troublesome ‘swipe to open’ system.


McLaren P1 – 2013

© Motoring Research

The McLaren P1 was a stunning hypercar – and part of McLaren’s pinnacle Ultimate Series range. Just 375 were built, with 58 track-only GTR variants following. Its active aero, gratuitous turbo ‘whoosh’ and road-hugging Track Mode are now the stuff of legend.


McLaren 650S – 2014

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In 2014, McLaren revealed the 650S: a 12C wearing a P1-style nose. The idea was to offer the 12C and 650S alongside each other, but orders for the former naturally dried up. McLaren thus discontinued the 12C, offering the 3,500 existing owners a ‘650S upgrade pack’. The 650S was also sold as a drop-top Spider (seen here).


McLaren 675LT – 2015

© Motoring Research

In 2015, the mighty 675LT arrived. That’s LT for ‘Longtail’, harking back to the 1997 F1 GT. A full-length rear airbrake, stiffer suspension and a wild 675 horsepower V8 made for an exceptional drive (plus enough speed around a track to almost match the P1). Woking even took a tin-opener to this most hardcore of variants, for the 675LT Spider.


McLaren 570S – 2015

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McLaren rounded out 2015 with what was to prove its important car yet: the 570S. A more affordable, more accessible sports car to rival the Porsche 911 and Audi R8, it saw McLaren Automotive grow to its target of building 4,000 road cars a year – and beyond. A drop-top 570S Spider would follow.


McLaren 570GT – 2016

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The 570GT was the first modern McLaren that wasn’t billed as an out-and-out sports car. It had (slightly) more supple suspension, plus a side-hinged glass tailgate that revealed a boot bigger than many subcompacts. It’s a ‘GT’ theme the firm has subsequently developed further…


McLaren 720S – 2017

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The awesome McLaren 720S was the firm’s Super Series replacement for the 650S – and the first time it had given one of its cars a ground-up makeover. The name says it all: 720 horsepower. Performance is jaw-dropping: no wonder it scooped the 2019 World Performance Car of the Year prize. It comes in open-air Spider flavor, too.


McLaren Senna – 2018

© Motoring Research

McLaren’s next Ultimate Series model was a curious follow-up to the P1. Once you get past the controversial styling, you’ll discover no hybrid systems and less power than the car that preceded it. That’s because the Senna is all about pure track work – lightweight function over form. You know what doesn’t give as much downforce as a Senna? Most conventionally pretty cars. You know what weighs a lot more? The P1, with its batteries. We reckon this 800 horsepower tribute to Ayrton goes well enough without extra electric puff.


McLaren 600LT – 2018

© Motoring Research

Long-awaited, given the superb reaction to the 570S, was this more hardcore 600LT variant. You know the drill by now: weight down, power up, handling tuned, aero added. The fire-spitting 911 GT3 RS-baiter topped many ‘Driver’s Car of The Year’ polls, including our own. And yes, you could also have a Spider version.


McLaren Speedtail – 2019

© Motoring Research

The Speedtail is the second wave of McLaren’s two-pronged hypercar attack. Pretty much the opposite of the Senna, it’s all about being smooth and comfortable: a ‘hyper GT’. A 250 mph, 1,000 horsepower hybrid private jet for the road, it will also carry three occupants. The driver sits in the middle – a nod to the F1 that started it all.


McLaren GT – 2019

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Inspired by the success of the 570GT, the McLaren GT also dials down track performance in favour of grand touring prowess. Its styling is subtler than its bewinged brethren, its interior is notably plusher than the McLaren norm, and its boot will swallow overnight bags and golf clubs with ease. Still want that Aston Martin DB11 AMR?


McLaren Elva – 2020

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McLaren’s bespoke MSO division flexed its muscles with the limited edition Elva. This fully open speedster packs an 815 horsepower V8, carbon fiber bodywork and titanium brake calipers. A duct in the nose channels air upwards and over the passengers to compensate for the lack of a windshield. When driving on track, air can be diverted to the engine for added cooling.


McLaren 765LT – 2020

© Motoring Research

Inevitably, the 720S has also spawned a Longtail variant: the fearsome 765LT. This track-focused supercar has an extra 45 horsepower and 175-lb less weight. Its four titanium tailpipes deliver the ‘precise harmonic content required to create a high-pitched, engaging note that becomes sharper and sharper as it builds to an incredible crescendo,’ says McLaren. Well, quite.


The future for McLaren

© Motoring Research

McLaren has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, and the company recently announced it will ax 1,200 jobs – nearly a third of its workforce. However, with such an outstanding legacy and brilliant range of cars, we’re confident it will bounce back. Oh, and those rumors about a revived ‘continuation’ F1, following the example of Aston Martin? Not true, sadly. Still, we can dream...

See more at: Motoring Research

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Autos Magazine: A history of McLaren road cars
A history of McLaren road cars
Charting the history of McLaren’s amazing road cars, from F1 to GT and everything in between
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Autos Magazine
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