You may have heard that internet jewelry company Apple is in talks to buy McLaren, a car company. What is McLaren? Car and racing fans have known about the company for decades, but despite making incredible machines, it doesn’t have the name recognition that Ferrari and Lamborghini command.
Here’s a little explainer, and a good guide for impressing your tech friends about the little brand in the UK that has made some of the greatest vehicles to ever scoot along planet earth.
UPDATE 1:04 PM EST: McLaren is throwing water on the rumors, completely denying an Apple acquisition of the company. Check out our full story here for more details. It’s still neat to learn about McLaren, however. The original post is below.
So, what is McLaren?
McLaren is a little company in Woking, located in Surrey about 30 miles southwest of the middle of London (fun fact: literally everything in the UK is 30 miles from the middle of London). Here’s their HQ:
McLaren started out as a racing team established by New Zealand driver Bruce McLaren back in the mid ‘60s. You can see Bruce’s first car on the left of this image, and one of their F1 cars from a few years ago on the right. There’s a bit of a contrast there.
McLaren quickly became one of the leading teams in the UK’s blooming Formula 1 cottage industry, and his operations expanded up to and after his untimely death while testing one of his own cars in 1970. He was only 32 when he died, all before seeing the automotive titan his scrappy company would become.
The team kept growing through the ‘70s, becoming quite successful in America as well as in Europe, until the whole company was taken over by a guy named Ron Dennis in the tail end of the decade.
Who is this Ron guy?
Ron Dennis is McLaren. Maybe it’s better to say that McLaren is Ron Dennis.
He’s a famously meticulous, orderly, exacting boss who always seems a little removed from the rest of the human race. He demands perfection. He does not tolerate failure. He may or may not be a cyborg sent from the future. There is little evidence to prove the contrary. Many facets of the old company left as Ron took over more and more operations within the company, as lots of people just couldn’t work how he wanted them to work.
McLaren before Ron was a successful if somewhat ordinary racing organization. Under Ron it became a towering vision of exactitude. For example, at the height of Ron’s power in the late 1980s, McLaren constructed the singularly most successful Formula 1 car of all time, very nearly winning every single race it competed in.
Right, but that was nearly three decades ago. What has McLaren been up to since then?
Having already built the most successful F1 race car ever, McLaren set out to broaden its horizons. Sure, they’ve kept racing in F1 as one of the on-and-off top teams (they’re currently in a huge slump), but they’ve expanded very heavily into electronics. McLaren, for instance, supplies the electronic brains to every single team that races in Formula 1.
Every team? Even their competitors?
Yes. If this seems like a brutally cold and competent domination of its field, you’re beginning to get the vibe of McLaren.
Alright, they do car tech stuff. Apple already does car tech stuff. What do they want from McLaren?
Remember when I said that McLaren started to branch out after they pretty much won all that there was to win in F1 racing? Well, having already built the ultimate racing car, McLaren decided to build the ultimate road car. They called it, confusingly, the McLaren F1.
That is a confusing name.
Yes. But the car was just about as good as a car can be, and it still remains an icon today. It was the fastest car in the world at the time, topping out over 240 miles per hour, it was the most expensive car in the world at the time, right at the million dollar mark, and it’s still one of the most advanced and desirable cars in existence.
It’s built out of carbon fiber, the BMW V12-filled engine bay is lined with gold, and the driver sits in the middle of the car, leering out at all the other peasants stuck on the left or right sides of their Volkswagens and shit. When they go up for auction, they regularly trade for more then $10 million now.
Elon Musk had one as a daily driver. He wrecked it.
So they built some too-fast cars for billionaires back in the day. Now what?
Increasingly, more and more cars as of late. McLaren only made a handful of F1s, but in the early 2000s they finished construction on a new headquarters called the McLaren Technology Center that, as of 2011, has also featured a small factory for the series production of regular road cars. Well, regular is a strong word.
These are, again, low-volume carbon fiber supercars that start in the six figures and run all the way up to the $1.15 million (at least) McLaren P1, a hybrid that is one of the fastest vehicles on earth. Or any other planet. Despite this, at least in the United States, McLaren doesn’t quite have the massive brand recognition that some of the Italian high-end automakers do.
Nonetheless, McLarens are 200 mile per hour techfests, with engines behind the driver and big tablet dashboards like a Tesla. They don’t feel like cars. They feel like implements of god. But that’s not the fun part.
What’s the fun part?
McLaren’s tech center is very much the brainspawn of Ron Dennis, and by that I mean it is eerily sterile, blindingly white, and almost inhuman in its cult of perfection. Whooshing doors. Silent hallways. Here is a picture from inside:
I’ve heard stories of people taking tours of the facility while, discreetly, not far behind them, a janitor quietly mops the floor and erases any trace of their footprints. If there could be such a thing as an Apple building, it would be the McLaren tech center. If there was such a thing as an Apple sports car, it would be a McLaren.
So you’re saying that McLaren started out as a kind of freewheeling independent in the car biz, then slowly transitioned into a rational, cold cloud of tech and luxury looming over the rest of the industry.
Yep! Sounds familiar, right?
Does McLaren make money?
Yes! Maybe. In 2014 the company posted revenue of £475 million and a pre-tax profit of £15 million. But more recent documents indicate losses. If they are positioned to be sold, now could be a good time.
I guess an Apple/McLaren tie up sort of makes sense.
Indeed it does. And while the talks are just preliminary, it is enticing news. Apple’s car project—whatever it may be—appears to be having some massive setbacks, so this high-tech company could be the answer to their prayers.
I’m excited. And I’m sure Ron is too, if it were possible for him to have human emotions.