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McLaren Special Operations, the in house customizations and restorations arm for the British marque. The clinical almost gastronomically spotless McLaren Technology Centre, that would put Chef Ramsey’s kitchens to shame, is what is pictured in our minds when we think of McLaren. It is widely publicized and known globally to be one of the most technologically advanced buildings in the automotive industry where only the finest engineers are employed to push the boundaries of what was previously known to be possible. McLaren Special Operations on the other hand, is a very mysterious topic, one that is closely guarded and that very little is known about. The team was put together to offer customers the opportunity to add a little more creativity and another level of personalization than is possible from the standard options list. Meeting customers demands and desires is a priority and as a result the services offered are translated to the client in a way that is not to different from the world of consultancy, experts that combine their extensive knowledge and make reality the ideas nested in the minds of owners. By the end of this story we hope to give you a rough idea of the levels of detail and car McLaren will go to in order to satisfy their clientele. It was a rather dull and damp Tuesday morning and after navigating the M25 traffic, caused by a rather horrifying five car pile-up, we neared the address of MSO situated in a very average looking industrial estate, it would be impossible to tell that a few million pounds worth of metal and carbon would be hidden behind such ordinary walls. After a brief introduction to MSO and their purpose it was time to enter the workshop, we did not have any idea about what were about to see! Walking through a narrow corridor was a teaser of what was to come, an assortment of McLaren F1 wheels, being stored beside a variety of unique 12C wheels, all finished in colors that certainly polarized opinions.

The sight we were greeted by was something that we will never forget, a spattering of technicians delicately tinkering with half a dozen McLaren F1′s, transforming an SLR Roadster and 12C into MSO spec vehicles, the aggressive 12C MSO Concept and a car we would later drive, the SLR Edition. Then we laid eyes upon a semi-camouflaged P1 concept car that was being experimented on by the engineers before being destroyed (as all mule cars are), tucked away next to a complete P1 that was under a McLaren cover. We were informed that the car had been finished in a dark chocolate brown with matching interior, a configuration that would not sound particularly appealing but looked great in the flesh, so we are told. The purpose of the MSO ‘Concept Cars’ such, the 12C MSO and SLR Edition is to showcase the most extreme possibilities that the manufacturer will go to whilst leaving the cars warranties in tact. These limits, however, are endless in the sense that the innovations and creativity are driven by customers wants. There were a few reasons for the astonishing number of F1s present, MSO deal with all F1 projects from restoration to general servicing. The F1s fuel tank is known as a bag and for insurance and reliability purposes it must be swapped for a new one every four/ five years regardless of mileage. This means removing the rear suspension, taking the engine and gearbox out, and disconnecting the air conditioning a process that is estimated to take all of around 100 labor hours, plus a figure around the four grand mark for the tank itself, but hey, who said owning arguably the most legendary car on the planet would be cheap! The most valuable car present was a F1 LM, just one of 5 cars built to commemorate the five GTR cars that completed Le Mans 24 hours in 1995. This example, car number two, had been off the road locked away in a private collection but has been sold and was undergoing a major restoration project to bring it back to its former glory. Also present was the last McLaren F1 ever built. The final F1 was being resprayed, a very long and difficult process which means stripping out the whole car so that the owners F1 would match his recently purchased P1!

Behind a dividing wall we find another batch of technicians working away, each adorned with tight-fitting plastic gloves and goggles, surrounded by primed and painted parts of a range of cars. These included the rear window spine of a McLaren F1 and an airbrushed roof panel of a 12C that was a creative outlet for the very skilled airbrush artist who had carefully sprayed an a very intricate cartoon like blue marlin sword fish. This astonishing work of art almost looked three dimensional when light was shone upon it and took pride of place located just above the paint booth doors. This side of the relatively small workshop was undergoing a transformation as MSO were in the process of erecting two further paint booths,

a sign that paint customization was becoming a much more popular and appealing area for owners. On the opposite wall a few dozen paint samples were hung on the wall. MSO are currently working on a collection of special colors that have the appearance of chrome colored wraps but are layers of paint that appear iridescent and like nothing we have seen before in paint. The consultants at McLaren Special Operations often receive requests for colors based on other cars or materials that customers request and would like with small variations and adjustments, something that the paint experts work hard to create.

These samples are sent to customers who can ask for slight changes in tints or finishes which will be mixed and then sent back to the client for approval. It was in this organized chaos; with body parts scattered and paints samples stacked, where one thing became apparent. Although McLaren MSO is classified as an arm of the legendary marque, it has free reign over its ideas and as was previously explained to us, the creativity knew no limits. The physical space itself was a far cry from the regimented and inflexible organization that is carried with such pride at McLarens assembly plant and the Technology Center.


Volkswagen’s Mark VII Golf is a sensible, comfortable and spacious car that dares not to be different but entirely predictable, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R on the other hand, its a complete maniac! Volkswagen kindly flew us out to Arvidsjaur (no we do not have a clue on how’s that’s pronounced either!), where we were greeted by a wind chill of -27°C, as you will see, it all turned out to be a rather special trip! After being subjected to a barrage of technical jargon featuring very German words such a ‘yaw’ and other technical terms relating to components locked into differentials, it was time to wrap up and get behind the wheel of the latest iteration of the quickest production Golf of all time. When approaching the car from a distance the first thing that enters your mind, our frozen by this point, is just how taught and purposeful the R looks. The Mark VII straightened out the rather vague and bulbous curves of the Mark VII car, and as a result the R looks remarkably aggressive, there are crisp angles everywhere and its hard to think that a car that we later found to be rather supple and spacious could look so tough and meaty on the outside. Inside it’s all typical Volkswagen, no bad thing, with a clear and un-cluttered dash focused around a large, clear and very responsive touch screen that is complimented by a half a dozen switches around the gear knob and a small screen between the rev counter and speedometer. As with all R cars, the dials are a bright white contrasted against the deep blue needles that do not require a second look to register in the drivers mind.

The steering wheel is not overly thick or chunky but fits comfortably in the drivers’ hands, we can’t comment on the feel of the steering as on ice there was no feedback to be felt. The weighting is exactly what you would expect from Volkswagen, usable but not woefully soft or disengaging, keen to revolve back to centre.

The R branded seats offer good support and will not leaving you sliding about the cabin, something we found out when one foreign journalist opted to cut an icy apex, launching the car a couple of feet into the air and coming back down on the ice very hard, but in one piece! The ergonomics are very pleasant, we are not personally fans of imitation carbon fiber, but Volkswagen have wrapped the seat edges in a polymer designed to mimic to look of the materials weave. The sporty carbon look does not end there. Plastic trim around the doors and inserts in the dash feature a smart carbon pattern, in this instance the plastics feel good and do not look cheap unlike many other cars in the segment. We were teased with the presence of a stunning blue 5-door manual car that was parked in the dining room at dinner and for the technical brief, the next morning we emerged from the hotels warmth into the Arvidsjaur darkness to be greeted with the blinding lights of around 30 2015 Volkswagen Golf R’s lined up in formation, all but 5 wrapped in a rally-styled R livery with unique numbers. Car number 20 was ours for the program and the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine burbled into life, a strikingly impressive and creamy sound for such a small and efficient engine, we agreed that we missed the delicious tone of the Mark V R32 and tentatively eased onto the frozen and empty roads of the city. A short drive led us to the frozen lake where all the magic would unfold, at this point to sun began to peek over the hills and thought the huge snow laden fur trees turning the sky to a mellow shade of pink. The cars were anything but. Having been split into smaller groups we were presented with a short slalom course to test the levels of traction, or lack of, using the cars different stability control options, including the option to turn the systems off entirely (a first in a Golf R), and the cars ‘Modes’ comprising of Eco, Normal, Race and individual. It was clear that VW had perfected the ESC systems, when left on entirely the system fulfilled its purpose and reined in any power and stopped the wheels from being spun. Once deactivated the car became a real brawler but would follow any inputs the driver made resulting in, on the ice at-least, a car that would hang it’s behind out at the stamp of the fast pedal. Of course there was a third option, the sport function, as you guessed it is a perfect balance of the two and is called ESC Sport+.

The slalom was followed by a braking competition, win the drag race but do not over shoot the finishing posts, an interesting task and one that immediately filled our frozen boots with confidence as the ABS systems proved to be very effective even in the challenging conditions. The real fun was to follow and the drifting lessons began! Volkswagens instructors would put Ken Block to shame on this surface, the ease of which they swung and handled the car with effortless control and potency left us in awe. Every instructor either had an illustrious racing history or

had graduated from a stunt school. Our particular coach, Ronny, held the world record for the tightest handbreak 180-degree parallel park, with just 5 centimeters between each bumper! Ronny even treated us to a full on physics of drifting lesson right out of the back of his car! Lunch was promised and there was a smell of anticipation in the air as we have been told a local delicacy was on the menu, barbecued reindeer! It did not fail to surprise and neither did Volkswagens wooden Teepee structure complete with wifi and a log burning fire.

As the day progressed we attacked three different courses, focusing on taking the car with speed over the surface while transferring the weight over the front wheels as we approached a tightening apex. This was not difficult in a car where power is fed to the wheels that were loosing traction; an effective way of maintaining grip and one that meant the car would always push to be neutral. As a result the slides we were being pushed to achieve we’re easily held and very controllable. By looking at the apex and gently balancing the throttle and steering angle, the car would remain predictable and result in massive drifts along with bigger smiles from all the drivers!

Technically this is achieved by predominantly using two instruments, the Haldex Four Motion system and the electric differential branded XDS+. Haldex is not new concept and has been seen in cars such as the MercedesBenz A45 and CLA 45 AMG cars. Power initially goes to the front wheels, but when traction is lost as much as half can be transferred to the rear via an automated clutch in the rear differential. XDS+ is again related to the differential and is a phenomenon that was first seen in Formula 1 car built by McLaren and is seen in the McLaren 12C.

XDS+ is very similar to Brake Steer, when the differential detects slippage the wheels to the inside of the apex are slowed using the brakes and as a result the rotation and the momentum of the car is enhanced in addition to the steering input from the driver. This was felt to be very effective in the slalom trial. In ESC Sport+ both of these systems have a reduced effect and do not act when ESC is switched off.

As a result of the electronics and mechanical grunt the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R produces some serious figures from its engine. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces an impressive 290hp from 5,500 to 6,200rpm. Maximum torque is now 380Nm, an increase of 30Nm over the previous generation R whilst weighing 1,476 kilograms, a 45kg reduction over its predecessor. The Mark VII R will it 100km/h in a very respectable 5.1 seconds in manual guise (the only gearbox available for us to test) or a brisk 4.9 seconds when fitted with the DSG transmission.

Of course on the ice we could not get close to testing such figures however when utilizing the cars torque in higher gears above 2,500 rpm it was clear to see that the car is happy to leap towards it 7,500 rpm redline and pull hard whilst doing so courtesy of 380Nm of torque. As with the majority of German manufactured cars top speed is restricted to 250km/h and we have no doubts that the car will struggle to reach such a speed! The program was not only thoroughly enjoyable, but a stark reminder of how quickly cars are advancing to this day. The previous generations of the Golf R could have been just as much fun on the awe-inspiring lake,

but none would have been as competent, compliant or as capable in the hands of a novice or professional as the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R. We will have to wait to put all of the cars potential to use on the tarmac but we are sure that it will redefine the hot-hatch market once again and force other manufacturers to raise their game.

B LO G : A N A F T E R N O O N W I T H T H E B A C M O N O

A 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine courtesy of Cosworth powers the BAC Mono. It delivers a very potent 285 hp and is mated to a Formula 3000 six-speed sequential transmission created by Hewland. When combined with the light overall weight of the Mono, it can sprint to 100 km/h in just 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 274 km/h. This car really is a racecar for the road and last weekend, when the sun made a rare British appearance, we pulled ourselves away from the BBQ for a few hours to experience what it is like to be the owner of such a hardcore, no compromise machine. We meet James of Super Vettura, an approved BAC dealership, in a remarkable location at the Docklands, under the recently opened Emirates Airlines Cable Car in the shadows of the infamous Millennium Dome and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. This was quite a challenge as we battled our way through the battalions of people, young and old, male and female all snapping away and jostling for position to snap the obscure looking car in its glorious white finish. Questions come flying in from all sides, ‘what is it…how many are there…how fast is it!’ questions that James is more than happy to answer. A near by boat race featuring millions of pounds of racing boats may as well not even be happening as all eyes were on the BAC! Having clarified that the car did not belong to the STIG and really is street legal, it was time to hit the road and see just how out of place the Mono looks on the move in an urban environment! As with the McLaren F1, the fully FIA approved BAC Mono does not feature a conventional fuel tank but a fuel bag. Not being solid means that the fuel gauge is never 100% accurate, the search for fuel quickly becomes a priority!

At the ordinary petrol station one thing becomes clear, if you are camera shy or prefer to potter around town unnoticed, the Mono is certainly not for you! Fuelled up and even more questions from other road and petrol station users, it was time to hit the open road where the Mono looks like nothing else. The car look so purposeful sat so close to the roads surface. A KTM X-Bow looks luxurious in comparison as the Mono skitters and bounces over the smallest bumps and cracks in the rough British road surface.

A short drive through a busy waterside promenade where children chase the Mono with camera phones in hand, leads to the quite street where we pull over for photos and a quick chat. The Mono looks fast standing still, the cockpit is testament to just how focused the car is, it is sparse but by no means poorly finished. The car built in Liverpool, England, is constructed of space-aged materials. Carbon, Alcantara and other solid materials instantly place images of Formula Cars into your mind.


Design For GTSPIRIT journalist Zaid Hamid