I Visited The McLaren Technology Centre… & It’s Heaven On Earth For Revheads

The pinnacle of automotive perfection.

I Visited The McLaren Technology Centre… & It’s Heaven On Earth For Revheads

Image: Evann Treceño/DMARGE

Of all the mad experiences I’ve had since my time at DMARGE, nothing beats my visit to the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, the factory and home of the famous motorsports outfit and supercar brand. Here’s what it’s like stepping through the gates of automotive heaven…

McLaren is one of the most legendary names in automotive history. Founded by Kiwi driver Bruce McLaren back in 1963, McLaren has evolved from a scrappy race team to one of the most successful Formula 1 teams of all time, winning 8 Constructor’s Championships and 12 Driver’s Championships with legendary names like Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton.

In the 90s, McLaren then branched out into making road cars (a path previously trodden by their rivals Ferrari), launching the McLaren F1 in 1992 – which for a long time was the world’s fastest production car and remains the fastest naturally aspirated production car in the world.

These days, McLaren is arguably better known for its road cars than its F1 exploits, with the name ‘McLaren’ having entered the lexicon as a byword for luxury, prestige and exoticism. Even people who don’t know or care about F1 lust after McLaren cars, which rank as some of the most expensive and high-performance vehicles on the planet.

Indeed, the only thing more exotic and outlandish than a McLaren is McLaren’s factory, the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey… So when I was invited to visit this revhead Valhalla when I was in the UK last year, I couldn’t resist.

The McLaren Technology Centre sits in the middle of an artificial lake (which is actually used to cool the building). Image: Foster + Partners

Welcome to paradise

It used to be that the only chance a non-F1 driver would have to visit the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) was if you’d bought a McLaren road car and wanted to collect it in person. Former McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who described the MTC as “90% NASA, 10% Disneyland”, was keen to maintain the space-age factory’s exclusivity and mystique.

Thankfully, McLaren has eased up and started letting members of the press come to have a squiz – and as of last month, members of the public can also book a tour at the MTC through GetYourGuide. It’s something I’d highly recommend.

Calling the MTC a factory is a bit reductive, actually. It’s more like a temple; a monument to automotive success and excess. It’s a giant circular complex that sits in the middle of a lake, with a long, curving road that snakes around the outside of the lake leading to its front door. It’s like an Apple Store on acid, with that approach deliberately designed to inspire awe.

I couldn’t help but pose with Daniel Ricciardo’s 2021 Italian Grand Prix-winning McLaren MCL35M, which was parked right at the entrance to the MTC. Image: Evann Treceño/DMARGE

It’s an incredibly beautiful building; perhaps the most sci-fi place I’ve ever been. Actually, speaking of science fiction, filming for the second season of the Star Wars series Andor just wrapped at the MTC, with the futuristic factory being used as a spaceport. The MTC has also appeared in HBO’s sci-fi series Avenue 5, as well as in The Fast and Furious franchise as a villain’s headquarters.

Step through the front gates and you’re greeted with one of the coolest automotive museums in the world, with famous McLaren race cars and road cars parked around the long arc of the ‘Boulevard’. Iconic machines like Hamilton’s 2008 World Championship-winning MP4-23, Senna’s all-conquering 1988 MP4/4 and ‘Ueno Clinic’-branded F1 GTRs were all proudly on display.

There were also a bunch of rare production cars on display, the likes of which few people have ever seen in the flesh, including a few Senna GTR LMs, a Speedtail, the first-ever 12C and the last-ever F1, which they even let me shut the door of (which was both an orgasmic and stressful little experience as it’s a $20 million car…)

There’s only one non-McLaren car there: a 1929 Austin 7, which Bruce McLaren and his father Les built together by hand and became the first car a young Bruce ever won a race in. It’s a lovely reminder of the improbable story behind McLaren’s success.

The McLaren showroom at the factory where customers can spec their cars. How good are the McLaren biscuits? Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE
A McLaren Senna GTR LM and Speedtail tactically parked in front of a workshop area where they were working on Formula 1 car parts. Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

After being shown behind a secret door, we were taken down into the room where McLaren customers can spec their new car, which featured a huge turntable with an Artura on display, as well as countless rolls of leather and Alcantara, colour swatches and schematics.

What was particularly exciting was that out by the ‘Boulevard’ was a workshop where engineers were working on the crash structure of Lando Norris‘ 2023 F1 car, the now rather competitive MCL60. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take any photos of that – but it was pretty cool to see an F1 car just being worked on out in the open like that. (We also weren’t allowed to take any photos of the McLaren Production Centre, i.e. the production line for their road cars, but thankfully they’ve provided some imagery).

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a few car factories in my time, and the McLaren Production Centre is unlike any of them. Years ago, I visited the Mazda factory in Hiroshima, which was everything one might expect from a car factory: it’s huge, mostly filled with robots and pumps out almost 2,000 cars a day. I’ve also been to Aston Martin’s factory in Gaydon, where cars are very much hand-built, but there’s still a defined production line.

McLaren isn’t like that. There’s no conventional production line at the McLaren Production Centre. It’s more like a giant workshop: everything’s modular and on trolleys, with the exception of a few rolling roads and a ‘monsoon testing booth’. It’s as bespoke and hand-built as cars come… Like, it’s pretty hard to overstate just how cool it is.

The McLaren Production Centre, where McLaren’s road cars are built. Image: McLaren

From the MTC to the M23

The only thing that was better than touring the MTC was being able to drive a McLaren for myself afterwards. Honestly, there’s nothing more special than seeing a car be made right in front of your eyes, and then jumping in one straight away afterwards. Especially when it’s a bloody McLaren.

The car in question: a McLaren GT, the brand’s first-ever grand tourer and one of the most intriguing cars they’ve ever made. One of two cars currently in production at McLaren alongside the hybrid-powered Artura and the 750S supercar, the GT will likely be the first and last of its kind, as McLaren – like every British carmaker – focuses its attention towards electrification. McLaren might make more GT cars going forward but they won’t be purely petrol-powered.

Based on the same platform underpinning the 720S, the McLaren GT is powered by a 4.0L M840TE twin-turbo V8 that makes 456kW/630Nm and will do 0-100km/h in less than 3.2 seconds. Compared to the M840T that powers the 720S, the GT’s M840TE has smaller turbochargers that deliver lower peak performance but are more responsive and geared towards greater low RPM performance – fitting its brief as a GT car and not an out-and-out sports car.

Well, as much as you can call a car that light and fast ‘not a sports car’ with a straight face.

Butterfly doors will always be cool. Image: Evann Treceño/DMARGE

But that’s kind of what makes the McLaren GT such an enticing prospect: it’s an exotic car company’s take on a GT; on a more ‘sensible’ kind of car. It’s like asking Salvador Dalí to design a toilet cubicle or asking Gordon Ramsay to make you some beans on toast… Although they’d be some cracking beans on toast, right?

Cracking is right. The McLaren GT is the most comfortable, elegant, most user-friendly car McLaren has ever made. It was shockingly easy to drive, actually. It’s got quite heavy brakes and steering (it actually felt like it didn’t have power steering), but reassuringly so – it made you really feel at one with the machine; like you could trust it.

Naturally, it goes like the clappers and sounds properly angry too. I’ve never driven a car that handles so well; it’s rear-wheel drive but it may as well have four-wheel drive, it’s so planted. Cruising down the motorway, you feel absolutely at ease driving in a way I haven’t experienced with any other car, especially an exotic. You don’t feel like an F1 driver squashed into a cockpit or like you’re strapped to a rocket: you feel hugged and supported by the McLaren GT. It’s an extension of your own body; taut and gentle all at once.

The McLaren GT is a car made by one of the world’s most accomplished car makers at the height of their powers (even if I’d like to see them do a little better in F1, but you get my point). It’s a futuristic, slightly mental car that’s made in a place that only dreams are made of.

Driving the McLaren GT around the MTC’s lake made me feel like one of the Avengers. Image: Evann Treceño/DMARGE

Writers like myself are naturally inclined to hyperbolise. We throw around the term ‘bucket list’ pretty freely. But visiting the McLaren factory – and getting to drive one of their amazing machines while I was there – easily ranks as one of the best experiences of my life.

I originally felt guilty penning this story, because I thought that waxing lyrical about such an experience when so few people will ever get the chance to enjoy it seemed crass. But now that McLaren has opened their doors to the public, I feel less bad about it. Hopefully, this article and my passion will have convinced you to go to England and visit McLaren for yourself – or, at the very least, book a test drive for one of their cars. If you care about cars, you owe it to yourself. It really doesn’t get any better.

Now, just to save up my pennies so I can order a McLaren for myself and have an excuse to go back to Woking…

Find out more about the McLaren Technology Centre and configure a McLaren road car for yourself at McLaren’s online showroom here.