New Zealander Bruce McLaren founded his company in 1963 to go racing.
McLaren’s first road car evolved out of a stillborn racing car he was developing to run at LeMans. To qualify as a homologation special, 50 road going copies of the car had to be built for it to be considered to be based on a production model. Work began on the McLaren M6GT in 1970, with the goal to eventually build 250 of them. However, only two were ever built. The prototype was pressed into service as McLaren’s daily driver and remained so until he was killed at Goodwood in June of 1970.
The next of the McLaren automobiles for the street—the McLaren M81 Mustang—appeared late in 1980. Developed in conjunction with Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) group, the M81 Mustang was virtually hand built. Because of this, its price tag hovered in the $25,000 range, which was considered a whole lot of money for a Mustang in 1980. Powered by a variable boost-controlled turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the M81 boasted 175 horsepower—compared to the stock Mustang’s 132. Only 10 of them were ever built.
McLaren Automotive’s first ground-up road car effort was the 1992 McLaren F1. A three-seat mid-engine exotic sports car, the F1 holds the title of the world’s fastest normally aspirated production car at 242.97 miles per hour. The F1’s zero to 60 time was quoted at 3.2 seconds. A BMW V12 engine developing 627 horsepower powered the McLaren’s rear wheels.
The next McLaren road car was built in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, whose engines currently power McLaren’s Grand Prix cars. The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren debuted in 2003, featuring a 626 horsepower 5.5-liter supercharged V8. The front mid-engine layout used a five-speed automatic transmission and rear-drive.
A number of technological innovations further enhanced the SLR McLaren’s aura. Active aerodynamics, brake by wire, an air brake, and carbon reinforced plastics were all prominent components of the car. Top speed was quoted at 208 miles per hour. For 2006, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition was released. Slight engine modifications increased horsepower to 640. The open roadster version of the car debuted in 2007.
In 2009, McLaren Automotive unveiled the plans for the McLaren MP4-12C— the first car the company would do on its own from the ground up since the 1992 McLaren F1 vehicles. The MP4-12C went on sale in 2011, with a 616-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 engine designed and developed by McLaren, but loosely based on a Nissan racing engine.
Highly collectible, used McLaren cars, when you can find a McLaren for sale, cost rather dearly.