It's a lovely hot day, the sun is shining and I’m in the McLaren secret garden at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with Rob Melville, director of Design at McLaren. As I finish off an extremely good chocolate mousse we get stuck into the reason for being here. The launch of the new McLaren GT.
Rob Melville has been a senior designer with McLaren since 2009, and Director of Design since 2017. He did a stint at Jaguar Landrover where he worked on the design of the Range Rover Evoque, which is ironic if you know of McLaren’s deep aversion to SUV’s. Post Jaguar he joined General Motors where he worked on the Corvette amongst others.
Rob is one of the most charming, easy-going and creative guys in the business, constantly questioning the design, direction and scope of the cars. As a senior designer, he worked on the P1 and the 650S before leading the team on the 675LT, 570S/GT, 720S, Speedtail, Senna and this new McLaren GT. He is a designers designer, who contextualises the core pillars of brand design in everything he does. He could build anything, he just happens to be creating extraordinary cars, but his process can be applied to everything.
Design geeks and engineers: there is a distinct language which influences the thought process all the way through to the final product. Rob strongly believes that the essence of McLaren must be communicated in every detail of the car and that nothing should be added for effect, but every working part of the car must be made beautiful. Don’t add chrome needlessly, but enhance the visibility of every working detail present in the car. Any carbon fibre on this car serves a purpose, it’s not there for decoration. Form inherits from function. It’s why McLaren cars are such a pure distillation of mechanical engineering, design and driver usability.
It’s about starting from first principals and then matching with engineering realities. Once Rob and his highly qualified team, all talented artist-designers themselves (Rob showed me an oil painting by one of a McLaren that was magnificent,) are happy with their work, then it’s engineering time. What works, what can be improved, how the air flows over and through the car in the wind tunnels, etc. Assessing real life against the virtual reality systems they use in the designing. Oh yes, they use virtual reality headsets so they can make a virtual model of the car and walk around it, admiring every angle and finessing it to perfection. Helped by the guys who created the Fortnite game no less.
One of the truly stunning features that Rob and his team brought to the cars is layering. Look at later McLarens and you can see levels and layers that interact and swirl around the body, much like scales or armour. These are not there solely for effect, but strengthening in some areas, allowing airflow and cooling in others. Leaving space where needed, covering only when necessary. This is perhaps the defining genius of these stunning supercars. Most evident in the Senna where everything is multilayered for performance-enhancing airflow manipulation.
So what of the new McLaren GT? Rob grew up with pictures of Lamborghinis and Ferraris on his bedroom wall and this is reflected in at the early McLaren’s, but this new GT embodies a mature grand touring dream. It is a supercar aimed at a more refined, distinguished audience. A McLaren James Bond would drive if the other car had been say, blown up or shot to pieces. Less sporty bling, more gravitas. The boot tail is the longest single piece of carbon fibre in any car, rising to leave room for golf clubs and standard size travel cases There's also luggage room behind the front seats, as well as the front boot storage.
The front is higher, almost half a foot higher than the previous downward sloping McLaren’s. So you need never worry about speed bumps again, or steep mountain road inclines, and can be raised further. The lights are longer, sweeping back, reflecting the McLaren logo and the interior fuses sport and luxury without any unnecessary fuss. The glass roof has electric dimming, so you can have it clear or opaque, with varying degrees in between, at the touch of a button. It goes from dark blue to full sunshine in seconds.
The new McLaren GT is muscular, yet still sleek, conveying the impression of rushing forward even when standing still. Something Rob and his team have always aimed to achieve, often inspired by nature, such as the swooping shape of a diving eagle. They are masters of product differentiation, talking to customers and getting feedback as to their desires. The McLaren GT will tempt a new audience who may have felt the past cars too brash and track orientated.
Needless to say I loved the car. McLaren designers draw ideas from their own excitement, joy and exhilaration for supercars, which they share with the drivers. Rob encourages his team to explore all possibilities, take inspiration widely, build from the brand DNA up and most of all, make mistakes. The most essential tenets to create anything truly magnificent.
The new McLaren GT is is an evolution, a grown-up sports car for drivers who still want to enjoy every journey in an exceptional three-dimensional work of art. A minimalist luxury supercar.