McLaren one-off X1 concept surfaces at Pebble Beach


August 21, 2012

McLaren X1 customer concept car

McLaren X1 customer concept car

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The Pebble Beach Concours at Monterey is used to seeing the weird and wonderful creations of bespoke vehicle design and craftsmanship, but one of the most surprising entrants this year was from the McLaren Special Operations team. The vehicle, known as the X1 Concept, is an extraordinary mixture of McLaren MP12C road car and an entirely new bodyshell crafted in a style that wouldn't look out of place in a 1930s comic book. Before you imagine that McLaren has hit the crazy button, a little explanation is in order.

McLaren only benchmarks itself against one other company: Ferrari; and for several years Ferrari have been running a very successful bespoke vehicle creation service. (The latest car to have been completed being Eric Clapton’s unique toy.)

McLaren announced its own Special Operations customization team at last year’s Pebble Beach and over 15 percent of all MP12C purchases are now customized in some manner. The idea had been brewing for some time before that though. Three years ago, before the MP12C was even publicly announced, a wealthy individual who already possessed an F1 and an SLR, approached McLaren to create a unique car based on the upcoming 12C.

Paul Mackenzie, now head of McLaren SO, and Design Director Frank Stephenson went to see the gentleman to start to explore the sort of car he wanted.

"The key qualities the client desired were 'timeless and classical elegance.' Which was some challenge," said Stephenson.

Inspirational cars included a 1961 Facel Vega (actually one of my personal favorites), a 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance Ghia, a 1959 Buick Electra, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K and a 1971 Citroën SM. There were various examples of architecture – including the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao – plus a Jaeger LeCoultre art deco clock, an Airstream trailer, a Thomas Mann Montblanc pen, a grand piano – and an eggplant. "The client liked the shiny texture of the finish," notes Stephenson. There was also a black-and-white photo of Audrey Hepburn.

After a design competition that included designers from outside of McLaren and even the automotive industry, a scheme was chosen from McLaren’s own Hong Yeo, a recent Royal College of Art graduate from Korea.

"X1 embodies the McLaren value that every part has to have a purpose," said Yeo. "No details are simply visual cues, every one has a purpose. Although I like to think the wide body combined with pontoon style rear fenders will ensure the car glides when it's moving just like a superhero's cape...'

The fixed points of engineering for the vehicle were the 12C’s unique "mono-cell" carbon-fiber passenger tub and glasshouse, and of course the 625 hp twin-turbo V8 engine and drive chain. Everything else is completely bespoke; body, lights, wheels, mirrors, trim, and the construction took over two years in total. A full on-road development program was required since the car would be homologated for road use. A Computational Fluid Dynamics program and 625 miles of track test driving was also required to ensure stability at high speed.

All body panels of the X1 are made from carbon, and are finished in a rich piano black, as specified by the owner. Body sides are lacquered visual carbon fiber. "The black paint has no metallic or color tints and is one of the most challenging colors to paint, but the finish is absolutely exquisite and befits the car perfectly," adds Stephenson.

Components were tooled exclusively for the car. They even include unique head- and taillights, inspired by the McLaren Speed Marque logo. The brightwork is machined from solid aluminum, and a nickel finish is then applied. The McLaren logo in the nose is specially machined from solid aluminum then nickel plated. Wheels are also unique to the X1, and are diamond turned with a tinted lacquer to complement the exterior nickel-plated brightwork.

The brightwork itself is all machined from solid aluminum, and then nickel finished to give the same hue throughout. Even the McLaren Speed Marque badge in the nose is machined from solid aluminum, then nickel plated.

The same brightwork is used for the over-the-shoulder rails (as specified by the owner), at the base of the windscreen and the back of the glasshouse, and for the "eyebrows" over the bespoke headlights. The McLaren Airbrake rear wing is also machined from solid aluminum and nickel plated, to complement the rest of the brightwork.

Perhaps the most unusual styling feature is the enclosed rear wheels, an upshot of the owner's desire to have a car reflecting "timeless elegance." The wheels are accessed by carbon panels using, as Stephenson explains, "some of the most gorgeous hinges you've ever seen."

The unique body of the X-1 means some dimensions have changed over the 12C. The X1 is 4 inches (10 cm) longer and about 7.5 inches (19 cm) wider but the height is unchanged and overall weight remains the same at 1400 kg (3,080 pounds) due to the extensive use of carbon-fiber.

While the basic architecture of the interior did not change, personalization includes bespoke Harissa Red McLaren Nappa leather used for the seats, door and roof trim, and switchgear with machined nickel-coated, aluminum bezels. The carbon interior trim has a titanium weave, to give a 3D-like effect. Special tufted carpet covers the floor.

It would be wrong to comment on the success or otherwise of the final design. It is after all one man’s vision and if he is happy then that’s all that really matters. For McLaren it shows two things; the inherent flexibility of the 12C’s mono-cell construction and the Special Operations team’s ability to create just about anything you want around it.

Source: McLaren

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog. All articles by Vincent Rice

I'm glad they only made one because it's so ugly that I'm shocked McLaren did this. This must be the perfect definition of "more money than sense". YEIKS!


What a beautifully engineered car. That would be my ultimate car if it was a hybrid plugin.


That car is sheer beauty.

Des Shinnick

Every time I saw this huge amount of money, engineering and craftsmanship invested to reinvent the past, with poor results as usual, I get a little said.

First because some classic automobiles are unique pieces of art that never will be correctly honored as they deserve with current powertrains, carbon-fiber cells or whatever you want to use. They are result of one part of history, with unique context that you can’t reinvent even investing any amount of money that you can imagine.

Monalisa from Leonardo da Vinci is a masterpiece? Yes... David from Michelangelo is great? Evident! I could cite several others but what you get after get one little piece of several different masterpieces? A mess… Second because what turn one car into a classic, into a piece of art are some requisites that I can’t see in this car like: simplicity, harmony between the body lines and volumes flowing all around, integration with the powertrain and so one…

Sometimes you have also some breakthrough, some innovative feature that distinguishes this car from the others… None of these requisites were achieved. I hope that in the future not only this company but all others with similar capabilities will use these unique opportunities with almost free budget and enormous technical expertise to bring something really interesting, something really new and innovative… Or something at last nice.

From this I get two conclusions: our greatest automotive designers and engineers are incapable to bring us something really new, innovative, advanced and nice even with enormous budgets and technical freedom; they are all tied to a master guideline that any automotive brand have; put then out this comfort zone and they will fail!

The future and some important technical developments are vetoed to us until we get conscious that we need to put aside ours egos and use our resources and assets to improve the world around us! Second, I thought Ferrari is sleeping really nice…

Lawrence Ramos

It looks like somebody tried to build a Batmobile out of a Porsche 356.


IMO, The car is incredibly beautiful. If i had lots of money and i wanted a supercar, this would be it. Why would i want another racy looking car along the same run-of-the mill sportscar lines like the Ferraris, Lambo, etc. They do look good, but they are so boy-ish.

This car has lines, curves and a rare look. Maybe McLaren could style a 4 seater similar to this? I love it!!! The fact that under that styling is one of the most potent, beastly and capable sportscars around speaks volumes for understated elegance. This is the advent of the matured sportscar. It is a new niche. The big car companies should pay heed that there is a new style in town.


From the comments, it can be seen that the car has attracted positive and negative comments. You either love it or hate it. These are the hallmarks of a great classic.


I think Slowburn nailed it. It is a bit blah but if the guy it was built for is pleased the designer did a good if not great job.


I wish to add my comment to the dislike box. It is a failed mixture of modern roof-line and poorly integrated retro bodywork. Go to Bently or Rolls Royce to find a more fitting chassis to start with.


The difference between children and adults is the price of toys ...


Money does not buy good taste, but certainly makes that odd things become valuable collectible pieces under the auctioneer's hammer.


"You pays your money and you takes your choice." Opinions are everywhere and everyone is right. One man's joy is another man's sadness. As for what someone spends his money on, one must never forget it's his money and whatever satisfies him is "right".


They should put the MP4-12C under the skin of the original McLaren F1, that was a truly beautiful car; it was only a street legal Le Mans racer, but the MP4-12C is civilized enough to be used as a daily driver, that would make a great combination. Another thing I'd like to see McLaren build is a Panamera-crushing GT sedan/saloon car, I bet they could make an amazing 4-seater.


I agree, this looks like a new version nof a Batmobile. Maybe they will make a new movie using this car.

Mildred Tansey Keaton

Hilarious what can be created with far too much money, and so little design talent.

It is not surprising that mclaren built this monstrosity, the head of mclaren is like an Investment banker and interested in only one thing, money, dosh!

Some will claim that as the design is polarizing, that this somehow indicates it is a great design, to which I say bullocks! Only a daft ingrate with a blind eye would ever view this as a car possessed of excellent design detail. In 25-years time, it will be perhaps even uglier.

There are rat-rods that are far more cogent than this very expensive ponce of a car. When some males seek to aggrandize themselves, such as with building a terribly expensive one-off car, they lose the thread and build something which comes to provide an argument for the opposite.

Toodles. . .


Bently and Rolls are a pleasure to enter and exit. They allow some degree of dignity which this fake raceer does not even seem to consider.

raceday is not family outing. Mc F: zero. Old Schoolers: 100%

class dismissed.

Walt Stawicki

If the man who posted the money likes it that's all that needs to be said. I for one like it. I like the Art Deco influence. This is why Baskin Robbins serves 31 flavors. If you don't care for it go build your own!

Bob Lastiri

Hmm, Love Mclaren, but this is substandard.

Chris Flynn

Hard to believe anyone would forgive this hideous abomination because the buyer likes it. I'm truly saddened by the fact that McLaren would put their name on this, especially after reading their statement about how their design philosophy is pure form follows function and how they never use design cues that are strictly about appearance. I guess the function here is the filling of corporate coffers.


A chain drive version of the 12C?! They are treating this as out of the ordinary.

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