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The Specialists

We delve inside MSO, the bespoke arm of McLaren, to discover how it can help you create a truly unique sports car

All McLarens are exclusive. Some McLarens, such as the iconic F1 road car, are among the rarest in the world, with only 64 built between 1992 and 1998. But if a McLaren customer is looking for something really special – something personal, something bespoke, perhaps something completely unique – then that can be catered for too.


For such a job, the customer would be referred to a department set up specifically to satisfy such demands: McLaren Special Operations, or MSO. Located just over a mile from the main McLaren Technology Centre, MSO is based in what was once the headquarters of the McLaren Formula 1 team in Woking. “Our mission is to give customers a very high level of personalisation,” says James Banks, head of commercial operations for MSO. “Anything the factory can’t do, we do on request. We aim to never say no,” he adds with a smile. “About 20 per cent of all McLarens sold have MSO content, although with the McLaren P1 that figure is more like 95 per cent.”

MSO’s services are divided into five tiers. MSO Defined offers personalisation options for series production cars, such as the new 570S Coupé – the first Sports Series model – which can be ordered through a McLaren retailer. MSO Limited builds special-edition road cars, such as the 650S Le Mans, 50 of which were made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of McLaren’s record-breaking victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. MSO Bespoke goes one step further, inviting customers to become more involved in the creative process. This can range from a special paint to the mouthwatering possibility of developing a completely unique car. MSO Heritage supports McLaren’s past models, providing servicing and personalisation for cars such as the legendary F1 and reaching back to historic racing cars from Formula 1, Indy and Can-Am. Finally, MSO Programmes developed the McLaren P1 GTR track car and runs its exclusive Driver Programme.

Of these, MSO Defined is most relevant to Sports Series customers, with a catalogue of options that enable the new 570S Coupé to be upgraded with features such as a weight-saving carbon-fibre front splitter, rear diffuser or roof panel, while interior parts include extended carbon-fibre gearshift paddles and carbon-fibre air-vent bezels. Customers can go one step further with MSO Bespoke. “The majority of suggestions start with different colours and different interiors,” says Banks. “At Pebble Beach in August we displayed the first 570S Coupé ‘by MSO’, which, along with MSO Defined options, featured a uniquely formulated Mauvine Blue paint finish coupled with a bespoke interior finished in carbon-black leather with co-ordinating detailing matched to the exterior. Whatever the request, it’s about personalisation and creating a car that no one else has – customers come to us for exclusivity.” This can extend to customers designing their own cars. As Banks explains: “Our MonoCell carbon fibre ‘tub’ makes a wonderful platform – literally.”

The immensely robust structure at the heart of every McLaren provides an ideal base on which to mount a bespoke body, designed and engineered in close collaboration with the customer. “We’re in dialogue with a number of clients on such projects,” Banks continues. Whatever the scale of bespoke content, the process starts with understanding the customer’s passions and tastes. He explains: “Our designers try to make their ideas real, so they can see what the customer has in mind before the car gets into production. It’s like being a human configurator – it’s their idea and our team guides them. We start with a list of specifications, then build a virtual car using special software. If the customer requests a wing, we design it and render it to show them how it would look. At McLaren the challenge is that the part has to perform meticulously and we’re working with a car that’s optimised already. Nevertheless, within the technical limitations there’s still plenty of scope for creativity, especially when the team is building a one-off bespoke car. We get to do things that the production team would normally say no to because we’re only building one example – like machining an exhaust from solid titanium, which we did for one project – but every part is engineered and tested with the same rigour as a standard part.”


Even if your ambitions don’t extend to the creation of a unique part or a completely new body, one of the most dramatic ways of personalising a car is with paint. The team at MSO produces bespoke paints for customers; over a third of the 375 McLaren P1 hypercars were configured with special paint, and some were one-offs. The inspiration for a new colour can be anything, such as a picture, a personal item or perhaps another car in the customer’s collection. MSO has created well over 200 special colour variations in the past two years and the team is developing new finishes, most recently a paint containing microscopic diamonds for a sparkling effect.

With so many facets, it’s easy to see why MSO is, as Banks puts it, a microcosm of McLaren. It may be small, dedicated and personal, but MSO draws on the skills, resources and expertise of the company as a whole. And this is all opened up to customers who want to step into McLaren and create something unique. It’s not called Special Operations for nothing.

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