The heart of the new car is the Carbon MonoCell. McLaren pioneered the use of carbon composite construction in the 1981 Formula 1 MP4/1 model and set a trend that all Formula 1 teams have followed. The company brought carbon fibre to road cars for the first time with the 1993 McLaren F1 and then built on this experience with a carbon fibre chassis and body on the SLR manufactured to the same exacting standards, but in higher volumes.
So, until now, carbon chassis have remained the preserve of the most expensive exotic cars; a purchase for the super-rich where costs are driven by the complexity of carbon fibre chassis design and build.
The 12C changes this by introducing the advantages of carbon composite – light weight, high strength and torsional rigidity, and longevity – to a more affordable sector through its revolutionary engineering as a one-piece moulding. Never before has a carbon fibre chassis been produced this way.
The 12C MonoCell not only brings dynamic benefits, but also offers fundamental engineering opportunities that form the basis of the car’s unique character. It has been designed to allow a much narrower structure overall which in turn contributes to a more compact car that is easier to position on the road and more rewarding to drive.
Not only is the 12C unique in its class by offering carbon technology, it also has the highest specific power output as well as extraordinary power- and torque-to-weight ratios. Furthermore, the Proactive Chassis Control system offers groundbreaking handling and ride comfort while an intense focus on occupant packaging offers new levels of comfort and everyday usability.
Antony Sheriff explained. “With the 12C we are redefining the relationship between performance and practicality, as well as performance and efficiency, achieving leading positions in both. We have designed this car from the inside out. We have a saying in McLaren – ‘everything for a reason’ and the 12C will surprise people in many ways.
“A clear illustration of its special qualities is in the efficiency of its power delivery. With the 12C’s power output of around 600hp and its low CO2 emissions, it delivers the highest horsepower to CO2 ratio of any car on the market today with an internal combustion engine…and that includes petrol and diesel hybrids,” Sheriff concluded.
All the parts of the McLaren MP4-12C are bespoke and unique to this car. Everything from the engine right down to the tailor-made switches and buttons is pure McLaren: nothing has come from another manufacturer’s parts bin.
The 12C is powered by a bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’ 3.8 litre, V8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600bhp, driving through a McLaren seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG). It is targeting not only new standards for power and performance in its sector, but also class-leading fuel economy and CO2 emissions; supported by McLaren’s experience of active aerodynamics to aid cooling, grip, handling and road holding.
“The 12C is all about performance,” said Sheriff. “And in McLaren, we have a very broad definition of performance. We don’t just look at the traditional one-dimensional parameters like top speed, we focus equally on useable measures such as in-gear acceleration times, braking performance in all conditions, and efficiency of power delivery combined with the lowest possible fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Sure, 12C is very fast, but it is also the most efficient, most driveable high-performance sports car in the world.
“In the more subjective areas of road-holding, handling, comfort, driver involvement and day-to-day usability, McLaren is achieving new standards for a mid-engined high performance sports car in this sector,” he concluded.
Thorough engineering and market research led to concept development and a clear decision in favour of a mid-engined two door high performance sports car. Intensive work was carried out in the wind tunnel and the driving simulator to ensure that the new car would inherently have superb dynamic qualities.
Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive Technical Director, was closely involved with the development of these invaluable tools during his time with McLaren’s Formula 1 race team.
“There are so many examples of race car process and technology transfer in the 12C,” claimed Glover. “The car owes much to McLaren’s experience and success in motor sport. The advantage of technology transfer is only one element; speed of decision-making and development, F1 processes and people all make an important contribution.
“Brake Steer, for example, is a technology we pioneered on our Formula 1 car back in 1997. It helps to dial out understeer on entry to a corner and improves traction on the way out. Another is the Pre-Cog function on the gearshift rocker that effectively primes the gearbox ready for the next change, ensuring a more satisfying and faster gearchange. This is a high performance sports car with race car genes and teamwork at its heart.”
Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions – everything. McLaren Automotive engineers pursued weight saving obsessively. For example:
• The Carbon MonoCell not only reduces the weight of the structure but also allows for the use of much lighter weight body panels.
• The close position of the driver and passenger allows a narrower, lighter body while giving improved visibility with a clearer perception of the car’s extremities.
• Brakes with forged aluminium hubs save 8 kg and weigh less than optional carbon ceramic brakes.
• Lightweight exhaust pipes exit straight out the rear of the car, minimizing their length and weight.
• Airflow-assisted Airbrake deployment dramatically reduces weight of the Airbrake activation system.
• Small, compact downsized engine coupled to lightweight compact SSG minimizes vehicle length, weight and polar moment of inertia.
• Significant weight was pared off the alloy wheels through intensive Finite Element Analysis of wall thicknesses.
• The engine cooling radiators were mounted at the rear, as close to the engine as possible, to minimize the pipework, the fluids contained within them, and therefore weight. They were also mounted in car line to minimize vehicle width.
“We have spent most of the programme ‘adding lightness’,” said Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive Programme Director. “If the cost of reducing weight brought performance gains in speed, handling or economy, we did it. However, if the expense could deliver improved performance elsewhere we didn’t pursue it. We never set weight targets as such; we set cost-to-performance targets and examined everything in this way.
“A good example of this philosophy is that we considered carbon fibre body panels. They would have reduced weight but added little benefit as the new one-piece Carbon MonoCell provides all of the torsional strength the body needs. The costs saved were used elsewhere for greater weight reduction and efficiencies overall. This was the holistic approach to weight saving that we used all the way through development,” he concluded.
Design: everything for a reason
The McLaren MP4-12C design follows similar principles to McLaren’s Formula 1 cars, and the legendary McLaren F1, where everything is for a reason and all lines, surfaces, and details are designed with a job in mind as much as styled. This ensures that the 12C communicates its engineering through its styling and will remain timeless as a piece of automotive design.
Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive Design Director: “Many sports cars and super cars present an ‘in-your-face’, ‘look-at-me’ image that can become wearing and boorish; the ultimate backhanded compliment becomes, “…it was of its time”. Great design, however, is timeless and looks relevant years later. Take the McLaren F1 as an example. I hope that with the 12C we have produced a car that looks great today and will still look great in years to come.”
The 12C’s body has been styled to support sector-leading levels of downforce; downforce that then subsequently contributes to sector-leading levels of lateral grip and stability. Air flow has been manically managed to support all performance figures and light weight targets. For example, placing the radiators adjacent to the engine keeps the car narrow and reduces weight. However, this results in a huge challenge of ensuring ample air flow to the radiators. The result? The large side air scoops and integrated turning vanes that are dramatic, but purely functional. No larger or smaller than required.
The designer’s challenge is to then take that styling purpose driven by engineering aspirations and add personality. That’s why the air scoops resemble the McLaren logo in form, as do other features around the car.
Just two ‘pure’ lines flow round the car and, when combined with the integration of several dramatic convex and concave surfaces, present a car that looks compact, low and well proportioned.
McLaren MP4-12C – what’s in a name?
The name of the new McLaren sports car is MP4-12C.
What does this signify? As one might expect at McLaren, everything has a purpose and the nomenclature is no exception.
• ‘MP4′ has been the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. It stands for McLaren Project 4, resulting from the merger of Ron Dennis’ Project 4 organisation with McLaren.
• The ’12’ refers to McLaren’s internal Vehicle Performance Index through which it rates key performance criteria both for competitors and for its own cars. The criteria combine power, weight, emissions, and aerodynamic efficiency. The coalition of all these values delivers an overall performance index that has been used as a benchmark throughout the car’s development.
• The ‘C’ refers to Carbon, highlighting the unique application of carbon fibre technology to the future range of McLaren sports cars.
The elements of this name represent everything that the McLaren MP4-12C stands for:
• ‘MP4’ represents the racing bloodline
• ’12’ represents the focus on complete performance and efficiency
• ‘C’ represents the revolutionary Carbon MonoCell
“We are very proud of the McLaren MP4-12C and all the teamwork, intelligent thought and sheer effort that have gone into developing this car. What drives people at McLaren is passion – if you cut them, they bleed McLaren. And there is no doubt in my mind that the 12C fully reflects that focus, drive and determination in its performance, style and ownership potential,” said Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman.
“This is the start of an exciting new chapter in McLaren’s history, in British high-technology engineering and manufacturing, and in global sports car design. We aim to be the best, but will leave that ultimate judgement to our first customers in 2011. Until then, we will strive to put one name at the top of the ‘most wanted’ list for buyers of high performance sports cars: ‘McLaren’,” he concluded.