Today McLaren Automotive officially launched the first in a new breed of British-built sports cars at its Woking HQ in Surrey. The new MP4-12C will go into production at an all-new factory in 2011 and will be lighter, greener, more efficient and more powerful than all its key rivals, according to the firm.
Having developed a formidable reputation in grand prix racing - winning a quarter of all races entered since 1966 - McLaren is turning to road cars as a "logical next step", according to CEO Ron Dennis, because continuing exclusively as a formula one brand would "surely be a path to extinction".
The 12C is entering its final stages of development and, when it arrives in showrooms next year, will be one of the most extensively tested supercars ever built, logging over 1 million miles worth of data from test teams working F1-style 24/7 shifts in locations around the world.
Its target price is understood to be £175k, although McLaren is refusing to be more specific at this stage, and it's powered by McLaren's own twin-turbocharged V8 engine but weighs just 1300kg dry due to its carbon composite structure. Power is claimed to be 600bhp and 600Nm of torque, with 500Nm of that shove available right through from 2000rpm to the car's 8500rpm redline.
Although exact performance figures are yet to be officially pinned down, McLaren is already claiming this is a sub-3 seconds, 200mph-plus supercar with the lowest CO2 emissions in segment (less than 300g/km is being claimed.) McLaren also says the car will stop from 100mph in 30 metres - less than seven car lengths - thanks to the combination of an air brake and carbon ceramic discs.
The gearbox is a quick-shift dual-clutch unit, with an option to 'prime' the next gear selection with a gentle press of the paddle before actually changing gear - a bit like getting a focus on a digital camera before actually taking the picture. It's said to be faster than even Ferrari's similar dual-clutch systems.
Most of this performance can be achieved because the 12C is so light. It's built around a monocell carbon fibre tub, which makes it very lightweight but also very strong. It doesn't have an anti-roll bar either - McLaren opting instead to use a blend of electronics and hydraulics to make the car super responsive, supple and adjustable from the dashboard.
All systems are controlled by a state-of-the-art IRIS interface - a bespoke touchscreen system for interacting with the 12C's various systems.
Many staff from McLaren's F1 Racing business have been brought across to help develop the road car. Its design has been aerodynamics-led, meaning the car has undergone extensive testing in the wind tunnel. And McLaren created the supercar it wanted to build in its world-beating F1 simulator before modelling the 12C. The two-seater has an unusual 43:57 weight distribution, which McLaren's engineers believe will help reduce the understeer usually associated with mid-engined cars like this.
Building work is already underway on the new McLaren Production Centre (the MPC), which is situated right next door to the existing Surrey facility. The company intends to ramp up production to 1000 12Cs a year here, all exported around the world. It'll create hundreds of new skilled jobs in the UK and is set to boost the manufacture and industry in this country.
As for the future, MD Anthony Sheriff says McLaren wants to stay exclusive. "We do not want the volumes of our rivals," he said. But Ron Dennis was predictably a little more bullish: "This is just the first step in a range, " he said. "Lots of sports car manufacturers have come and then gone - we will not be one of them."