The McLaren P1 GTR: Form equals function

Aug 30 2014, 02:51 IST
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SummaryThe Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance started out in the early 1950s...

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance started out in the early 1950s as a showplace for some of the finest contemporary automobiles on the planet. Since then it has morphed into one of the world’s most prestigious vintage car shows, but it still hosts some significant new product reveals as well.

The McLaren P1 GTR was one of this year’s most interesting Pebble Beach introductions. It was shown in concept form on the front lawn of the Lodge at Pebble Beach. A track-focused car that in production form will be available only to existing McLaren clients, the P1 GTR will come complete with a slate of driving events, training and factory support.

In an interview last week at The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, in Carmel Valley, California—part of a full week of events that has grown around the Pebble Beach concours—Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s design chief, discussed some of his touchstones in conceiving both the P1 and a broader brand identity for McLaren.

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that form follows function,” he said. “Form equals function. Designs for function can often be things of beauty.”

Stephenson said that the Jaguar E-type, one of the most beautiful cars of the 1960s, was designed, not styled, by Malcolm Sayer, an aerodynamicist. As a result of its functionality, Stephenson said, the car was incidentally beautiful. He believes automotive designs that are intended from the start to be beautiful can often come off as contrived.

“Design has to be intelligent and it has to work, first and foremost,” he said.

Stephenson, whose career has included stops at Ford, Mini, Ferrari and Fiat, among others, claims influences as diverse as aviation and the animal world, citing the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the Sukhoi Su-27 and the ultra-exotic, stillborn pre-war Bugatti 100P as examples of functional beauty. Animals like the cheetah and the greyhound also appeal to Stephenson for their muscular, shrink-wrapped look, qualities that clearly made their way into the P1.

The P1 GTR is scheduled to go into production in June 2015, after the last of the 375 original P1 cars has been built.

Rob Sass

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