You might recall I wrote with some appreciation of Singer Vehicle Design’s “restored & reimagined” updating of the classic Porsche for the modern age. And maybe there’s a lot to be said for personalising your vehicle these days. We no longer live in an age where being the only one on the block to own a Ferrari or Porsche is good enough. With the advent of multi-channel TV and the internet, the curious can see a thousand copies of your car in just a few clicks. So you have a Ferrari? Big deal, I can see a hundred bright red Ferraris online.

But what if you could own a completely unique vehicle. That would be something wouldn’t it. Well maybe not. A designer works from a brief and design work is time consuming and an art form. But with a car it cannot just be art over function either, there has to be some sort of compromise – & an adherence to fashion maybe too.

mclaren x-1 front angle

McLaren Special Operations (or MSO for short) are assigned with the task of delivering bespoke metal and carbon to those that can afford it. Unfortunately, money does not always bring with it taste, as anyone who’s watched a gleeful footballer give a tour of his ‘crib’ will already know.

mclaren x-1 at show

On August 17th, McLaren Special Operations presented the McLaren X-1 at The Quail, one of the events at the Monterey Pebble Beach weekend in the USA.

For the design team working on this project must have initially felt rather like being 11 and having all your Christmases at once, especially when the brief starts with the desire for “timeless and classical elegance”.

But that joy must have dissipated fast when the ‘mood book’ of inspiring images was put together for the client and the result was instruction to get inspired by an eggplant, 1971 Citroen SM (basically, a sports variant on the classic Citroen DS), a Jaeger LeCoultre art-deco clock, a grand piano and a black and white picture of Audrey Hepburn.

mclaren x-1 interior

Crucially, you may have noticed – none of these are cars or even remotely shaped like cars. “The client wanted a competition between external designers – some outside the automotive world – and McLaren’s own designers” said Design Director Frank Stephenson. Hong Yeo’s design was the chosen winner, and under the direction of Frank Stephenson, the vehicle started to take shape.

Ok, I do have to agree on one thing here, the design is pretty much timeless in that it could easily have come from the pen of Ford’s designers in the 1950s or the set of a Marvel Comics film in the 1990s. In fact, Yeo is quoted as saying that “..the car glides when it’s moving, just like a superhero’s cape..”

The McLaren X-1’s body panels are all made from super strong carbon, finished in – I quote here – a “rich piano black”. So that’s ticked the piano box off then. Now what about that eggplant…

A look at the sideview of the car and you will get the hint of the Citroen part of the brief in the implementation of carbon panel enclosed wheels, but I’m still waiting for the eggplant to shine through..

The detail on the car is quite astonishing, but no more than you might expect when you consider the detail that goes into show winning cars across the globe. When the eyes of the world are on your design, and money is no object, naturally all the stops are pulled out. McLaren Harissa Red leather is used to cover the seats, while nickel coats most of the brightwork and titanium weave is incorporated into the carbon interior.

This car is of course, fully road legal and houses a 625PS engine, just like the 12C. The premise was to design a supercar, and that means lung-busting acceleration and power.

mclaren x-1 rear

I think the rear shot you see here looks like the mouth of a squid. And if you think that’s a bit of a left-field leap, what about that eggplant? Ah well you see, “..the client liked the shiny texture of the finish..” Stephenson says – that’s ‘paint’ to you and me then.

I must say, the vehicle doesn’t induce as much disdain in me as it does with some of my colleagues, and I can appreciate the sleek lines from the side view. But having said that, I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.

Images from,

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