The story behind McLaren's chrome silver Formula One cars
McLaren. It's a name that's synonymous with high performance, thanks in no small part to the success of its Formula One team, with names like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton having contributed to McLaren's impressive haul of trophies.
But those trophies are something McLaren doesn't allow drivers to keep, because there's a whole team working to get that driver in the car, to the start line and on to victory. For this reason, McLaren displays those trophies for everyone to see as they pass through the McLaren Technology Centre on a daily basis, because everyone - from the driver to the guy who paints the cars - is part of a team.
Much of the talk around racing cars is about power, or aerodynamics, or suspension. Paint is one small part of a Formula One car that you might think is just the finishing touch, but when McLaren invited us into the beating heart of its operation at the McLaren Technology Centre, just outside Woking in Surrey, it was paint that was on the agenda, and the unique finishes on McLaren cars specifically.
"How do you paint chrome?" asked Ron Dennis, executive chairman of McLaren Automotive and McLaren group, as he detailed the day that the idea sprung into his head, and the resultant partnership that evolved with AkzoNobel.
It wasn't a car that inspired Dennis, or an Airstream trailer, but the finish on a bottle of Bulgari Extreme fragrance that set the wheels in motion and resulted in a partnership that will see AkzoNobel - a performance paints, coatings and chemicals company based in Amsterdam - painting McLaren cars in the future.
The challenge was to produce a finish that looked like chrome but which also offered the performance you would demand on a machine designed for speed. The resultant coating is light in weight, fast to dry, heat resistant, aerodynamic, has a low impact on the environment and looks shiny.
There's a commercial thinking behind the chrome finish too. Not only does it look unique and distinctive, which it is, but it also looks better on TV in low light conditions, so the cars always stand out on race day. We have to say, these cars are breathtaking in the flesh, so if turning heads was the aim, it certainly works.
Parts are hand finished and hand painted, naturally, in the McLaren Racing paintshop at the McLaren Technology Centre. This being McLaren, this doesn't happen in a paint-splattered garage, but in ultra-clean rooms within the company's Norman Foster-designed headquarters. Not only are there the airbrushing rooms, but also an IR arch to reduce the flash-off time from six hours to one, to ensure parts are ready for the cars with minimal delay.
AkzoNobel is probably a company you've never heard of, but it provides coatings for lots of things you do know: Boeing and Airbus aircraft, for example, as well as providing finishes for automotive brands like VW, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes. You can add Dell and LG to the list and it's AkzoNobel behind some of the finishes on Samsung Galaxy smartphones too.
But not only has Ron Dennis's desire to replicate the finish of a perfume bottle run to Formula One cars, but the partnership with AkzoNobel extends to production cars like the McLaren MP4-12C and the recently unveiled McLaren P1.
The Volcano Yellow, debuted at the Geneva Motor Show at the unveiling of the P1, is a colour unique to McLaren, as are the rest of the colours specified on McLaren Automotive production cars. The P1 might look like a flat yellow when photographed, but in the flesh there's depth to the finish, a subtle green sparkle that catches your eye as you look over the lines of the company's newest supercar.
So with the agreement spanning both Formula One cars and production cars, does that mean you'll be seeing the McLaren P1 or MP4-12C on the streets in that distinctive chrome finish?
The short answer is no, but if a customer requested it and was prepared to pay, then it could be done, explained Alan Foster, operations director at McLaren Automotive. However, it would be "very, very, expensive". Naturally McLaren have a chrome finish of the MP4-12C at the McLaren Technology Centre, which might just be enough to help you part with your cash.