Putting the super in supercars.
McLaren's Special Operations division isn't a specially trained group of operatives that drop into war zones to assassinate dictators or infiltrate buildings to rescue hostages. Instead, it was formed in 2011 to "provide a bespoke personalization service for McLaren customers." That service extends from tailoring individual cars to its customers wants and needs, to producing enhanced limited production models and creating one-of-a-kind wonders. We'll leave the head-scratching McLaren X-1 off the list, as well as cars that have been painted a bright color and given carbon-fiber paddles, and instead look at the ones that truly inspire our lust.
There are two ways of looking at a "visual" carbon fiber coated car. It's either a testament to the extreme lengths engineers will go to cut weight or to the wealth of the person driving it. In this case, it's both as only 25 MSO Carbon Series LT models were built by McLaren's bespoke division with the focus on cutting weight and optimizing the aerodynamic performance of the already expensive 675LT Spider.
The 'Longtail' Airbrake adds extra weight to the LT designation, and McLaren claims a total of 40 percent additional carbon fiber parts are used over the standard 675LT Spider. While the 25 cars built all had the same 675-horsepower 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engines, the drivetrains had more efficient turbos and certain engine components were refined. Thrashing from 0-62 mph takes just 2.9 seconds in the MSO Carbon Series LT, and 124 mph arrives in only 8.1 seconds.
In 1995, five McLaren F1 GTR models finished the Le Mans 24hr race in 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place. That's a stunning victory, but all the sweeter when you realize that the McLaren 1 GTR was, in reality, a modified road car going up against purpose-built racing cars at the highest level. To celebrate this, MSO teamed up with Peter Stevens, who designed the F1, and built 50 tribute cars. The cars have no bump in engine power, but they do have a roof-mounted snorkel air intake like the race car, and front fenders with new louvres that reduce pressure over the front wheels and increase downforce. The wheels are ultra-lightweight 20-spoke discs based on the race car's wheels. Other exquisite details include extended MSO door 'blades' and a more aggressive rear diffuser.
The McLaren 675LT is an incredibly adept supercar but the MSO HS takes things to a faintly ridiculous level. Just about everything on the outside that can be made out of carbon-fiber, like the roof, hood, fenders, bumpers, and McLaren P1 GTR inspired wing, is made out of carbon-fiber. The new aero package is entirely functional, as is the giant scoop on the roof. The new aero creates 485 lbs of downforce at 150 mph, and for the 25 people lucky enough to have got one, the McLaren MSO HS also came with McLaren Track Telemetry. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 gets a 13 hp bump for a total of 679 horses, but no change to the standard 516 lb-ft of torque.
The first one-off model on this list was commissioned by a McLaren customer to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ayrton Senna securing his first Formula 1 World Championship. The most obvious thing here is the iconic Marlboro livery colors Senna's car wore, along with his racing number from 1988, but there's more to this three-year project than that. The engine has been worked on, but all we know is that it has a 24ct gold heatshield, a polycarbonate rear cover, modified engine bay shrouds, and what the owner describes as "a pleasing amount of power." The aero has been upgraded to deliver around 1,760 lbs of downforce. To make sure the driver knows exactly what he's getting into, the P1 GTR By MSO has its multi-function McLaren P1 GTR steering wheel trimmed in Alcantara with color-matched stitching.
Production of the SLR ceased in 2009, but McLaren wasn't completely finished with it. The SLR McLaren Edition was limited to 25 models, six of which were roadsters, and only one finished with a two-tone McLaren Orange paint scheme and built to US-specification. MSO also added a McLaren Edition body kit, an upgraded suspension system, and cut 110 lbs of weight. The wizards of Woking also upgraded the engine management software, improved the intercoolers, and added a McLaren sports exhaust. It also got a 100 hp bump in horsepower, elevating it to 741 hp. McLaren estimates it'll hit 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, and we estimate nobody in eye or earshot would miss it.
If anyone has a carbon-fiber fetish, they may need to take a cold shower after seeing this. Very little was known at first about Project Kilo, other than it was a one-off project for a customer, but then McLaren sent out some pictures for the world to see. The roof, diffuser, doorsills, engine-cover vents, and even the gauge-cluster trim is made of the carbon fiber material. The exhaust heatshield is plated with 24-carat gold, but a much subtler touch is an orange Kiwi bird on the engine cover referencing New Zealand, which is Bruce McLaren's birthplace. Project Kilo isn't named after weight, though. The person that commissioned the build says he named it as a reference to the Chicago McLaren dealership's special edition Project Alpha 12Cs.
In 2012, McLaren showed a 12C GT Can-Am Edition at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Enough people showed interest that McLaren built a limited run of track-only racing versions of the MP4-12C. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine is familiar enough, but because it's for the track, MSO lifted all the engine restrictions and optimized the cooling system so it could reliable push 630 hp to the rear wheels. The enormous rear carbon fiber wing increases downforce by 30 percent, and, inside can be found an FIA-approved race-spec roll cage, two black race seats, and six-point harnesses. There's also a lightweight carbon-fiber dashboard, and the steering wheel is lifted straight from the GT3 version.
Most of the cars on this list are extravagant beasts, but let's not forget that something MSO also does incredibly well is finesse. Cornering requires that finesse and the Apex Collection celebrates some of the high speeds that McLaren cars have achieved through iconic corners at European racetracks. Those speeds and turns include the Ascari Chicane at Monza in Italy (90 mph), Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium (103 mph), the Mobil 1 Kurve at Hockenheim in Germany (85 mph), the Signes at Circuit Paul Ricard in France (104 mph), and the Abbey at the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in Great Britan (110 mph).
Each version of the car has been focussed on the track by dropping the weight of standard 720S models using carbon-fiber. On top of that, the Apex Collection cars have extended paddle shifters, an MSO steering wheel, an MSO throttle pedal, as well as extended side sills, a sports exhaust, and a telemetry system.
McLaren built and sold 500 of the fantastical Senna model to customers, but there were a few prototypes used for development spare. McLaren Beverly Hills managed to get hold of three of them, then commissioned MSO to make them road legal and give them liveries based on the national flags of countries where Ayrton Senna accomplished some of the highlights of his career.
The Home Victory car is in his native Brazilian colors, but it's also where he won the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix despite a catastrophic transmission malfunction in the final laps. The Master of Monaco car celebrates Senna's five consecutive victories and six overall victories in Monaco. The Lap of the Gods car refers to the 1993 European Grand Prix held at Donington Park in the UK, where Senna displayed his mastery of wet-weather driving by going from fifth on the grid to leading the field in the first Lap.