From the moment that Bruce McLaren founded his own racing company in 1963, the Formula 1 driver from New Zealand gave it a strong American connection. Americans Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander were his principal partners, American sports car racing was his principal source of revenue, and his first F1 car in 1966 featured construction with a high-tech aircraft material based on balsa wood and a down-size version of the Ford V8 that had won the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Bruce McLaren always intended to build a street-legal sports car, and he built the McLaren GT, a coupe version of his M6B Can-Am car. But after McLaren's death in a testing accident in 1970, the only signs of a street project came with the 1981 Ford Mustang McLaren M81, a collaboration between Ford's SVO group and U.S.-based McLaren Engines.
McLaren principal Ron Dennis commissioned designer Gordon Murray to create a mid-engine supercar to capitalize on the enthusiasm in the late 1980s for cars such as the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40, but production delays meant the car didn't launch until 1992, when a worldwide recession had caused the supercar market to collapse. In order to spur sales, a racing version of the BMW-powered car was developed and it won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. With much effort, more than 100 examples of the $1 million supercar were ultimately built and sold.
When economic conditions revived in the late 1990s, Mercedes-Benz, the supplier of the racing engines for McLaren's Formula 1 racing program, commissioned the construction of another supercar by the race team, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Work began in 1999, the first car was launched in 2003 and the last car was built in 2010. Though more than 2,000 examples of the car were made, a creative rift developed between the German and British companies. Mercedes-Benz wanted a front-engine tribute to its legendary SLR sports-racing car of the 1950s, while McLaren wanted a pure-bred mid-engine car with F1 technology. The result was neither, and the car was not a critical success.
The frustrating experience led to the unveiling of the McLaren MP4-12C in September 2009 and the creation of McLaren Automotive, a dedicated company with its own production facility adjacent to the McLaren Technology Center outside of London, England. The production version of the MP4-12C with its carbon-fiber chassis and twin-turbo V8 engine will be available in 2011.