It is no secret that the McLaren 650S is one of the fastest and most incredible supercars on sale. The car’s design, drama and visceral driving experience, particularly in Spider form, make the P1’s little brother a very desirable piece of kit. For these reasons, McLaren’s Special Operations department, abbreviated to MSO, were restlessly planning and pondering in eager anticipation of being able to put their own spin on the British built car. The results were menacing. An Agrigan Black concept was unveiled complete with matte black wheels and satin carbon parts including a broader more defined P1 inspired rear diffuser. The world waited to see the production-spec MSO car and it certainly did not fail to please.
MSO were kind enough to invite GTspirit behind the scenes at its top-secret workshop to see the very first car being assembled; a desperately pretty 650S finished is a warming shade of silver with a gold hue, Sarigan Quartz. There was one other change that became an instant hit, the incredibly intricate diamond cut wheels that complemented the paint finish impeccably.
The wheels use a design that was first seen on the 12C, a car that was replaced by the 650S. The super lightweight wheels that have been refreshed with a gloss Palladium finish with unique diamond cut detailing to the inside of the spoke edges and with no paint on these wheels, they are examples of just remarkably precise engineering. The wheels are complimented by the addition of MSO developed lightweight titanium wheel bolts. Y1 MSO was complete and made its public debut at the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed 2014.
MSO worked meticulously to ensure that the changes were subtle but would accentuate the original design implemented by McLaren. McLaren Automotive’s Design Director, Frank Stephenson, signed off the project and influenced the adaptations on this particular car. As a result, each of the 650S MSO Coupes and Spiders have been adorned with a special plaque on the drivers side door which is a feature that makes each car feel that little more special.
Having seen the car being constructed, attended its public debut as VIPs and been awestruck by its striking looks on a number of other occasions, we simply had to get under the skin of the machine and understand what MSO adds to its explosive performance. The very same car, the first of just 50 MSO 650S’, was booked to be ours for three days. We made it our aim to find out what the public as well as design specialists and supercar owners thought of the McLaren 650S Spider by MSO.
Our first stop was the prestigious Grove Hotel and Resort; a 5 star country estate set in over 300 acres of land just 18 miles away from the bustle of central London. Here we met with a visitor from the United Arab Emirates, a gentlemen who is no stranger to cars as extravagant and fast as the McLaren 650S Spider by MSO. The collectors current line-up features a McLaren-Mercedes SLR 722, 722S, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and Grand Sport.
We approached the entrance passing a gaggle of Rosso Corsa Ferraris and a comparatively subtle Aston Martin DBS and our Abu Dhabi guest circled the purring supercar with a distinct look of concentration. “Its very…very understated is it not?”, we respond by raising the dihedral doors, “that’s better!”. In the UAE it is all about drama. In Sarigan Quartz, the MSO 650S is not begging for attention, something that the V8 war-cry addresses on command of the drivers right foot.
We flash up an image of the Papaya Spark paint sample that McLaren showed us in the factory. This finish is a modern interpretation of the historic Papaya Orange with a beautifully complex metallic overlay. The Arab supercar owner is sufficiently satisfied and talk turned to his favorite feature; the revised rear diffuser.
“It looks so purposeful, a real speed machine from behind!”. Stepping over the MSO branded carbon monocoque tub, the enthusiast gets comfortable in the surprisingly soft and supportive seats before stepping on the aluminum brake pedal and poking the pulsating red starter button.
The smile and elation as the revs peak and the exhaust growls is evident. “As a package it is very impressive, the satin carbon looks mean, is comfortable, easy and simple inside and I hear they are much faster than my SLRs. We need more cars like this!”. Our millionaire approves and we leave The Grove’s awe-inspiring ground with a Ferrari 599 in tow as the driver weaves to get a shot on his smartphone.
The sands of time were not in our favour and sunlight was fast fading. There is no better place to see supercars in London’s darkness than under the bright lights of Knightsbridge. The roads to central London were quiet and as the moon loomed above the city skyline, the 650S looked fantastic.
Streetlight reflections slipped over the lines and curves of the topless car. The McLaren logo shaped headlights are instantaneously recognisable, as are the rear lights of the car that look like nothing else on the road. Cruising around Marble Arch, down Park Lane and onto Brompton road, it was apparent that in a city where Ferraris are a norm and no longer turn heads, the McLaren brings along with it a sense of neutrality and calmness whilst exciting every sense of the body, not only for its occupants, but all those that catch a glimpse of it and its glides by. Our destination is Sloane Street and the MSO 650S has its work cut out to get any attention.
Across the road sat a chrome gold Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport flanked by an equally controversial red chrome Rolls-Royce Phantom. Within seconds of pulling alongside the curb a herd of supercar ‘spotters’ surrounded the car. Reactions were mixed as a number of the younger photographers pondered on the color of the car. “It needs to be so bright that it grabs more attention than that (points to the gold Veyron), Mantis Green would do!”.
Amongst this crowd of teenage boys, the carbon fiber is a big hit with many discussing the elongated sideblade. As the door rises, onlookers gasp with the contrast between the glossy switchgear and the carbon looking fantastic with the soft yellow lighting from the designer stores seeping into the cabin.
Our next stop was a far cry from the prestigious streets of Knightsbridge with face paint, flags and huge crowds of cheering fans. We were at the home of English football, Wembley. England have narrowly beaten Poland and the fans are elated. Young and old, male and female, everyone is impressed and wants to know more about the MSO 650S. “It’s great to see that we can still build something so gorgeous in England!” a 67-year-old lady comments in her Bobby Moore shirt in the style of the 1966 World Cup winners strip.
Public opinion and reaction appeared to be very positive and markedly better than reactions towards the McLaren’s Italian competition. To understand the complex design features and styling of the McLaren 650S Spider by MSO we intended to visit designers.
Salon Prive is one of the most esteemed motoring shows in the world. When attending on Boodles Ladies Day, the press were invited to view the entries and judging of the “Concours of The Future” competition being participated in by students of the Royal College of Arts.
Farhana Safa designed the Buick Revolution based on the 1948 Buick Streamliner. The modern concept was shortlisted for the final and Farhana was announced the victor. The winner had attended the 2013 competition as a spectator. Previously, Farhana was a fully qualified eye-surgeon that graduated from one of London’s greatest medical schools.
Car design became a labour of love and since joining the Royal College of Arts, Farhana won a Lamborghini photography competition, has caught the attention of Zagato, interned at Jaguar Land Rover and is due to start an intership with Pininfarina in Turin in the coming days. We visited Farhana the day after Salon Prive to discuss the design of the car. Having been shown around the concept car by Frank Stephenson himself, we were keen to know what she thought of the production spec spider.
The former ophthalmologist circled the 641-horsepower machine like a lion circling its prey before taking a step back to observe the sleek profile and smooth body shape. After a few moments of silent surveying a simple statement was articulated, “it is so focused and purposeful, it screams McLaren and is appropriately suited to all of the brands values.”
The sun incinerated the clouds above and the diamond cut wheels shone in the warming rays. “The wheels are particularly attractive, understated and subtle but beautifully judged. The contrast of the gunmetal grey and the visible silver grain sings out.”
We questioned Farhana on the impact she thought such configurations and choices would have on potential clients and if such small design changes impacted the overall design of the car. Speaking from experience she was able to highlight how much more appealing limited production cars with bespoke features, giving customers the opportunity to make a car their own can. She explains that MSO have not corrupted the original lines of the 650S. This is observable in both the extended carbon door blade and the rear diffuser. Both parts are comparably very different alongside the standard McLaren parts but look as if they were designed specifically for the panels of the 650S.
The interior of the car also impressed Farhana. Again, the smaller details enthused the designer. The stalks stemming from the steering column to control the indicators, wipers and the cars computers peaked interest with their sculpted teardrop ends a soft and gentle design that does not necessarily fit with the rest of the car, but are dainty and delicate in their own right.
Our final stop took us to one of the most expensive areas in London, Grosvenor Square to an office of designers with a passion for automobiles. Enroute bus drivers smiled at us as they looked down into the alcantara-clad interior and a police officer on a pedal bike even offered us a race off the line! Having worked on a variety of different design projects including interior design, the interior changes would be under scrutiny from the experienced staff.
Once the theatrical doors were raised the staff slipped in and felt the variety of surfaces and ergonomics around the cabin. The precise joining and seals from carbon to alcantara and back to carbon again surprised the team. “Everything feels so well engineered and blends creative design with practically. It really is the best of both worlds in here…do I have to get out?”. With that comment we had to rush back to our base location so the car could be loaded back onto a lorry and head over to MSOs secret build facility.
Over the three-day period that we ran the MSO 650S we made people smile, children point and we were photographed hundreds of times. Suggestions on different colours, wheels and interior trims were made time and time again, from shocking barbie pinks to banana yellows and everything in between. The desires and demands of the public, supercar owners and designer alike justify such projects being put into action by MSO. The automotive world would be a lot more boring without McLaren Special Operations.
A massive thanks to all the team at McLaren, MSO, Francis, Tom and Dave for the unforgettable experience! A special mention to Farahana and Shiv for their invaluable feedback on this very special car.