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Chrysler concept inspired McLaren X-1

by Bill Cawthon on

A Chrysler concept car from the 1950s and a Chrysler-powered sports car were among the design influences for the stunning McLaren X-1 introduced at The Quail during last weekend’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The X-1 is not a concept car in the strictest sense. While it is a showcase for McLaren Special Operations (MSO), the X-1 was commissioned by, and built for, an anonymous client who is obviously a McLaren enthusiast and, just as obviously, well up in the world’s one percent. The client already owns a McLaren F1, a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and a new MP4-12C.

McLaren’s well-heeled client first contacted them three years ago, asking for a car that had the 12C’s capabilities, including a 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds and a top speed in excess of 200, with a body that reflected his personal preferences.

“The key qualities the client desired were ‘timeless and classical elegance,'” recalls MSO Design Director Frank Stephenson. “Which was some challenge.”

Stephenson and Paul MacKenzie, MSO program director, met with the client to get a sense of his tastes and preferences. Based on the notes from that first meeting, they arranged another conference and presented suggestions.

The inspirational cars selected by the client included the Exner-designed and Ghia-built 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance and the Chrysler-powered 1961 Facel Vega. Other influential cars were the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K, 1959 Buick Electra and the 1971 Citroën SM.

Other influences were as diverse as the Guggenheim Museum, an art deco clock, an eggplant and a black-and-white photo of Audrey Hepburn. These were assembled into what Stephenson calls a “mood book” to be used as a reference for potential designs.

“The client wanted a competition between external designers – some outside the automotive world – and McLaren’s own designers,” notes Stephenson. In the end, a design by McLaren’s award-winning Royal College of Art graduate, Hong Yeo, was chosen.

“X-1 embodies the McLaren value that every part has to have a purpose,” said the Korean-born stylist. “No details are simply visual cues, every one has a purpose. Although I like to think the wide body combined with pontoon style rear fenders will ensure the car glides when it’s moving just like a superhero’s cape…’

The styling took 18 months but the result is timeless, exactly as the client requested.

The X-1 has a whole new body made of advanced materials. All body panels are made from carbon, and are finished in a rich piano black. All the brightwork is nickel-plated machined aluminum. Everything is custom, even the lights and wheels. This required fresh testing and homologation stretching the car’s build time to two and a half years.

The result is a one-of-a-kind, fully functional, street legal car capable of true supercar performance.

McLaren declined to put a price on the X-1, but the scope of the work that went into the car’s creation leaves little doubt the invoice was in the millions of dollars.

After its Pebble Beach debut, X-1 was prepared for its return to MSO headquarters where it will be carefully checked over before final delivery to its new owner.

Note: The Chrysler D’Elegance itself went for $946,000 at the 2011 RM Monterey Auction.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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