The doors rolled up, spilling morning light into the manufacturer’s garage at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Nevada. There, in the shadows, sat 10 perfectly unique McLaren 570S supercars, their curves catching the sun and splashing it back at their owners. Applause erupted, cutting through the cool, still desert air as the small crowd rushed forward, phones held high to capture the moment. It was the culmination of two years of work, practice and patience. The finishing flourish to an idea born from a desire to pay tribute to the brand’s motorsports heritage, designed to allow McLaren Special Operations a chance to stretch its legs.
The brand’s in-house customization team, MSO, wields surprising autonomy. With its own dedicated design and engineering resources, the group can execute anything from unique paint and interior details to complete bespoke vehicles — or, in this case, 10 of them. The MSO X, as the cars are called, began as a request from a dealership: McLaren Newport Beach in California. This location is the jewel in the company’s crown, selling more McLarens in December than any other showroom anywhere in the world.
An owner approached the dealer with an idea: 10 special 570S models. McLaren Newport Beach then reached out to James Banks, global head of sales at MSO.
“The brief was to build a race car for the road,” Banks said. “A road-legal race car that’s great fun on the track but is perfectly enjoyable and drivable on the road.”
If that sounds simple, imagine the encouragement you’d receive from your local department of motor vehicles for attempting the same. Banks and his team evaluated their options, including starting with a 570S GT4 race car and attempting to homologate it for the street.
“We felt that was not the right approach because we’d end up with something excessively raw and not ultimately the package we’re looking for.”
MSO settled for a standard 570S, stripped bare. The cars are both subtle and not. The urge is to dismiss them as nothing more than wheels, paint, and decals, their flashy liveries lifted from the legends of McLaren’s racing past. The 570S does not need to be more retina snatching, but these are anyhow. But, look closer, and the amount of effort McLaren poured into the MSO X becomes clear.
Banks stresses that neither McLaren nor MSO are interested in modification for modification’s sake.
“We want to do everything for a reason,” he said. “We’re not prepared to put pure jewelry on a car. The roof scoop is a really good example.”
Raised on a delicate splitter, it’s a beautiful piece that’s seamlessly integrated into the carbon-fiber roof structure. It’s also functional, filling the twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8’s lungs with fresh air. There is no headliner inside, and engineers left the gorgeous ductwork exposed, the bronchial tubes splitting before disappearing out of the passenger compartment. It’s a fitting tribute to the staggering amount of work that went into that scoop: hours of engineering wrapped around the computational fluid dynamics and engine mapping required to make it do more than look pretty. Paired with a titanium racing exhaust, the intake gives these machines a unique sound signature, all intake gasp and bark. It’s fantastic.
The MSO X cars generate an additional 100 kg of downforce due to extensive aerodynamic adjustments. Engineers paired the rear spoiler with less obvious front ducts. Two sculpted extractor ports perforate the bonnet, and massive, hidden carbon-fiber horns channel air up from the lower splitter, through the cargo area and out again.
“There’s still a little bit of luggage space, too,” Banks jokes. “A little bit.”
If there’s room for a laptop, we’d be surprised. And if there isn’t, we wouldn’t care.
Inside, designers abandoned carpeting and sound deadening in favor of raw, exposed carbon fiber and aluminum.
“Any shielding that you see around the center console is purely for legal requirements,” Banks says, “protecting ankle injuries in a crash and so forth… Basically, if it’s in there usually and it’s cosmetic, it’s coming out for these cars.”
A body-color harness bar stands behind a pair of fixed-back carbon-fiber race buckets. Five-point restraints are standard, though the more common and usable three-point belt is also present. The keen-eyed will also spot a unique center console, raised to be easier to access when strapped in.
MSO designed all of the parts to work in concert, and it has no plans to sell any individual piece separately for installation on other 570S models. There will only ever be these 10 MSO X cars.
Like all examples of the 570S, these cars are made to be driven, and McLaren Newport Beach carefully selected the customers who now hold the keys. They’re all people with at least one other McLaren in the garage, dyed-in-the-wool brand fanatics who don’t mind turning a tire in anger. That’s why we were at the track. Purchasing an MSO X was a ticket to an exclusive club of like-minded owners, and the dealer plans to host a number of track events with those cars and their caretakers as special guests.
Neither McLaren nor McLaren Newport Beach was inclined to disclose pricing, but Banks said it’s fair to assume an MSRP of more than double the $188,600 required to call a standard 570S your own.
Spring Mountain opened a short course and turned us loose. Accelerating out of the pit lane, the MSO X delivers not an explosion of thrust, but a crescendo, a pupil-dilating swell that snaps you from one apex to the next. On cold rubber, the machine twitches its hips out of each corner. McLaren left the suspension unaltered on these cars. They all wear the same Pirelli P ZERO Corsa tires as a typical 570S, too, though they’re wrapped around wheels that are first painted, then powdercoated clear. It’s a costly process, but it allows MSO to offer customers a limitless spectrum of wheel colors to choose from while maintaining durability.
But what separates this car from its more common siblings is the experience. It makes noise. With the sound deadening gone, the bare carbon-fiber floor hums and vibrates. Every mechanical click and whir leaps at your ear, raw and welcome. There is the miracle racket of gears and valves. It is the way supercars were, once, and so seldom are anymore. Unfiltered. Restrained only by your right foot and the fear connected to it.
Back in the paddock, the owners chatted and laughed. Only a few took advantage of the open and empty track. The cars all sat there, gleaming, numbered, vicious and ready for anything but what they were doing: sitting still. They were the physical manifestation of potential energy; gleaming examples of what MSO excels at. What Banks calls “the art of the possible.” I wanted some eccentric millionaire to stand on a table and bet the lot of them he could make it to New York before the rest. Or Miami. Or Jackson Hole. Or maybe fire up an impromptu one-make race there in the desert outside of Las Vegas, a blessed brawl among 10 of the most unique 570S supercars ever created.
Instead, everyone went to lunch, leaving the cars there on the asphalt, a collection of carbon-fiber dreams shining in the Nevada sun.