‘90% NASA, 10% Disney’: hands-on with the latest LEGO Technic set at McLaren HQ

Join Brick Fanatics for a trip to McLaren HQ, as the LEGO Group pulls back the curtain on its latest LEGO Technic supercar – and we go hands-on with 42172 McLaren P1

On a gorgeously sunny day in the last week of June, Brick Fanatics had the opportunity to attend a particularly special reveal event for LEGO Technic 42172 McLaren P1 at the home of the iconic car itself, the McLaren factory in Woking, Surrey. If you’ve ever wondered what an extremely high-end custom car factory actually looks like on the inside, our tour guide summed it up rather well when he described the building as ‘a little bit James Bond’ and ‘90% NASA, 10% Disney’.

The first thing that the staff at McLaren wanted us to know was that they were sorry. The pristine countryside surrounding the factory was pockmarked with construction work, part of a plan to build an all-new car park because, ironically, the one thing the company had not fully planned for when building their fancy headquarters was the need to store more cars.

In truth, the site of a few bulldozers and lorries is so common in modern Britain that it’s doubtful any of the guests would have noticed the construction work had it not been brought to our attention. The staff, though, were adamant: under ordinary circumstances, things never look this messy at McLaren. Once the carpark is constructed, it will be apparently hidden beneath a grassy bank, so as not to obstruct the picturesque view out of the main building’s many windows.


In retrospect, this level of perfectionism was just a small taste of things to come. The McLaren headquarters is an immaculate work of art, as is everything inside its complex.

While attending events like these are among the greatest perks of membership of the LEGO Recognised Fan Media, it’s also important to be reminded of one’s position in the pecking order. Thus, when RLFM attendees arrived, we were sheparded into an unmarked black minivan for the journey from the front security desk to the main building. We were followed by the luxury car influencers, who instead were chauffeured in top-of-the-range supercars.

They seemed to enjoy themselves, and it was nice for the LEGO fans to be reminded of our proper place in the world, lest exposure to the decadent world of McLaren give us ideas above our station. We were at the very least allowed to sit briefly in the supercars, and in fairness, the minivan was actually probably a little bit more comfortable and convenient to climb in and out of, but feel free to take those sour grapes with a pinch of salt.

Regardless of transport vehicle, the journey into the main building took us around a beautiful, glittering lake. The building itself is an absolute work of art, but not one that is necessarily designed for a British summer.

The entrance is decked out with enormous glass windows that provide a spectacular view, which turn the entire side of the building into a massive greenhouse. If, for example, an event happens to take place in the evening on a particularly sunny day, it becomes tremendously difficult to film or photograph any exciting new LEGO sets that happen to be on display. At least one member of the LEGO Group’s marketing team was stood waiting anxiously for the sun to move below the horizon, in the hopes that this would bring a better lighting solution.

Arguably far more interesting than the view are the many pieces of iconic motor racing history that decorate every available surface within the main atrium. It’s probably not a surprise to learn that McLaren as a company is very proud of its automotive history. The walls are – in some cases literally – lined with iconic Formula One relics from decades of successful races, from hundreds of trophies all glimmering within a lengthy display case, to the occasional racecar itself that has been mounted sideways on a wall, the better to display its many curves and contours.

While the LEGO Group is careful to archive each and every LEGO set inside its vault, the company could learn a thing or two about historical preservation from McLaren. At least one lengthy hallway was filled with a long queue of retired F1 cars, each of which are, we were assured, still in perfect working order. In theory, any of these many cars could be plucked from the line-up and driven around, should the need arise.

The focus of the day’s event, though, was less on the storied history of McLaren’s racing accolades, as we instead got up close and personal with a far more recent creation: the P1, a car which is relatively new by McLaren’s standards, having only debuted 11 years ago. This car had been selected of all of McLaren’s offerings as the inspiration for the latest LEGO Technic supercar, a collection which represents the pinnacle of Technic building.

While McLaren may have been hosting the event, it was clear that the LEGO Group was taking charge on discussions around the car. After an incredibly brief introduction from McLaren’s Chief Design Office Tobias Sühlmann, LEGO Technic’s Senior Model Designer Aurelien Rouffiange took centre stage, giving a detailed look at the new set and talking a little about the design process that led to its creation.

This being an event that was intended not just for LEGO afficionados, but also for a few prominent car influencers, we were then split into groups. While the LEGO fan media were taken on a tour of McLaren’s factory, the gearheads sat down with Aurelien for an opportunity to try building part of the set. It did seem as if this activity was intended to make sure that anyone who might not be familiar with Technic could get a quick beginner’s introduction to how these elements fit together.

Without wanting to patronise the car enthusiasts, for anyone who might not be familiar with LEGO Technic, starting with the new McLaren P1 no doubt feels a little like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool before learning how to swim.

McLaren’s tour guide is, it must be said, a cut above the vast majority of tour guides. Again, the LEGO Group could learn a lesson in presentation and theatricality here. The guide relished a few of the more spectacular moments on the tour, describing the building as ‘90% NASA, 10% Disney’. His glee at popping open secret doors and ushering us into spaces that were ‘a little bit James Bond’ was palpable.

Unfortunately, the most interesting places in the tour – the ‘James Bond’ room filled to the brim with iconic cars, and the factory floor itself – were strict No Camera zones, so a description will have to suffice.

McLaren’s factory looks like what would happen if Willy Wonka binge-watched every episode of Top Gear. There are gizmos and doodads on every available surface, vast machines which test cars against humidity and adverse weather effects, giant fans blowing air across car bonnets to test aerodynamism, and an enthusiastic team of Oompah Loompas who assemble each car entirely by hand.

‘You can’t teach that,’ the tour guide said of their work ethic and passion for the job. He spoke of one employee who, rather than coming from an engineering or pit crew background, used to work at Screwfix, but would build custom cars in his spare time with his dad. This, apparently, is the kind of dedication that McLaren looks for in its employees: it’s not enough to like cars. You’ve got to love them.

The guide made a point of highlighting how relaxed the atmosphere is within the factory. Nobody is rushing around; there are no targets or deadlines or penalties for delays. Each car takes the time it takes, and if a particular engine is proving challenging, it’s simply put to one side until it can be fixed.

While there are plenty of incredibly interesting contraptions on the factory floor, there are no robots; no large automation machines. McLaren has taken the bold decision to provide the human touch, going a long way to justify the cars’ high price tags, and deliberately limiting the number of these vehicles that hit the market.

Apparently, in the early days of the brand’s supercar ventures, McLaren was tremendously careful not just about what it sold, but about who it sold to. Certain nameless celebrities were banned from purchasing any of these cars – if you had a reputation for wrapping sports cars around lampposts, then McLaren did not want your custom. Nobody wanted the brand to become associated with dangerous driving or horrible accidents.

Now, apparently, the company has relaxed a little bit on this front, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s selling more cars than before, so there’s less control over the McLaren public image in general, and a single bad headline is going to be a little less potent. Secondly, the company has realised that you really can’t police car ownership, because as everyone knows, the second-hand car market is where most people make their purchases anyway.

Nevertheless, there are still some rules around what kind of cars the company will sell. If you go to McLaren for a car, you’re able to customise it to an impressive degree, picking your colour and specific parts. You cannot, according to the tour guide, have a novelty themed car. One regular customer was disappointed when they asked for a Minions-themed McLaren, and they were politely refused.

After the factory tour, there was a brief pause for canapes, giving the entire event the feeling of a wedding (perhaps appropriate for this latest marriage between the LEGO Group and McLaren) before the LEGO fan media got a chance to try building part of the new set, while the car enthusiasts were given their tour.

If the goal with this hands-on building experience was to teach beginners how to use Technic elements, it might not have been ideal to start things off with a sub-assembly that comes towards the end of the build. We were tasked with putting together one of the McLaren’s doors, and trying to figure out exactly how it fit into a hypothetical model did take a bit of head-scratching.

As you can imagine, there was a bit of a race between the LEGO fans in attendance to see who could finish their door first. This reporter didn’t make it on to the winner’s podium, but then, nobody else bothered to neatly lay out all their elements according to size and colour before starting, the heathens. There’s a good chance that racing just isn’t my strong suit.

With that, the event was over, and the entire guestlist – LEGO and car fans alike – piled into a minivan and were driven back to the front gate. There, the car guys stood around for a while admiring each other’s incredibly fancy sports cars, while I instead sheepishly hopped into my dad’s Vauxhall Corsa. The main takeaway from the event, then: if you’re going to get into social media influencing, the smart choice is to simply own a bunch of expensive cars.

Perhaps more relevant, while not everyone can manage this simple first step to social media ubiquity, for those who will never actually own a McLaren supercar, the new LEGO Technic set seems to be a decent alternative. Apart from anything else, its vibrant yellow colour scheme seems perfect should you wish to customise it with some Minions elements…

42172 McLaren P1 launches August 1 at LEGO.com and in LEGO Stores. Click here to find out more about the latest LEGO Technic supercar.

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Author Profile

Matthew Loffhagen
Matthew Loffhagen
When I was a kid, my bus ride home from school featured a daily stop at LEGOLAND Windsor. The bus drove all the way up to the front gate, let eager tourists on and off, then drove back out of the park and on its merry way. Maybe if I’d got on a different bus every afternoon I’d have ended up with a proper job, but then, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

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Matthew Loffhagen

When I was a kid, my bus ride home from school featured a daily stop at LEGOLAND Windsor. The bus drove all the way up to the front gate, let eager tourists on and off, then drove back out of the park and on its merry way. Maybe if I’d got on a different bus every afternoon I’d have ended up with a proper job, but then, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

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