McLaren Auto Head Antony Sherrif '85 Talks Love of Formula 1, Joy of Making Sports Cars

Motor Trend: Almost Famous: McLaren's New Supercar a Bigger Hit Than Expected in America

By Angus MacKenzie

McLaren Automotive boss Antony Sheriff ['85] admits he wasn't sure how the McLaren MP4-12C would be received in America. And he speaks with some authority on the issue: Though he's lived and worked in Europe for many years, Sheriff was born and raised in the U.S., graduating from Swarthmore College with degrees in engineering and economics before starting his career as a product planner for Chrysler in 1987.

"I was one of the crazies who used to get up at 6 a.m. to watch Formula 1 on ESPN, and knew all about McLaren," he says as we sip espressos at the Geneva show. "Most of my friends didn't. Most racing enthusiasts were weekend club racers, and maybe went to a few IndyCar races. And it's been a long time since the Bruce and Denny show," he adds, referring to company founder Bruce McLaren and fellow New Zealander Denis Hulme, who utterly dominated the legendary Can-Am series of the late '60s in their thundering orange McLaren M8 sports racers.

So Sheriff counseled caution as McLaren planners pondered likely sales numbers for the MP4-12C here in America. He worried the McLaren name simply wasn't famous enough to command respect among buyers also kicking the tires on Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Turns out he was wrong. As McLaren built its 1000th MP4-12C in late February, fully 40 percent of the orders for the car were coming from the U.S. "We underestimated - I underestimated - the level of knowledge and enthusiasm," Sheriff says...

So what does McLaren do for an encore? "Right now we have one...two...three...four variants or completely new models actively under development," says Sheriff. "We're spending large amounts of money." He adds McLaren will have a full model lineup on display at next year's Geneva show. Concepts? He smiles. "We don't do show cars."...

And will there be a McLaren equivalent of the Ferrari FF or Porsche Panamera? Sheriff smiles again. "My short- and medium-term vision is that we make sports cars with the engine where it should be: behind the driver. And there'll be two seats. We are a sports car company."...