Merrill Burton (special operations workshop manager) has a pick-up that he “found rusting outside a garage in Italy and then rebuilt it into my cool wedding car”.
Russell Hancox (project lead technician) has a 1966 bus, which was abandoned in Los Angeles. “Friends found a damaged shell in a scrapyard and then I remade it with subtle customised touches,” he says.
Senior engineer Jason Savory’s 1966 Ford Falcon wagon is a remarkable Aussie people-carrier. “It seats six and I bought it when I was in Australia 15 years ago. I shipped it back and use it for camping holidays and days out.”
Design engineer Robin Murrell’s Morris Minor has an equally heartwarming back story, being his first car at 15 and regularly upgraded since with Fiat Mirafiori power.
Rather more McLarensque is the Lotus contingent. Indeed, our gathering acted as a dating service, bringing together McLaren’s Exige owners. Andy Melville (principal concept engineer) has an S1 and says: “The toughest decision was choosing an orange or blue one.”
David Futcher (project engineer) has a 2010 Exige: “I had an Elise before and love the sheer driveability.”
Mark Roberts (design operations) currently has an Exige S and is a serial Elise owner and ex-Lotus employee. “I wanted a more extreme driving experience and I use it every day,” he says.Among the Exiges is a Lotus Evora, which belongs, in more ways than one, to Steve Crijns (senior designer). “It was originally my company car when I worked at Lotus and I designed the exterior, as well as the Exige and S2 Elise.” Respect.
There is one more addition to the lightweight Norfolk line-up. “I annoy the others by saying that mine is even more of a Lotus, simply because they developed the engine,” says James Washer (powertrain engineer). Yes, he has a Vauxhall VX220, which he has had supercharged.
A sort of Lotus hybrid would be a Noble M12 GTO-3R. Elie Talj (project engineer) has always wanted one. “I’d seen it on YouTube back in Oz and it has cost me way more than I can afford,” he says.
Even in their spare time, McLaren employees are building cars. Robert Yates (principal SQA engineer) is responsible for his Caterham Seven racer. “I really wanted to build my own car and then race it,” he says. “The Caterham Academy is an excellent package that allowed me to do this.” Was it easy to build? “The instructions could have been better.”
Yates not only built the car properly, like a McLaren, but also finished second in his academy year and drove to every race. His other car is a Toyota iQ.
Surprisingly, there is just the one Porsche here today. Diana Cordingley-Clark (SAP functional lead finance) shares her Porsche 911 Carrera 4 with her husband as a track car.
Track-day cars are something of a theme. Paul Reynolds (design engineer) took a humble 1.4-litre Honda Civic and then made it better. “It has now an Integra engine, Kevlar seat, six-point rollcage and Fujitsubo exhaust.”
A rather more complete Civic Type R belongs to Mark Salmon (graduate engineer). “This is the most fun and interesting car I could afford,” he says.
Inevitably, there are Mazda MX-5s. Jack Prior (digital variant configurator) put a joke bid on eBay and found he’d bought one, but he has no regrets. Dimitri Havel (functional safety engineer) has a 2000 example and says: “I love driving home to France with the top down. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Rebecca Ewing (senior PDM co-ordinator) adores her 1990 MX-5, which is lowered, with a Mk2 hood and, most significant, “a MiniDisc player so I don’t have to listen to anyone else’s poor taste in music”.
There is more Japanese metal in the shape of some Nissan 350Zs, which belong to Mark Milne (controls engineer) and Greg Forsey (design engineer), whose example is a lightly modified one.
Finance analyst Justyna Gajda’s 2007 Suzuki Swift Sport arrived after six months of arguing with her fiancé: “Despite the fact you can feel every bump, I absolutely love it.”
Luigi Testa (SQA engineer) had been after a Honda S2000 since coming to Britain. “I was fascinated by the way it looked, the legendary engine and amazing dynamic response,” he says.
BMWs are certainly a thing in the McLaren car park. Paul Howse (senior designer) has a 2000 Touring, which he bought “because they are cheaper than saloons, and I figured that if people used them every day in the 1970s, then why not now?”
Hybrid engineer Damjan Mahne has an E36-generation M3 Evo as an everyday car and he plans “to take it to half a million miles”. Well, design engineer Harley Gasson’s E46-generation M3 has racked up an impressive 205,000 miles.
A more conventional BMW belongs to Duncan Forrester (corporate communications manager). It’s a 630i Convertible. “It’s the only proper four-seat family convertible I could find,” he says. “I’d also helped launch it in the UK.”
Bringing us right up to BMW date is operations engineering manager Damon Jones and his 2015 M4. However, a Z3 M sort of brings us back to the 2000 Touring, and Richard Jones (project engineer) has a magnificent example. “It scared me when I first drove it, but that was a good thing. This is a true icon,” he says.
The Down Under M car is arguably the Vauxhall Monaro, which belongs to Pete Sell (product specialist). “It ticked my V8 box and is easy to live with and a good daily driver.”
There is even an Autocar icon that once went sideways on our cover. The Maserati Ghibli Cup owner is now Nick Tallis (principal engineer). “There are only 24 right-hand-drive ones left and I love the challenge of keeping such a unique car on the road,” Nick says.
Not only do I meet old cover stars but also old friends, and Wayne Bruce (global communications director) has his Audi RS4 Avant “in my favourite colour, Nogaro Blue. I’ve loved Audis since my journalist days, and my dad had an original A8, which is also in my garage.”
Wasim Sheikh (electric drive engineer) has an A5 3.0 TDI quattro “to make a long commute more comfortable, with subtle mods to personalise it”.
I’m reassured to find a proper barge or two. Matt Bishton (press fleet co-ordinator) has a lovely 2001 Jaguar XJ Sport, all £270 worth of it, complete with a huge dent in the rear offside door. “It may be Cat C, but it has a full Jaguar history and is lovely to drive,” he says.
A more sporting barge is senior design engineer Dan Alexander’s Alfa Romeo. He makes no excuses for his 166 3.0 Lusso. “This is my everyday car and I bought it because it looks gorgeous and I like Alfas.” But is it reliable? “It has its moments.”
Peter Rees (functional lead) has a Volkswagen Scirocco that isn’t a banger, but it was free: “My friend’s dad suspected the fuel system had a terminal fault, so he gave it away. I fitted a new battery, waggled the fuel relay and drove it to the MOT station, where they issued a fresh ticket.”
It must be 1995, since there are two Sciroccos in the same car park. A 1988 GTX belonging to Pedro Rubio (performance engineer) is, he admits, “a nostalgia purchase”.
Stuart Holloman (quality engineer) is a VW fan with a Corrado VR6. He “couldn’t wait to buy one and this is the first one I saw”.
As well as the classics, there is the shock of the brand new. Nineteen-year-old Lewis Tapp (quality auditor) has spent every penny he has to buy “my dream car”, which is a Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
So what have we learned? Well, the people who make McLarens are clearly nuts about cars. That’s just the sort of news that any McLaren buyer would love to hear.