Need for Speed: McLaren, Skunk Works Teaming Up Because Why Not?

December 14, 2022Matt White

Legendary British supercar and racing company McLaren announced it will begin using technology developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, joining two companies with little in common besides legendary needs for speed. Photos from McLaren and Lockheed Martin.

McLaren Automotive, makers of Batmobile-like supercars and Formula One race cars, said it will soon team up with the legendary aviation lab that built the SR-71 and the Darkstar jet briefly piloted by Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick.

The automaker announced a partnership Monday, Dec. 12, with Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works.

The announcement of the partnership between the two companies was short on details, but whatever they're working on, it's gonna be fast.

mclaren skunk works

McLaren brought one of its supercars to the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works headquarters to announce a partnership between the companies. Photo courtesy of McLaren.

McLaren builds flashy supercars like the 720S and a new hybrid, the Artura. In the late 1990s, McLaren produced the F1, still among the fastest street-legal cars ever built.

The company's cars sell for many hundreds of thousands of dollars and are designed as street-legal competitors to exotic brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Like nearly all so-called supercars, McLarens are nearly as famous for their cost of ownership as for their speed. Oil changes for the cars begin at about $900, but according to a McLaren dealer in Miami, most owners should "expect McLaren oil change costs to be quite a bit higher."

Now based in Palmdale, California, the Skunk Works is a near-mythical design and building hub at Lockheed, founded by aircraft designers Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich in 1943. Working in secrecy and given a wide berth to design new technologies and unique aircraft, Skunk Works has produced a long series of storied reconnaissance, bomber, and fighter aircraft.

McLaren Skunk Works

The McLaren Artura next to the conceptual model of the Darkstar seen in Top Gun: Maverick, and an F-117 stealth fighter, at top. Photo courtesy of McLaren.

Nearly every Skunk Works design rewrote the rules of military aviation. Skunk Works planes have allowed US pilots to fly too high (the U-2), too fast (the SR-71), and, in recent decades, too stealthily (the F-117, B-2, and new B-21) for enemy air defense systems.

Skunk Works also is said to have collaborated with the producers of Top Gun: Maverick for its depiction of the Darkstar jet, an as-far-as-we-know fictional reconnaissance platform.

According to a McLaren press release announcing the partnership with Skunk Works, industrial design software is at the heart of the project.

"The project will focus on deploying a new Skunk Works’ design system, developed for the world of aviation, into the realms of high-performance, cutting-edge automotive supercar design," the release said.

Both companies showcased some of their latest projects at Skunk Works headquarters, with an Artura parked next to the Darkstar.

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Matt White
Matt White

Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. Know a story about any aspect of the US military that Coffee or Die readers need to know? Email him.

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