Carbon composites do not degrade over time like metal structures that fatigue. One is able to get into a 15-year-old McLaren F1 and there is none of the tiredness or lack of structural integrity that afflicts traditional cars that have suffered a hard life. The 12C will feel as good as new in this respect for decades.

And in the event of an accident, the light weight aluminium alloy front and rear structures are designed to absorb impact forces in a crash and can be replaced relatively easily. Aluminium extrusions and castings are jig welded into the finished assembly and bolted directly to the MonoCell. Cars with full aluminium chassis use their structure to absorb and crumple on impact, which implies more fundamental damage (and expense) to the whole structure, including the passenger cell, in a major accident.

McLaren has pioneered a new carbon fibre production process that allows the MonoCell to be produced to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours, compared to the dozens of carbon components (and dozens of production hours) that normally feature in a carbon fibre chassis structure. This naturally brings huge efficiency and quality benefits. The MonoCell project is managed by Claudio Santoni, McLaren Automotive Body Structures Function Manager.

"It was clear that we needed to develop a car with a carbon fibre structure. After all, McLaren has never made a car with a metal chassis!" said Santoni.

"The whole 12C project is based on the concept of the MonoCell. This means that McLaren can launch into the market with greater performance than our rivals and a safer structure. To put it into perspective, if the costs and complexity of producing a McLaren F1 carbon fibre chassis are taken as a factor of 100, the 12C chassis production costs are reduced to a factor of seven or eight, without degrading the strength or quality of the carbon fibre structure. And this step-change in technology could make its way into more mainstream cars," he concluded.

Getting the production process right is the result of five years of extensive research. Now that the process is perfected, it allows McLaren to produce the MonoCell repeatedly at very high quality.

"Not many people in the automobile world work to standards demanded by the aerospace industry," claimed Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive Programme Director.

"Our ability to analyse and predict the performance of carbon fibre is in line with aerospace technology and is truly world class, particularly in the sense of predicting failure, which is obviously key in managing crash events and passive safety.

"We can now predict failure levels at individual ply level in the carbon composite and the results are absolutely correlating with what we predicted," he concluded.

The finished MonoCell emerges in one piece and this new process could revolutionise car design. It avoids the need to bond different parts to make the whole structure, as with all other carbon fibre cars. It is hollow, saving further weight, and the integrity of production ensures the location of suspension and ancillaries is accurate to the finest of tolerances.

Powertrain: Pure McLaren
The McLaren MP4-12C is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.8 litre V8 engine - the `M838T'. This marks the start of a new era in `core' segment sports cars - smaller capacity, lighter weight, higher efficiency and more economical power units. The engine has the highest specific power output in its segment which, when allied to its low weight carbon composite chassis, delivers exemplary power- and torque-to-weight ratios.

'M838T' is a unique McLaren power unit, developed specifically for the 12C. It is compact, lightweight, very stiff, and offers an uncompromising combination of very high performance and good driveability, with excellent economy and CO2 emission values.

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