Has Rob got one of the best jobs on the planet? Chief Designer at #McLaren

 

bob melville - 50 shades look alike

Love him or hate him, now Jeremy Clarkson seems to have punched his way into professional obscurity from Top Gear, here is an undeniable fact; momentarily putting the lack of a decent hot meal at the end of an eighteen hour shift to one side, he had the perfect set up. Racing top luxury Supercars around a race track, day in day out, globally, whilst being pandered to by the world media. Who, for just a New York minute, wouldn’t wish just a tiny taste of that?

Enter Robert, or as he is known to everyone in club car world, ‘Rob’ Melville. Who was promoted to Chief Designer at #McLaren in January 2015, the ever so sexy British owned design and manufacturer of F1 and Supercars.  If McLaren had a theme tune for what they do, it would surely be The Bodyrockers, ‘I like the way you move.’ Where the staff look casual but any one of them could easily be off to star in a photoshoot at Vogue or GQ magazine.

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Another dream design wish tick – Rob at the 570s launch April 2015 New York – RRP £145,000

Why is his job one of the globe’s killer roles? I guess because he catches all of the fun and iconic creativity but none of the heavyweight heartache of board meetings. In just the way, before Rob was born, the Lamborghini 350GT carved a stake in the ground for the first mass produced Supercar to market, Rob and his team get to steer the luxury market into the future. #McLaren is the only British manufacturer of Supercars that are British designed, British made and the company is British owned.

With an election around the corner, it is beyond belief that politicians haven’t been seen, right & left of the political debate, racing around in one of the four remaining car brands that are made in Britain. Why not? Surely now is the time for our politicians to promote all of our home-made British goods for the world to see. #Justsayin’

Back to Rob. Imagine for just one moment a working life where you get to play around with Supercars for all of your day, every day. When not jetting around the world discussing the design of the latest production Supercar, Rob sits in a large open studio surrounded by people who live and breathe all things sleek, fast and furious. The opportunity to work for months on clay model versions of cars, months agonising and sketching tiny details of curves, shapes, and materials. Then onto the state of the art technology. Working on models of serious cars, cars that that come with a health warning in the wrong hands. Then there’s the arduous chore of test driving the Supercar range as and when. On the track. Racing around the bowel with your hands off the wheel at 150mph. Months seeking out the best way to get a sports seat down to a weight of 5 kg – which can sit in the palm of your hand – a specified sports seat for the McLaren 650s that weighs less than a Mulberry handbag. And making the same seat look sleeker, smarter, richer whilst dramatically affecting the performance of a car that already belongs to the 200club, that’s 200mph in 9.6sec.

If you thought that, like fresher models on the catwalk on London fashion week for the first time, McLaren, Audi R8 and Porsche were all the same car under the bonnet – competing with their own version shell, you couldn’t be more wrong. The McLaren 570s is a rear wheel drive, Audi V10 a 4 wheel drive, Porsche 911s comes with a rear engine. Three very different cars for three very different types of driving. It’s a Marmite thing.

What surprised me when I met Rob, given that I believe most guys and quite a few women would kill for his job, was how unassuming he was. Humble. Really down to earth. And maybe that’s why the new 570s – a knuckle biting instant iconic want-to-have car, launched April 1st in Geneva and New York, is so freakin’, well, awesome.

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Photo: ©MCBrowne 2015

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Photo: © McLaren 2015

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Photo: 570s © MCBrowne 2015

 

The new 570s is Naomi Campbell sleek, but full of its own character that screams questions at you and answers them all as it wizzes past at 200mph in 9.6 sec’s.

Given that McLaren only stepped into the retail car market four years ago, it’s an amazing British design and technological response to a market desperate to enjoy the pleasure of great success on a relatively low budget. I say low – the technology of the car matches that of models at double the price. Or more. 562HP (hence the name – rounded up to 570) which translates into 0 – 60 in 3 secs: yeah I said 3, up to 204mph, and looks like few other cars irrespective of the price. When the 570s gets delivered in November 2015; two things are assured, you’ve never seen a car like it – and you have definitely not heard one like it before. The exhaust is technologically finite, don’t take my word for it, you will know it when you hear it. My only criticism is that the McLaren orange looks so distinct and recognisable they could have taken the Henry Ford approach and said ‘You can have any colour as long as it’s orange.’ Instead it comes in 17 different colours – and guess what? It would seem that when ordering a car people really do love black, white and grey cars.

In one sweep of the white silk unveiling, the new 570s has made the Porsche 911s look – well  – dowdy; like the once beautiful, now too blonde, Aunt found in the corner at family gatherings. Audi are launching the new R8 V10 plus, a slower new car into the same market in a few months. I say slower – I have been quoted 0.60 in 3.2 sec – You do the math.

 So what sort of guy is he? The one with the dream job.

Aged thirty eight, with looks that could place him as the brother to Jamie Doran’s Mr Grey in the next Fifty Shades movie, he moves through the room unnoticed. No laughing or back slapping here. If you check out his LinkedIn page it reads like; no disrespect, but one great big preppie yawn…

Royal College of Art – 1st prize. Ist Degree. Masters sponsored, naturally etc etc . But what struck me is how unaffected he is about what he has achieved at such a young age, and that what he does for a living is really awesome to most, but he doesn’t seem to realise it.

Normally when you meet someone who is at the top of their game it is difficult to get beyond the spin. Rob, well, he is consumed by design. Aged ten his great joy was to sit on a wall and draw any animals that moved. When he was a stroppy teenager his very astute mother’s reaction to any outburst was to hand him a set of pencils and a sketch pad. If ever there is an argument for nature v’s nurture it is people like Rob. Could he or would he have been destined to do anything other than design, my guess is not.

 

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Geneva 570s Launch April 2015

Leaving the Royal College of Art in 2003 he started work with Land Rover. Then a stint at General Motors Advanced Design, as Senior Designer, working across the range, which include Hummer and Cadillac. Cars we all drive or want to take us out on stag nights, wedding’s and buy, if we do well. Then he joined McLaren Automotive in 2009 and has led the designs of the McLaren P1™, 650S and P1GTR.

To the question: What’s the last album you downloaded?’ he replied, ‘I’m not sure, last year I downloaded every top twenty, only I haven’t had time to listen to them all. Oh and Madonna.’  I’ll forgive him. Design is what he lives and breathes. He can tell you every fact and figure about McLaren from the production capacity (4500 cars) to the sales expectation of the new 570s (2500 in Year One) but he can speak with confidence about almost every car in the world, with an ease and charm. When he starts getting really excited about something McLaren call biomimicry – where cars mimic the way animals move – my eyes glaze over.

He also interested in other areas, all design related. His conversation is smattered with references as to how things move. I am pretty sure he doesn’t realise. If I am painting the picture of a car bore then let me surprise you. He is married with three children and a puppy that rushes everywhere. He tells me about the way the family pet rushes around, in great detail, and doesn’t realise how linked his enthusiasm is to what he does. Nor did he know I was writing this article.  I guess when you have immersed yourself in cars for twelve years it must be a challenge to find down time. My next curiosity was, ‘What phone?’ An I phone – the old 5 model!  He admitted to not having time or interest to go out and search for the best phone right now. So in just the same way that David Beckham turns up at a press event, then queues for a cup of tea behind everyone else; Rob is what he is, no airs nor graces, no pretensions of grandeur. What next? Surely he can’t go on designing cars forever? He’s hooked on adrenaline, shape and form and it’s got to be perfect. With Lamborghini announcing they are driving forward a car launch in 2016 to compete with McLaren 570s and the Porsche 911s, it looks like there is enough competition to keep him and his colleagues interested. And as long as people like Rob are not fiddling with their latest phone and simply and quietly getting on with their dream job, our British Supercar industry is safe right back into the future.

(The other three British owned car companies are Bristol, Caterham and Morgan.)

Thanks go to Rob Melville who gave me permission to publish my unfettered opinion of both McLaren cars and him…

 

MCBrowne ©2016

Twitter @BooksbyMCBrowne

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