Bruce McLaren

McLaren is tweeting pictures for the 44th anniversary of Bruce McLaren’s death testing the CanAm car at Goodwood. He was an engaging man, generous with his time from the moment I met him in 1964, ironically at Goodwood when I accompanied Jackie Stewart to one of the famous test sessions with Ken Tyrrell in the Cooper BMC. Car no 5 was at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, a practice picture just before La Source hairpin a short walk from the paddock. Race day was dry and the M7A doesn’t have the small spoiler used in the race. Bruce won the grand prix; a little luckily perhaps after Denny Hulme in the other McLaren went out battling for the lead with Jackie Stewart’s Matra-Ford. Stewart had led most of the way but ran out of fuel with a lap to go. Pedro Rodriguez (BRM) challenged
the McLaren on the last lap but it, too, was spluttering through empty tanks and finished second. Spa was a good result for McLaren, which had only just started using Ford-Cosworth DFV engines. On the grid at Silverstone (right) with the McLaren BRM, never very competitive, McLaren in the cockpit with Tyler Alexander. Car No 4 (below) looks like practice day for the BRDC International Trophy race on March 30, 1969. Wings were growing taller as their effect on cornering speeds was becoming apparent and engineers were sure that their downforce had to be exerted directly into the hub carriers on the wheels. The following week collapsing wings on Graham Hill’s and Jochen Rindt’s Lotuses at Montjuich led to accidents, which outlawed wings on stalks like this. McLaren was 6th in the International Trophy, a lap down on Brabham, who won with wings bearing down on both front and rear wheels.

100 BEST CARS

Mini, McLaren, Jaguar and Range Rover are easy leaders in Autocar’s list of Britain’s best-ever 100 cars. I’ve no problem endorsing the first couple of dozen but, notwithstanding Gordon Murray’s ingenious contribution, the Yamaha Motiv.e at 5 looks like lip-service to greenery-yallery. The Jaguar XJ220 also poses a question. It was neither a commercial nor technical success and needed a lot of fettling before it reached reality. Driving it was like looking at the world through a letterbox. The Aston Martins in the list are an odd bunch with no ground-breaking DB2, elegant DBS or Ian Callum DB7. Similarly it’s difficult to include a D-type Jaguar – OK on the Mulsanne straight but a bit of a handful on corners – and leave out the C-type which was more precise and exciting.
McLaren F1 (above): Collected daughter Joanna from school during my road test. She’s older now, still beautiful.
Austin-Healey Sprite. 71st. This was my second one at Turnberry. Wonderfully crisp, precise car.
Lotuses are questionable on grounds of quality and reliability but I’m surprised there is no Elan Plus2S. It was beautifully proportioned. I once did 300 miles in three hours with one. There you are the older I get the faster I was. I would not include any TVR; all I drove were just brute force and ignorance. Blower Bentleys were something of an aberration. I suppose they were glamorous but never won anything like the unsupercharged cars. Derby Bentleys are missing from the list. Surely the Silent Sports Car deserves better. Jensen-Healey – delete. Not well made, hastily modified and really quite dull. Same goes for the Daimler Dart SP250. The Edward Turner engine was ok but Daimler was so strapped for cash it had to cobble up a horrid plastic body that creaked and cracked.
One of my first drives in an E-type; Scottish Motor Show after introduction at Geneva in 1961 (below), with Jaguar apprentice Clive Martin.
No Bristols please. Except for the BMW-based 400 and the beautiful 404 they were heavy and lugubrious. I never went for the mystique so assiduously promoted by writers like the matchless Leonard Setright. Triumph Stag? I thought it was rubbish when I went on the press launch. Hillman Imp? I owned one and when it went it was OK; I drove it to Maranello where I had lunch with Enzo Ferrari, but it was not made very well. Same goes for any Avenger, even the Avenger Tiger. The press launch was on Malta where we couldn’t drive them far enough to grow suspicious of unreliability. The Morgan 3 wheeler or Plus 4 were fine, but the Plus 8 was where Morgan began to lose its way and power outstripped handling. I wouldn’t include a Delorean in any list except perhaps one on how not to develop a sports car. It was terrible. Reliant Scimitar? A definite maybe. Triumph TR5 - not bad until they put a wiggly independent back-end on making it pitch and curtsy. Triumph 1300 absolutely not. And why relegate the MGA to 95th? Shame
Range Rover. Deserves its place. Took this on the press launch by Goonhilly Down, 1970.



Love lists
Hillman Imp. On road test for The Motor with Penny Duckworth by door. Pre-launch picture so badges taped over.

100.Range Rover Evoque 99. Ginetta G40R 98. Vauxhall Astra 97. Marcos TSO 96. Honda Civic 95. MGA 94. Vauxhall Chevette HSR 93. Triumph Dolomite Sprint 92. Allard J2 91. Honda Jazz 90. Sunbeam Tiger 89. Nissan Juke 88. Invicta Black Prince 87. Noble M12 86. Lotus Carlton 85. Caterham Seven 160 84. Caparo T1 83. Rolls-Royce 10 HP 82. Triumph TR5 PI 81. Radical RXC 80. Triumph 1300 79. Daimler SP250 Dart 78. Morgan 4/4 77. Renault Megane RS 225 76. Noble M600 75. Lotus Sunbeam 74. Morgan Plus 8 73. BAC Mono 72. Gordon-Keeble 71. Austin-Healey Sprite 70. MGB GT 69. Bristol Fighter 68. Ford Cortina 1600E 67. Bowler EXR 66. AC Ace 65. Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow 64. Austin FX4 63. Napier-Railton 62. Caterham Supersport 61. Triumph 2000 60. Jaguar F-type 59. Morgan 3-wheeler 58. Reliant Scimitar 57. TVR Sagaris 56. Ford Escort RS2000 55. Bentley Continental GT 54. Ford Capri RS3100 53. Delorean DMC-12 52. Aston Martin V8 51. Ascari KZ1 50. Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 49. Subaru Impreza WRC 48. Hillman Avenger Tiger 47. Triumph Stag 46. Hillman Imp 45. Lister Storm 44. Rover P5B 43. Lotus Evora 42. Rover P6 3500S 41. Nissan Qashqai 40. Ariel Atom 39. Vauxhall Prince Henry 38. Aston Martin One-77 37. Rover 75 36. Jaguar XJ 35. Austin Seven 34. Bristol Blenheim 33. Lotus Cortina 32. Austin-Healey 3000 31. Aston Martin Vanquish 30. Lotus Seven 29. Land Rover 28. Jensen-Healey 27. Lotus Esprit 26. MG Midget 25. McLaren 12C 24. Morris Minor 23. Lotus Elan 22. TVR Speed 12 21. Rover SD1 20. TVR Chimaera 19. BMW Mini 18. Bentley Blower 17. Jaguar XF 16. Ford GT40 15. Rolls-Royce Phantom 14. Lotus Elise 13. Jaguar D-type 12. Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 11. Jensen FF 10. Ford Escort Mexico 9. TVR Griffith 8. Aston Martin DB5 7. Jaguar XJ220 6. McLaren P1 5. Yamaha MOTIV.e 4. Range Rover 3. Jaguar E-type 2. McLaren F1 1. original Mini

Works Austin-Healey 3000 rally car test. I am the fresh-faced youth.

Hunt vs Lauda

Hunt and Lauda. What I wrote at the time. The Guardian 25 October, 1976.
No writer of fiction would have dared drag out the suspense of a world motor racing championship to the closing minutes of a year long, 16 race series. The final laps in the Grand Prix of Japan, when it looked as though Niki Lauda might keep the title as James Hunt’s McLaren suffered tyre trouble, contained the sort of drama only expected in a Frankenheimer movie.The blond hero did not win the race, but he won the cham-pionship, while the battle scarred Austrian, who had seemed unassailable in June, retired
because he couldn’t see through Fuji’s October fog. It was a brave decision. He returns to Europe for an operation to an eyelid which still does not close, a legacy of his Nürburgring injuries.
The season’s acrimony and protests will not be forgotten. The legal wrangles may have failed to get Lauda the drivers’ title, although they did gain Enzo Ferrari the constructors’ championship which, for the 78 year old Master of Maranello, is probably more important. His attachment to his cars is emotional and he remains the most powerful man in motor racing, Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula One constructors notwithstanding. They are no match for Ferrari, who directs events by remote control without ever leaving his shuttered industrial fortress on the plains of Lombardy.
Lauda’s courage will be remembered longer than his cavalier attitude towards the press, and the enthusiasts who tried to meet him or, pursue him for his autograph. The most they usually see is the closed door of his caravan,- or his helicopter as he flies back for more testing at Fiorano. Here, he hones his cars to perfection, and the moment he stops, as after his accident, their edge is lost.
James Hunt will be remembered for a calmness and maturity surprising to those who knew him in his early days. He is accessible, entertaining, and seems to drive racing cars because he enjoys it. No cool technician like Lauda, who may have his head and his heart in his driving, Hunt has his soul in it.
It is difficult not to draw a comparison between Hunt and Britain’s first world champion, Mike Hawthorn. Hunt has the same boyish good looks, the same easygoing manner, and the same sort of zest. You could never picture Jackie Stewart with a pint in his hand; there was never anything boisterous about Jack Brabham. Denny Hulme was positively monastic. Hunt’s talent is like Hawthorn’s, at its best against the odds and enjoying a challenge, and although occasionally inconsistent it stems from a natural athletic urge.
He is different from Jim Clark, who was shy and retiring. Clark’s talent amounted to genius, and he would take whatever car he was given and make it go faster than anyone else in the world; his sense of balance and accuracy of vision were so highly developed that he adjusted to the car not the other way round.
Jackie Stewart had natural talent too, but it was focused more on making the car suit him. His gift was precise communication with his engineers. He could describe how the car behaved and would have it constantly improved.
Graham Hill was a man of iron will, who won races with more courage and determination than inborn skill at the wheel. Like Lauda he recovered from a terrible accident, but Lauda added an understanding of the complex electronic test facilities Ferrari employs to match the car to each circuit before it reaches the start line.
Jack Brabham was a talented engineer, who knew his car’s theoretical limitations and would calmly experiment as he drove until he established what they were in practice. He almost invented the science of chassis tuning, adjusting ride height, spring rates and so on 17 years ago. John Surtees, champion in 1964 for Ferrari, was another practical driver, perhaps relying even more than Brabhani on how the car felt through the seat of his pants.
There will be no monasticism for the new world champion. He keeps in training, but by inclination, not stricture. He will be a successful ambassador for his country and for motor racing, with all the qualities of a classic schoolboy hero.
In an interview after the Japanese Grand Prix Lauda defended his decision to pull out of the race after two laps. “There is a limit in any profession or sport,” he said. “The cars are not suitable for driving through so much water. When logic tells you that things will not work right, to me it is the normal human reaction to draw the inevitable conclusion, not to say ‘I hope for a miracle’ - and a miracle it was, in my opinion, that there were no fatal accidents.”
FINAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS. Hunt (GB) 69, Lauda (Austria) 68, Scheckter (S. Africa) 49, Depaillier (France) 39, Regazzoni (Switzerland) 31, Andretti (US) 22, Lafitte (France) 20, Watson (N. Ireland) 20, Mass (Germany 19, Nilsson (Sweden) 11, Peterson (Sweden (10) Pryce (GB) 10, Stuck (Germany) 8, Pace (Brazil) 7, Jones (Australia) 7; Reutemann (Argentina) 3. Amos (NZ) 2, Stommelen (Germany) 1, Brambilla (Italy) 1.

Following the film RUSH and the Motor Sport retro video the BBC repeated its splendid Hunt/Lauda documentary last night with Simon Taylor, one of the stars of the film, who said “This is indeed a completely new documentary. It includes fresh interviews with Daniele Audetto, Alistair Caldwell, Niki himself, even James’ sister (who has never appeared talking about her brother before, apparently). I have only been allowed to see snatches, but they were enough to indicate that the researchers have managed to find some remarkable footage from 1976 that was new, as well as the old familiar stuff.”
I was motor racing correspondent of The Guardian at the time. Italian newspapers took up what they perceived as criticism of Enzo Ferrari, and he basked in the view of himself as influential as Bernie Ecclestone. He responded personally to me the following year. I framed the letter.

RUSH

Disappointing that Guy Edwards is never given his due in Rush, the movie on James Hunt and Niki Lauda. In 1976 Edwards helped pull Lauda out of his burning Ferrari, earning him a Queen’s Gallantry Medal. The omission is one of the flaws in a good film. The drama is well caught, and while it is almost creepy to watch people you knew quite well recreated in a feature film, some of the detail should have been better researched.
James’s Guild of Motoring Writers’ Driver of the Year Award seems to have taken place in a seedy night club full of girls, rather than the RAC in Pall Mall. He won the title twice and the film portrays the trophy as a little silver cup, which it isn’t. Scorning formal attire while the rest of us sat applauding in black ties, he made a witty speech. Demoting the occasion to a night club missed the point. By turning up at the RAC in open-necked shirt and plimsolls he was telling us someting.
A real Guild Driver of the Year Trophy. Jim Clark's of 1963.
Still, the portrayals of James (Chris Hemsworth) (left above) and Niki (Daniel Brühl) are absolutely spot-on. Voices and mannerisms are completely authentic even if the script is careless. Alexander Hesketh’s sudden arrival and departure from Formula 1 was nothing like that, and the idea of “champers in the pits” as the extent of the team’s high living was nothing like that either. The most permissive censor would have blanched at the truth. Alexander was much noisier and heartier than his screen counterpart.
Louis Stanley was far more pompous and self-important, called everybody by surname. He even called Jackie “Stewart” in the ambulance after his accident at Spa. Yet the actor failed to catch “Big Lou’s” essential humanity. The film somehow misses Teddy Meyer’s excitement in Japan, holding his fingers up to tell a disbelieving James he was world champion.
However I can vouch for the veracity of James’s airliner experiences, portrayed graphically in the film. I sat with him in a Tristar on an overnight flight to the Middle East. Tristars had a tiny lift to the galley, with what was euphemistically referred to as a lounge area for off-duty stewardesses, below the passenger deck. At least twice (while I dozed I may say) James caught the lift. I never knew if it was two stewardesses or the same one twice. Or two at the same time.
Hard to believe Guy Richard Goronwy Edwards QGM is 70. After a glancing blow to Lauda’s crashing Ferrari, togther with Brett Lunger, Arturo Merzario and Harald Ertl, Guy stopped and went back to the burning car. In 1998 he told Autosport: “I could see him. I had time to run back and save him. It was very difficult. Petrol fires are awful and this was a big one. The heat and noise were incredible. I was running and thinking - do I really want to do this? The honest answer was No Way. But what could I do? Stop and walk back? The flames were so thick, I couldn't see the bastard. It was hot and there was choking dust everywhere. I knew it was now or never and with a desperate sense or urgency, and help from other drivers, feeling quite desperate, we were banging against each other, pulling, cursing and just struggling. His shoulder straps came away in my hands and it was incredibly frustrating, the heat was just so physical. I got hold of an arm and a good grip on his body and the little sod came out with all of us falling in a heap. We pulled him out like a cork from a bottle.”
Niki’s worst burns were the result of catch fencing he had run into, knocking his helmet off. The track was blocked and the race restarted. Lunger’s and Ertl’s cars were too damaged to resume but Merzario and Edwards lined up on the depleted grid. Merzario lasted 3 laps, Edwards finished 15th in the old Hesketh, sponsored by Penthouse, painted up with a girl on the front. I was covering the race as a journalist and stayed up half the night writing Niki’s obituary.
Best line in the film? James to Niki: “You’re the only person I know who could get his face burned off and come out better looking.” Sums it up really.

Portraits of F1

In 1967 the BRDC’s “May” Silverstone was on April 29th. A muddle on the international calendar had brought Monaco uncomfortably close, so there weren’t enough Formula 1 cars for a non-championship race at Silverstone. May was traditional for the Daily Express Trophy at a time when newspapers could afford to sponsor a Formula 1 race.
So there were no works Cooper-Maseratis or Anglo-American Eagles, and BRM, Lotus, and Ferrari could manage only one car apiece. The field was further depleted on the Wednesday before first practice, when the JA Pearce Racing Organisation transporter mysteriously caught fire. It had been parked infield on the Club Circuit with two Pearce-Martins and a Cooper-Ferrari aboard, all of which were destroyed. Tony Lanfranchi, Earl Jones and Robin Darlington were left without drives, however Pearce emerged almost unscathed. Apparently he had the lot insured for £100,000.
I was photographing drivers on the grid with my big Rollieflex, a twin lens reflex with beautiful optics. When you got everything right it took superb pictures but getting everything right meant an exposure meter and, well, it wasn’t handy. Heavy and clumsy, it used expensive 120 film, so if you weren’t getting paid a lot for pictures it was not very commercial.
Mike Parkes (above) was driving a 1966 long-chassis Ferrari, a stretched one that suited his 6ft 4in. Ferrari was trying out various cylinder heads on its V12 in 1966-1967, quad-cams, two-valve, three-valve and Parkes had a new one in which the inlet and exhaust arrangements were reversed, so instead of exhaust pipes draped over the sides like spaghetti in the slipstream, they were bundled up in the middle.
Son of Alvis’s chairman, Mike had joined Ferrari in 1963, more as a development engineer than a driver, working up the 330GTC road car, but he quickly became a leading member of the sports car team. In 1961 he had been second at Le Mans with Willy Mairesse in a 250 Testa Rossa, and was successful driving Maranello Concessionaires’ Ferraris. In 1964 he won the Sebring 12 Hours, in 1965 the Spa 500Km and the Monza 100Km, gaining his place in Formula 1 when John Surtees departed Ferrari in a huff.
Parkes drove in four grands prix in 1966, coming second at Rheims on his debut (and only his second grand prix), had two dnfs, and then was second again in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It was an astonishing start to what looked like a promising career. At Silverstone BRM had one H16 for Jackie Stewart, who matched Parkes in practice, and two V8s for Mike Spence and Chris Irwin. Lotus had a 2litre BRM V8 in Graham Hill’s car, a token entry while it was developing the Ford-Cosworth V8, which would make its sensational debut for Clark and Hill at Zandvoort a month later.
Parkes led almost the entire 52 laps to win the International Trophy, pursued by Jack Brabham (Brabham-Repco) and Jo Siffert in Rob Walker’s Cooper-Maserati. Stewart had kept up with him in the early stages until the BRM’s universal joint bolts sheared.
TOP Mike Parkes (1931-1977) with Tommy Wisdom (1907-1972) motoring journalist and veteran driver in 11 Le Mans races, Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and multiple Alpine and Monte Carlo rallies. In June Parkes’ grand prix career was cut short on lap 1 of the Belgian Grand Prix, when he crashed breaking both legs. He returned to sports cars, engineered the Lancia Stratos, and died in a collision on the road.
RIGHT Bruce McLaren (1937-1970) at the wheel of his McLaren-BRM V8, in which he finished 5th in the Daily Express International Trophy. Founder of McLaren Racing, he died at Goodwood in a freak accident with a Can-Am car.
BELOW Mike Spence (1936-1968) Already a veteran of four seasons’ grand prix racing, likeable talented Spence finished 6th in his BRM at Silverstone. A month after Jim Clark’s fatal accident at Hockenheim a year later, Spence took over Clark’s entry at Indianapolis and was killed in a practice accident.

McLaren Can-Am again


McLaren confirmed plans at the American Grand Prix to make 12Cs for racing. It showed a concept at Pebble Beach and while Andrew Kirkaldy, Managing Director of McLaren GT explained that it had been a one-off design study, the reaction was remarkable. “It is a real testament to the performance and results of the McLaren GT customer teams this year, still only in the debut competitive season, that there is such a strong demand for this type of track-day special.”

It won’t be a road car like the one Bruce McLaren planned. See http://www.dovepublishing.co.uk/2012/11/mclaren-m6gt-prototype.html

The limited edition track special, “pays tribute to Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme who successfully raced a series of McLaren models in the Can-Am series, claiming a string of championships between them.” Amazingly the new car looks a lot like the old one. How prescient Bruce McLaren turns out to be. McLaren GT, the racing car manufacturing part of the group, will produce no more than 30 of the 12C GT Can-Am Edition. The ultimate track car it will not be subject to the strict racing regulations. Each will have an unrestricted version of the 3.8litre twin-turbo V8 engine with unique calibration to provide 630bhp, making it the most powerful 12C yet produced.

The dramatic appearance is dominated by a big carbon fibre wing, part of “a unique high downforce aerodynamic package which has been honed by McLaren Racing using Formula 1 technology and simulation, offering an increase in downforce by 30 per cent.” More carbon fibre differentiates it from the GT3 racing version. Door mirror mounts and covers, engine cover vents, side radiator intake vanes, sill covers and badges complete the appearance. The 12C GT Can-Am Edition has black satin-finished forged lightweight racing alloy wheels and with Pirelli racing tyres. It also has a full FIA-approved race-specification rollcage, two black race seats, six-point harnesses, and a McLaren GT steering wheel. Its shape and grip comes from the McLaren MP4-24 Formula 1 car.

And for gentleman racers there is, “an integrated motorsport air conditioning system incorporated in the bespoke lightweight carbon fibre dashboard. And if they really want to play racers buyers can have bespoke support packages from McLaren GT. An optional extra on the price of £375,000.

Bright Spark?

Some press releases are too good to ignore. Back in August the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) agreed to licence commercial rights of its Formula E Championship to, “a consortium of international investors, Formula E Holdings Ltd (FEH).” Formula E is for electric “Formula” cars, presumably open-wheelers. “It represents a vision for the future of the motor industry over the coming decades.”

Well, maybe. That's what Camille Jenatzy (right) thought in 1899.

Behind FEH is London-based entrepreneur Enrique Bañuelos, CEO and shareholder is former MEP and racing team owner Alejandro Agag. Also associated are Lord Drayson, Labour’s old Minister for Science, and Eric Barbaroux, Chairman of the French electric automotive company "Electric Formula". Demonstrations of Formula E cars start next year, followed by a championship in 2014 with an objective of 10 teams and 20 drivers. The races "will be ideally" staged in the heart of the world’s leading cities, around their main landmarks. Well, maybe.

With luminaries like Drayson and an ex MEP involved, they'll be looking for subsidies from greenies. Paying customers would never make an electric grand prix commercial, yet expect FEH to be awash with taxpayer cash. And expect more announcements like: FOUNDATION OF SPARK RACING TECHNOLOGY. OFFICIAL SUPPLIER OF THE FIA FORMULA E CHAMPONSHIP. PARIS, 12th November 2012: Frédéric Vasseur is pleased to announce the birth of Spark Racing Technology, a company dedicated to the creation and assembly of cars participating in the FIA World Championship Formula E. E for electric, exciting, efficiency, environment, and last but not least, a new era. Well, maybe.

Spark Racing Technology will be part of a newly founded consortium whose purpose is to design the most efficient electric cars possible, in regard to mechanical, electrical, electronics and engine. Frédéric Vasseur is proud to announce that McLaren is among the key players in the said consortium. The collaboration of Spark Racing Technology with a major car manufacturer whose reputation and success speak for themselves is a guarantee of success and innovation. McLaren will provide the engine, transmission and electronics for the cars being assembled by Spark Racing Technology.

The FIA Formula E Championship will be launched in 2014.

The press release waxes lyrical. It will run exclusively in major international cities and it has all the assets needed to reach a worldwide audience, becoming a bridge between the old and new era of industry and motorsport. Frédéric Vasseur (CEO, Spark Racing Technology): “I am proud and happy to give birth to this project that is innovative and extremely rewarding for a company both technically and philosophically. Personally, I can write a new chapter, regardless of my other ventures in motorsport. Confidence and commitment from our partner McLaren is a guarantee of quality and reliability without which this project would not have been possible. The association with a globally recognized car manufacturer is definitely the right way to go. Sport and society are evolving and Spark Racing Technology is proud to be the pioneer and leader in the new field of electric cars that will revolutionize the motor racing industry and attitude.”

You can only hope that Martin Whitmarsh (Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes) had his tongue in his cheek: “I’m a passionate believer in the role that motorsport can play in showcasing and spearheading the development of future technologies, and regard the Formula E concept as an exciting innovation for global motorsport. McLaren has worked with Frédéric Vasseur for many years, and our association has been very successful. Working together in Formula E, McLaren’s world-class technology and Spark Racing Technology’s expert knowledge will combine to allow both companies to stay at the forefront of technical innovation and hopefully open up great opportunities for the racing cars of tomorrow.”

Or maybe not. Thought of a London Grand Prix in 1981 for Sunday Magazine

McLaren M6GT prototype


Bruce McLaren planned a road car before his death in 1970. A prototype M6GT was close to racing engineering but never reached production. McLaren came to England in 1958, joining the Cooper works Formula 1 team as number two driver to Jack Brabham, and with victory in the United States GP at Sebring in 1959, aged 22 years and 104 days became the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix*. McLaren finished second in the 1960 world championship, and came third in 1962, but the Coopers' intuitive engineering couldn’t keep up, and by 1965 McLaren had set up on his own. Bruce McLaren Motor Racing was in Formula 1 and also big-engined sports cars racing for the Canadian-American Challenge Cup.
The big orange 2-seaters dominated Can-Am. Bruce and fellow New Zealander Denny Hulme shared the championship from 1967 to 1969, Hulme carrying on following McLaren's death. The team's progress in Formula 1 showed prescience in materials and techniques; the 1966 cars well ahead of their time with hulls made of composites, later commonplace.
A sort of road-going Can-Am car was a sound practical proposition. Its close relationship with the racing cars would have encouraged sales throughout North America where McLarens so eclipsed all opposition. Trojan, an old established British company, made 26 of the sports-racers under licence essentially for McLaren competitors, so it was a logical step to base a road car on this racing M6A.
Plans to homologate it with a closed coupe body, known as the M6GT, for Le Mans-style endurance racing led to a prototype, with the option of a Ford or Chevrolet V8. McLaren was confident 250 cars a year would enable him to compete for sales with Ferrari, Maserati and newly established Lamborghini.
Design broadly conformed to Bruce's theory that if suspension pickup points and engine were always in roughly the same place relative to one another, the metal joining them up could be pretty well any shape. Thus a single-seater, or a 2-seater, or a coupe such as the M6GT followed a pattern and all handled well. The M6GT monocoque was formed, like the racing cars, from aluminium alloy panelling, bonded and rivetted to steel bulkheads, with two 25-gal flexible aircraft-type safety fuel tanks, in the side pontoons.
Problems arose. As little more than a racing car with a pretty, closed glass-reinforced plastic body, the radiator outlet duct on the nose threw up heat and noise that might have been acceptable in a racing car, but could not be tolerated even on an overtly sporting car. Wide body sills made getting in and out difficult, and although odd-sized wheels front and rear made an important contribution to handling and roadholding, spare wheel stowage was problematical. Eoin Young, McLaren's secretary, described the M6GT as "bliss" to ride or drive in. "Even with a standard 5litre Chevrolet V8 in the back it would accelerate to 100mph in around 8sec, and the handling was fantastic. One problem was that the car was so low that other traffic had difficulty seeing it. Bruce loved the GT."
Co-designer Gordon Coppuck, also responsible for McLaren race cars noted, "I was really surprised how comfortable the car was. Quite incredible when you considered that it was basically a racing car. Unfortunately it was extremely noisy; I had to wear ear muffs when I was testing it."
Less than 2,000 miles of evaluation had been completed before Bruce McLaren died at Goodwood on 2nd June, 1970, at the age of 32. Phil Kerr, a director of McLaren Racing said: "Bruce had done so much at an age when Colin Chapman and Jack Brabham were only at the beginning of their careers, it is difficult to know how much he might have achieved in later life."

The M6GT showed McLaren had the talent and ambition to become a constructor as distinguished as Ferrari. During negotiations to homologate the car for Group 4, Specialised Mouldings created the body style and laid down moulds for 50 to meet Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) requirements. It was largely as a result of the FIA's refusal to grant homologation, that McLaren and Phil Kerr decided to use up components already on order, to create the road car.
Denny Hulme tested the M6GT at Goodwood, and lapped in 1min 14sec when his Can-Am racer was doing 1min 10sec. The racer was doing 180mph on the straight, and the GT 165mph with a moderately tuned Chevrolet engine.
When McLaren died McLaren Racing had its hands full getting over the tragedy, pulling itself together merely to survive. The project languished. Trojan used one of the spare bodies to make another one in the early 1970s, and it was eventually disposed of in the United States where it met with an accident.
Another was sold to David Prophet, who raced it in Britain, while a third built in the 1970s, based on a Trojan-made M6B tub went to a collection in Germany. Yet another passed to Phil Kerr and Denny Hulme, was flown to New Zealand and placed on exhibition until 1986, when Kerr and Hulme had it stripped down and rebuilt to remain essentially as it was when one of the most notable driver-constructors of the modern era stepped out of it at the height of his career, and at the start of its development.

Chassis number: BMR M6GT-1
Specification: Engine, Chevrolet Corvette LT1, bore 4.00in
101.6 mm, stroke 3.48in 88.39mm, 350 cu in 5,740cc in; 11:1 compression; carburettor: four-barrel Holley; 370bhp at 6,000rpm. Transmission: ZF Type 25, 5 speed 5DS-26 No:209 Chassis: Monocoque with aluminum panelling bonded and rivetted to steel bulkheads. Suspension: Unequal length upper and lower wishbones, anti-roll bar, and coil-spring shock absorber units at the front. At the back, wishbones and twin radius arms, anti-roll bar and coil spring shock absorber units. Brakes: Girling ventilated discs 12in diamater with 16-3-LA calipers and duel hydraulic circuits. Body: Reinforced polyester resin panelling. Wheels: 15 x 10.5 front 15 x 14 rear cast magnesium. Tyres: Goodyear. Dimensions: wheelbase 93.5in, track: front 52in; rear 52in, length: 155in approx, width: 68in approx, height: 41in approx, weight less fuel approx 1500lbs, 40% front 60% rear
*McLaren’s record was only broken in 2003 by Fernando Alonso, when he won the Hungarian Grand Prix at 22 years 26 days, and in 2008 by Sebastian Vettel, 21 years 73 days when he won the Italian Grand Prix.

McLaren F1

I came to know Bruce McLaren quite well in the years I covered Grand Prix racing. He was such a fixture in the business that, a bit like Jim Clark, you never thought of him dying in a racing car. He was careful, dependable, a regular nice man and you somehow imagined he never took big risks. In those days, of course, they were all taking bigger risks than they knew. I was on my way to the Range Rover press launch in Cornwall when I heard he had died testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood. That was 40 years ago next month. Now McLaren Automotive says it is 20 years since the team that was setting out to design the McLaren F1 came together. Apparently the decision to build, “the finest sports car the world has ever seen” was taken in 1988 so it must have taken Ron Dennis two years to put the resources behind the F1, launched in 1994 at £540,000. In four years 64 F1s, 5 F1LMs, 3 F1GTs and 28 F1GTRs were made along with six prototypes. An F1 with delivery mileage was sold at auction in October 2008 for £2.53million. I drove an F1 for The Sunday Times in July that year.
What an experience. Two daughters’ careers never looked back after I picked them up from school in the F1. Ruth didn’t like it much. She found the acceleration so fierce she walked home. Amazing to think that Dr Porsche designed a road-going Auto Union in the 1930s with the same seating configuration as the F1 McLaren.