Bruce McLaren (30/08/37 – 02/06/70)Written by Αναστάσιος Ίσαρης
Translated by Ioannis Binas
He was born in Auckland, capital of New Zealand on August 3, 1937 by Les and Ruth McLaren, who maintained a garage and an accessories workshop.
A visionary with a never ending story...
As a child already, he showed great interest, initially in helping his father, with emphasis on every type of modification and enhancement, thing that gradually evolved in a real worship of tuning…
He was just 9 years old when he suffered the Perthes disease, a rare childhood condition that affects the hip, and his left foot didn’t grow equally to the right one, resulting in him spending the first 2 years in an orthopedic clinic tied on a wheelchair.
The 11 year old tot gave away a sample of what was about to follow, when he organized… an illegal night-time race, at the downhill paths outside the hospital with all the children that were confined to 4-wheel wheelchairs!!!
The next 3 years, he was initially getting about tied on a special metallic bed and later with a metallic frame tied with belts alongise his leg and croziers.
He studies engineering at the technical school of his area and, independently of his temporary physical disability, he had a strong wheel and a brilliantly sharp mind, a special smiling personality, whilst, he developed great leading capabilities.
Eventually, at the age of 14, the only visible symptom that had remained from his condition was to limp slightly when walking, for the rest of his life, but suffered from pains in his leg quite often.
At his 16th year, he also discovered –with the aid of his father- his driving skills too, with a ‘modified’ Austin 7 Ulster, starting his racing career in the then popular hill climbs.
Bruce’s favorite number was 46, from his first steps in racing.
Two years later, he had already participated in his first official race with a Ford 10 special, later with an Austin Healey and, finally, with a modified and improved by himself (!) F2 Cooper Climax Sports, which helped him distinguish himself as a driver, finishing 2nd at the championship of New Zealand in the 1957-1958 period.
He immediately attracted the attention of the Australian F1 driver, Jack Brabham, who evolved as his mentor, and in agreement with his country’s confederation, he was chosen as a very promising driver to be promoted to the cradle of motorsports, Great Britain, in 1958, on behalf of F2 Cooper Climax.
He remained at Cooper (with Ken Tyrrell as a boss) for 7 years in total and competed in the GP of Germany (Nurburgring) in 1958, in which, many F2 single-seaters competed to fill in the necessary participation number.
Even though he started 12th, he finished first among the F2s and 5th overall, creating a stir, even if he couldn'’ score any points, due to the regulations (every competitor with an F2 single-seater couldn’t score points, no matter their position).
He had one more participation, with F2 always, in the Morocco race, where, starting 21st, he finished 2nd in F2 and 13th overall.
In Monaco, 1959, he finished 5th from 13th, 5th once again starting from 10th in France (Rheims), whereas, in Gr. Britain (Aintree), he got on the podium (3rd) for the first time, starting 8th, performing the fastest lap at the age of 21 years and 322 days, a record that was broken by Fernando Alonso just in 2003, in Canada, with an one day difference!!!
Subsequently, he retired 3 times in Germany (AVUS) from clutch (which resulted in the tragic loss of the 38 year old French, Jean Behra) in Portugal from transmission and in Monza from engine.
His first win came at the last race of the season, in USA (Sebring), when, starting 10th, he took advantage of some retirements and on the last lap he managed to overtake his team-mate, Brabham, who suffered from a fuel leak, claiming his first win at the age of 22 years and 88 days, which automatically made him the youngest winner of an F1 race of his era.
He was 6th in the final standings with 16.5 points, as opposed to champion Jack Brabham’s 33.
In 1960, Ferrari and Lotus followed Cooper’s rear engine architecture, even if, at the first race of the season in Argentina, Ferrari raced with the old Dino 246s.
Bruce started just only 13th, but, with a splendid drive, he reached his 2nd win.
In Monaco, he started 11th, but taking advantage of the rain that broke out during the race, he climbed to the very respectable 2nd place.
In the Netherlands (Zandvoort), he started 9th, but retired on lap 8 with a broken driveshaft.
Even though he started 13th at Belgium (Spa),
with a wonderful performance, he managed to finish 2nd behind his team-mate, Jack Brabham.
In France (Reims), from 9th position, he managed to finish 3rd, in a race, where the first 4 single-seaters were Cooper-Climax.
From the 3rd position of the Silverstone start, he found himself finishing 4th.
In Portugal, another fantastic race led the young driver from 6th place to 2nd, making the 1-2 with Brabham.
He didn’t participate in Italy due to the boycott, but in the USA (Riverside), he climbed to 3rd position, starting from 10th.
McLaren was 2nd in the final standings wioth 34 points, for a second consecutive time behind the champion and team-mate, Jack Brabham, with 43 points.
1961 began with the new 1500cc engines and was poor for Bruce, with two 6th places in Monaco and Germany, a 5th in France, a 4th in the USA and a 3rd in Monza.
He was 8th in the final standings with 11 points, over Brabham’s just 4.
In 1962, with Tony Maggs as his new team-mate (Brabham left to create his own team), he had a misfortune in the Netherlands, when, from 5th at the start, he retired from gearbox on lap 21.
Having reached 3rd position in the Monaco qualifying session, exploiting the confusion that was caused on the wet track, he moved to 1st.
He fought with Graham Hill for 10 laps, switching continuously positions, and, staying 2nd, he had to grant his position to a… frantic Clark.
After the retirements of the last as well as the leader of the race, 7 laps to the end, he claimed a precious win.
In Belgium (Spa), in spite of his excellent 2nd place at the start and the fantastic fight of 5 single-seaters with consecutive slipstreaming on the first laps, he had to retire early from engine.
The non-championship race of Reims followed, where Bruce claimed another win and a week later he participated in the GP of France (Rouen).
McLaren started from 3rd, falling to 4th initially, but on the 10th lap, he had a spin due to a gearbox jam and, even though he hit the circuit’s barriers, he returned to the pits.
The makeshift repairs lasted quite long; however, he returned to the race, where, he stood really lucky by the… great number of retirements in front of him to eventually finish 4th behind the heroic Peter Gethin, who, on the last laps, was driving the BRM with one hand, because he was using the other one to pull the throttle cable that had been cut off the pedal!!!
At the quiet race of Great Britain (Aintree), he finished 3rd, starting from 4th.
Similarly in Germany (Nurburgring), where he started 5th and finished at the same position.
The same way he finished 3rd, starting 4th in Italy, repelling all the Belgian Willie Mairesse’s attacks with Ferrari.
He had another good finish (3rd) in the USA (Watkins Glen), starting 6th.
The season ended in South Africa, where, in spite of the mediocre 8th place at the start, he managed to finish 2nd, 50 seconds behind the winner, Hill.
The final standing found him 3rd with 27 points, behind the champion, Hill, and Jimmy Clark.
In 1963, he took the big decision of creating his own team with the name Team McLaren, but continued to race for Cooper Climax with the T66.
Even though he practically had just 4 finishes in 10 races (he had 5 retirements and an accident) he managed to finish 6th in the championship with 17 points.
Specifically, in Monaco, he claimed the 3rd place (from 8th) and the 2nd in Spa (from 5th) even though he was nearly 5 minutes (!) behind Clark.
At the Nurburgring though, he had a nasty exit just on the 3rd lap, at the Flugplatz corner, when the steering wheel blocked and he remained unconscious in the car, while also suffering a knee injury.
Bruce, undismayed, despite his pains, managed to finish 3rd in Monza (from 8th) and 4th in South Africa (from 9th).
1964, with the new Τ73, with Phill Hill as a new team-mate and with an uncompetitive cat, he only had one chance to win, at Spa.
He started 7th there, but, while being first, on the last lap and right before the last corner, his engine broke down and he finished 2 seconds behind Clark with a switched off engine.
Moreover, in Italy (Monza), starting from 5th, he found himself in charge straight away, but when the slipstreaming ‘game’ started, he fell to 3rd and eventually finished 2nd.
His only other distinction was in France (Rouen), where, from 7th, he finished 6th.
With 13 points in total, he classified 7th that year, while having won the first place at the Tasman Series Cup (2.5 liter engines).
1965, with the Τ77 and, this time, with Jochen Rindt as team-mate, was even poorer in results, since he classified 3rd only in one race (Spa).
We another 3 finishes in 5th place (S. Africa, Monaco and Italy) he was 9th in the final standings with 10 points.
But the great thing lied somewhere else… the cards had been dealt and in the end of 1965 he left Cooper and announced that next year, he would compete with his own team.
In 1966, the newfound team under the title Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, started its timid presence in the races with one single-seater (M2B), powered by the 8-cylinder Ford engines and driven by its founder, with his compatriot, Chris Amon, as a reserve driver.
He started the first race of the season, Monaco, from 10th place, but retired just on the 10th lap with a mechanical problem.
He qualified 16th in Belgium, but did not start the race due to a problem with the… ball bearings.
The team didn’t participate in France and reappeared at Brands Hatch with a Serenissima V8 engine.
From the 13th place at the start and under variable conditions, he managed to finish 6th and get the first point of the team.
It should be noted, certainly, that Ferrari hadn’t participated because of a strike in Italy!!!
In the Netherlands (Zandvoort), the single-seater didn’t manage to start due to engine problems.
The team didn’t appear either in Germany or Italy, but showed up in the USA with a Ford engine once again and starting from 11th, Bruce made it to the 5th.
The season ended in Mexico, when he retired from 14th place on the 40th lap from engine.
At the same time though, he won the 24 hours of LeMans the same year, having Chris Amon as co-driver in a 7-liter Ford GT40.
The M4B was presented in 1967 with a BRM V8 engine, but the car didn’t appear in South Africa, rather in the next race at Monaco.
The young Chris Amon had already abandoned the team and had signed with Ferrari.
In the race, Bruce, that had started 10th, made a brilliant start and reached 3rd place, before falling behind with a problem of the electrics, to bounce back dynamically and finish 4th.
In the Netherlands (Zandvoort), from 14 place, he had an accident just on the 2nd lap and retired.
The team didn’t participate in Belgium.
In the next 3 races (France, G. Britain, Germany), Bruce didn’t bring a single-seater, as the new M5A was not ready and opted to drive for the Anglo American Racers team, with an Eagle T1G and a Weslake V12 engine, but retired in all of them from ignition, engine and oil leak respectively.
The new M5A was at last ready for Canada (Mosport), with a new BRM V12 engine that used to the end of the season.
Bruce made a good start from 6th place under the rain and was promoted to 5th, when he had a spin and fell behind.
With high willfulness, the New Zealander unleashed a long lasting attack which brought him to 3rd on the 13th lap and 2nd after overtaking Clark on the 22nd lap, when the track started to dry out and he lost 2 places.
The rain started again, but then, only the leader, Clark, was literally… flying until he retired and Bruce contented himself with 7th place.
He started 3rd in Italy (Monza) and gave a lot of fights, but retired on the 47th lap from engine, in a monumental race, where Clark stole the show with his performance and Surtees stole the win at the debut of the Honda RA300 (nicknamed “Hondola”, because the single-seater looked like the Lola that had raced in Indianapolis).
In the USA, he started 9th but retired on the 17th lap with a water leak.
Similarly in Mexico, where he started 8th but retired on the 46th lap from engine.
McLaren might have finished 14th with only 3 points in total, but the team participated in just 6 races out of 11.
Meanwhile, he won the 12-hour Sebring race with co-driver Mario Andretti in a Ford Mark IV.
In 1968, Bruce turned to another compatriot (and champion for the previous year), τον Denny Hulme (nicknamed “the bear”, because of his ‘gruff nature’ when someone didn’t treat him right) and the team appeared with 2 single-seaters (M7A) and a… permanent, finally, engine, the Ford V8 Cosworth DFV.
Only Denny Hulme raced in South Africa, with the old M5A, and finished 5th starting 9th.
Bruce was at his homecountry and with the same car he competed in Tasman series races, where, in Teretonga, he had the satisfaction of the first (and only) victory against Clark for only just half the length of a single-seater ahead.
Before the grand prix of Spain, the race of champions took place, where Bruce, with the new M7A, claimed the victory at her first appearance.
3 days later, Clark’s death followed, and soon after the International Trophy at Silverstone, where Denny Hulme, with the M7A, claimed one more win.
In Spain (Jarama) Bruce retired from 7th with an oil leak on lap 77, while Danny finished 2nd.
He started 7th in Monaco, but had a first lap crash with Jackie Oliver and retired, whilst Danny finished 5th.
In Spa, it was high time for the first win.
During qualifying, the atmosphere was gloomy from the heavy rain, but also, due to the announcement of the death of Cooper’s Ludovico Scarfiotti at a championship hill climb race in South Germany.
Bruce started 7th and after plenty of retirements, he found himself 2nd, 30 seconds behind Jackie Stewart with Matra Ford, when, on the penultimate lap, Stewart slowed down dramatically, running out of fuel, and the M7A with a blissful McLaren took the win and luck gave him back what had deprived from him 4 years ago, at the same race!
In the Netherlands (Zandvoort), he had an exit, under the rain, and retired; in France (Rouen), he finished 8th from 6th, in a race under the rain that was marked by the tragic death of the 40-year old French Jo Schlesser with Honda at his first race.
In Brands Hatch, once again under the rain, he finished 7th from 10th, while in Germany (4th consecutive race under rain), he finished on the highly disappointing 13th place (one from last).
In Italy (Monza), Bruce was starting from the promising 2nd position and, indeed, he took the lead right away from Surtees, with whom he battled for several laps, switching places with successive slipstreaming.
He remained first until the middle of the race, when he retired with an engine oil leak, and Denny, with the other M7A, took the win.
At the Mont-Tremblant of Canada, the team, encouraged by the success in the previous race, registered another car, for Dan Gurney, who took the best position at the start (4th), while Bruce was 8th.
The final result was a triumph for McLaren, which made the 1-2, with Denny winner and Bruce 2nd.
The success was even greater, since Hulme caught up with Hill in the first place of driver’s championship.
In the USA (Watkins Glen), Bruce started from the 10th position and made it to 6th, whilst, Danny fought from 5th, before a mechanical failure made him get off the track and retire.
Gurney, on the other hand, finished 4th.
At the last race of the season in Mexico, even though he started from 9th, he had a very good pace and managed to finish 2nd.
He was 5th in the final standings with 22 points, as opposed to Hulme’s 33 (who was 3rd), and the team was 2nd in its first participation, gathering 49 points, a great success, undoubtedly.
The New Zealander duo continued undaunted to the first race of 1969, in South Africa, and they assigned the 3rd car to the local driver, Basil van Rooyen.
Bruce started from the 8th position and finished 5th after a consistent race, while Danny was 3rd.
In Spain (Montjuich), the team presented itself with the improved M7C and Bruce, from 13th, drove without any excesses, took advantage of the many retirements and accidents of the leaders and finished in 2nd place, with Danny in 4th.
The same scenario was repeated in Monaco, when, starting 11th, he finished 5th and Danny 6th.
In The Netherlands (Zantvoort), besides the team’s cars, the private team Antique Automobiles competed with one more single-seater and driver, the British Vic Elford.
Bruce, from 6th place and with the M7C, retired on lap 24 from suspension, whilst Danny (M7A) finished 4th.
The announcement of the cooperation between Ferrari and Fiat is in the noteworthy aspects of that race
In Clermont-Ferrand of France, Bruce, starting 7th, managed to finish 4th, suffering from sickness due to the tight corners, whilst Vic Elford was 5th.
It’s worthy to note on that race, the first participation of the 4-wheel drive Lotus 63 with the driver-mechanic, John Miles.
He started 7th at Silverstone and after a quiet and consistent race, he classified 3rd, with Vic Elford 6th.
The experimental M9A competed in the race too, in the hands of Derek Bell, without any remarkable success though.
The same happened in the Nurburgring, when from the 8th position, he finished 3rd once again.
It should be noted, that, when, on the 1st lap, Mario Andretti crashed with the 4-wheel drive Lotus, one of his wheels… hit Vic Elford’s M7A that was following, resulting in the single-seater lifting in the air and landing upside down into the trees.
Luckily, he got away with just a triple hand fracture, but it meant the end of his short career with McLaren.
In Monza, from 5th place, he took part in a fascinating slipstreaming game to eventually finish 4th.
In Canada (Mosport), he started 9th and finished 5th, while in Watkins Glen as well as in Mexico, by a weird coincidence, he failed to start the formation lap from mechanical problems, although he had qualified 6th and 7th.
In Mexico, on the other hand, the first and only win of the team for that season arrived with Denny Hulme, who started 4th and made a wonderful race.
The end of the season found bruce 3rd with 26 points, over the 6th place of Hulme with 22 points, even though the latter was starting from a higher position in all races, except Monaco.
The team classified 4th in the championship with 38 points.
It was 1970 and the new M14A was presented.
Meanwhile, John Surtees, planning to create his own team, modified the old M7A and competed in a few races.
In South Africa (Kyalami), Bruce started 10th, but retired on the 39th lap from engine, while Denny managed to finish 2nd, starting from 6th.
In Jarama of Spain, even though he started 11th, he took advantage of the plenty of retirements and, making a steady drive, climbed to 2nd place, with Denny retiring, having started from 2nd.
From that race and for the rest of the season, using an old M7D, the team was testing the Alfa Romeo engine with Andrea de Antamich.
Bruce started 10th in Monaco to retire on lap 20 from suspension, while Denny, from 3rd place, finished 4th.
That was Bruce’s last race in Formula 1…
Of course, such an unresting, creative and innovative spirit wouldn’t be satisfied by dealing only with F1.
He found the freedom of creative expression in Can Am series (Canadian American Challenge Cup), as those races were held in these 2 countries (2 tracks in Canada and 4 in the USA).
That league was supported by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and Canadian Automobile Sports Committee (CASC) and lasted from 1966 to 1986.
It was the effort of the other side of the Atlantic to distract the audience from the then monopolistic F1, adopting the nearly extreme Group 7 specifications, which didn’t even require homologation.
The main characteristic of those two-seater closed vehicles with covered wheels was the almost total design freedom with very few limitations, that is, there was no limit in engine displacement, they could use turbocharger or supercharger, free wings or other systems that created downforce, free use of materials (for the first time, we saw the use of titanium on the frame and suspensions, as well as the newly discovered carbon fibers for weight reduction).
Their manufacturing cost was huge and for that reason, grand money prizes had been established, there were revenues from advertising and it was popular not only at the American continent but in Great Britain too, for their monstrous horsepower (ranging between 1.000 to 1.500 in testing) as well as their higher speeds compared to F1 single-seaters in, usually, sprint races or hill climbs.
At the first year in Can Am series (1966), the ingenious Bruce competed (with Chris Amon) buying from the Ameicn Roger Penske a Zerex special (that was also stemming from a Cooper T53) and was used as the ideal field of applying his ideas.
He held only the front and rear suspension, he… cut it, he… sew it, he adapted a new tubular chassis of his own make, he added to it a 4-litre V8 Oldsmobile engine and, that way, completely modified and unrecognizable, he named it M1A and it became the first McLaren in history.
That year, Lola with John Surtees prevailed, whilst McLaren convinced Firestone to make him tires for single-seaters and he combined them with the, designed by Robin Herd body shell, presenting the first McLaren F1 in history, the Μ2Β.
In 1967, he presented the M6A with the characteristic orange color and a Chevrolet engine and he was crowned the champion of the seres with the M6A claiming 5 wins out of the 6 races.
In 1968, with the M8A and a 7-liter engine, it was Denny Hulme’s turn to win the championship with the M8A claiming 4 wins in 6 raves, while, in 1969, with the M8B, the team had 11 wins in the same amunt of races (6 for Bruce – 5 for Denny), with many 1-2s and a unique 1-2-3 (Dan Gurney) in Michigan, with Bruce champion once again.
Denny was champion again in 1970 with the M8D, while, from 1967 already, the series was referred to as the «Bruce and Denny Show» and their vehicles as the «orange elephants».
Besides general acknowledgment, Bruce was considered one of the richest driver-designers!!!
In 1971, the team’s successes ended with the M8F and champion, Peter Revson.
On June 2, 1970, Bruce was testing at Goodwood the improved edition of the 7-liter Chevrolet engine (Marc IV “big block”), which, from 620 horse power, had reached approximately 700, when, under the air pressure, a rivet holding the rear aerodynamic solutions broke, and without any downforce the uncontrollable vehicle got off the track and crashed with more than 160 km/h on a warehouse that was used to store race flags.
His death was instant and he was just 32 years and 9 months old.
The loss of the emblematic driver-engineer-designer shocked the racing community because he was generally admired both as a creator and a man.
He left behind his wife (he got married in 1961) Patricia and his daughter (born in 1965) Amanda.
In the beginning of 1964, without knowing it of course, he had described his “eulogy” in the book he had published, titled “From the Cockpit”, writing about his team-mate and friend, 26 year old American Timmy Mayer, at the practice for the final race of the Tasman series (Longford):
"The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one's ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone."
Let it be noted that on the occasion of Timmy’s death, Bruce connected tightly with his brother Eduard Everett “Teddy” Mayer, with whom they became partners, and with the aid of the engineer Tyler Alexander, the core of the homonymous historical team was created.
Teddy, lawyer in profession and from a wealthy family, was the one that found the necessary supporters for the Can Am effort.
After Bruce’s death, he remained for another 10 years in McLaren as team-leader, strengthening its reputation.
Other than a great driver, he was a brilliant engineer.
Fine specimen of his pioneering and analytical thinking, is an incident relating to the single-seater he was testing for 1964-1965.
He noticed that the filler door on the hood giving access to the fuel filter was flapping up and down, according to the speed of the car, even though it had been taken given special attention so that its hinges were strong and solid.
It was something that was reprimanded by all teams, but nobody had been able to find a solution.
He furiously stopped the test, jumped out of the car, spoke to no one, took a pair of shears from a toolbox and made 2 cuts on the bodywork, behind the radiator, because he was the first to realize that in high speeds, air pressure under the filler door was greater than above, and immediately started performing faster laps than before!
These notorious ‘nostrils’ have been a key McLaren design feature since then.
In conclusion, the vehicles he built might not have matched the novelty and ingenuity of his competitor, Jim Hall, with the Chaparral, but the secret of his success was the flawless preparation and the huge attention to the detail, lessons that the future owner of the team, Ron Dennis, took care of applying firmly.
And the journey goes on…
- Bruce McLaren
- Denny Hulme
- Jack Brabham
- Ken Tyrrell
- Fernando Alonso
- Tony Maggs
- Graham Hill
- Jim Clark
- Peter Gethin
- Willie Mairesse
- Phil Hill
- Jochen Rindt
- Chris Amon
- Anglo American Racers
- John Surtees
- Mario Andretti
- Jackie Oliver
- Ludovico Scarfiotti
- Jackie Stewart
- Basil van Rooyen
- Vic Elford
- Derek Bell
- Roger Penske
- Timmy Mayer
- Jim Hall
- Ron Dennis