Despite having a relatively small team of mechanics, the McLaren team produced a staggering array of vehicles that performed at the very pinnacle of motor sport around the world. The dedication and commitment to excellence displayed by everyone involved was a remarkable reflection of Bruce’s leadership and character. Mechanics would frequently work incredibly long hours for days on end to ensure that a car was ready.
Under Bruce’s leadership, the McLaren team pursued the winners’ podium in the following arenas:
Formula One was always the arena closest to Bruce’s heart. Fascinated by the history and races from a young age, in 1966 Bruce McLaren succeeded in lining up on the grid at the Monaco Grand Prix in a Formula One car bearing his name.
Formula One proved a challenging battleground. Much like today, technology was constantly evolving and engineers were continuously being tested to their limits of their expertise and beyond. But in 1968, Bruce succeeded in doing what only two people in history have ever achieved – winning a Formula One race in his own car – and the following year, driving a McLaren car to third place in the Formula One World Championship.
In 1974, four years after Bruce’s death, Emerson Fittipaldi would complete the dream by winning the Formula One World Championship for the McLaren team.
The Can Am series, raced in Canada and America, was the stuff of legend for McLaren. The engines of these monstrous cars shook the earth, and the crowds loved the thrill of what were, at the time, the fastest competitive cars on the planet. No rules governed the type of engines that could be fitted, the prize money was greater than Formula One and the McLaren Team came to win.
After a faltering start in 1966, Bruce and fellow New Zealand driver Denny Hulme dominated the Can Am series from 1967 until 1971 – so much so that the series became known as the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’.
Racing in McLaren’s distinctive bright orange, they thrilled audiences with incredible speed and superb driving. Of the 43 races run in those five years, a McLaren car finished first in 37 of them, and at one point their winning stretch numbered 19 straight wins.
The Indianapolis 500 has been run annually since 1911, with breaks only during the two world wars. It’s a simple track in design: four identical corners with two short straights and two long straights. But to drive it well is anything but simple. In 1969, Bruce decided that McLaren could build a car in which Denny Hulme would win this famous race.
In an incredibly short time, two new cars, the McLaren M15s, were constructed. Denny was completely at home on the track in the new McLaren M15, but after he was injured during testing, he was unable to race and the first Indy 500 that the McLaren team entered had drivers Peter Revson and Carl Williams at the helm. Despite the setbacks, the team finished ninth.
Bruce immediately began planning the team’s next attempt to conquer the Indy 500, but died the day after returning from Indianapolis. In 1972, the McLaren team succeeded in winning the Indianapolis 500.
Le Mans is a gruelling 24-hour race notorious for the toll it takes on both cars and drivers. Just completing the race is a colossal challenge, and Bruce attempted to take this famous French title many times.
In 1966 fate finally dealt Bruce the cards he’d been looking for. Working with Ford, Bruce helped engineer their new GT40 Mk 2 car. With fellow Kiwi Chris Amon once again teaming up with Bruce, the race proved a spectacular success. The cars performed to perfection, with reports of the vehicles screaming down the long Mulsanne Straight in excess of 220mph.
The McLaren quest for Le Mans glory continued: in 1995, the McLaren F1 GTR won the Le Mans title for the McLaren team.
The Road Car
Ever since his early racing days, Bruce had dreamed of building a road car with his name on it. Sadly, his death would prevent the realisation of that dream, but not before a prototype was built.
Based on the M6A, in which Bruce won the 1967 CanAm series, the McLaren road car prototype was christened the M6GT. Sporting an engine that could produce an estimated 375bhp, the performance of the car was a huge success.
It did however have a few drawbacks. The lack of air ducts or wind-down windows left it vulnerable to extremes of heat or cold, it was rather noisy and the differently-sized wheels on the front and rear made supplying a spare tyre difficult. Yet in spite of these faults, it was an impressive car and Bruce used it as his personal transport from mid-1969. The car is now in a private collection in Colorado.