Drivers becoming constructors: Bruce McLaren

  • 19 May 2024
  • 3 min read
  • 8 images
Drivers becoming constructors: Bruce McLaren image

His life was the exact opposite of the fate of his name: Bruce McLaren started racing at 15, won his first Grand Prix at 22, his first constructor’s title at 31, and died during a test at 33. A life as short as it was intense for the young man from New Zealand, loved for his charm and elegance, revered for his engineering talent, and exalted for his racing successes not only in Formula 1 but also in the Can Am series, which he dominated. 

1-1964-Bruce-McLaren’s-winning-Tasman-Series Bruce McLaren’s winning debut in the Tasman Series in 1964. As per regulations, his Cooper was fitted with a 2.5-liter Coventry-Climax engine. A success saddened by teammate Timmy Mayer

And here comes the opposite: his name is honored and immortalized by the story of McLaren. After his death, while testing the new Can-Am M8D model at Goodwood Circuit in circumstances that were never clarified, the work of the small workshop he had put together to produce his single-seaters and the cars for the American and Canadian series, was taken over by Teddy Mayer who ensured its continuity, taking it even higher by winning the world championship in 1974 with Fittipaldi and in 1976 with Hunt.

2-kiwi-by-Michael-Turner The kiwi, symbol of New Zealand, designed by the famous Michael Turner will accompany Bruce McLaren on his helmet and his cars in his short but spectacular adventure in the world of racing

The wounds of that terrible accident were not easy to heal, because despite the absence of any witnesses, the most likely theory suggested a problem related to the aerodynamics of the new MD8 which had proved to be very competitive during the morning

3-1964-first-car-made-by-Bruce-McLaren 1964. The first car made by Bruce when he was 27 years old starting from a single-seater Cooper chassis. Note the McLaren inscription on the nose, instead of the brand

The recommendations of Teddy Mayer, his friend and sporting director, who had repeatedly attempted to convince McLaren to stop racing and concentrate on being a constructor were to no avail. Teddy Mayer was certainly influenced by the memory of the tragedy of his brother Timmy who died in Formula Tasman in 1964.

4-1966-McLaren-entered-Formula-1 1966. McLaren entered Formula 1 with its own team represented by the constructor-driver, Bruce. The M2B experiment suffered from a lack of adequate engines: first a Ford 4.2 Indy reconfigured to 3.0 litres and then, the lighter and more compact V8 Serenissima

Bruce arrived in England when he was 21 years old thanks to the support of the New Zealand Federation. He made his debut with Cooper, after Jack Brabham, an Australian, who recognized his unquestionable talent, persuaded him to race first in Formula 2 and then almost immediately in Formula 1. His first victory came in 1959 at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, during his first full season in the top formula. Bruce was just 22 years old.

5-1967-The–McLaren-colour-appeared-on-the-Sports-cars 1967. The McLaren colour appeared on the Sports cars competing in the Canadian-American Can-Am series. The McLaren was immediately victorious, and from that moment the orange colour represented it

Only 4 years later, in 1963, Bruce McLaren’s strong engineering skills led him to form his own Scuderia and become a constructor. In Formula 1, he still raced for Cooper but soon saw the opportunity to make the car himself, which happened in 1966. That was the year the McLaren M2B was introduced, which he used himself in the World Championships. 

6-1968-McLaren-orange-took-the-Can-Am 1968. The McLaren orange took the Can-Am series by storm, where Bruce dominated with the M8A totally designed by his company

The real business of Bruce McLaren Racing Limited, however, was building sports cars destined for the Can-Am (Canadian-American) Challenge Cup. With the support of the American Roger Penske, he bought a former Cooper F1 chassis, which he modified into a two-seater car and took to race in the Can-Am series, winning on its debut. 

7-1969-McLaren-first-spoilers 1969: the first spoilers appeared. McLarens with Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme won all the races of the season

It was the beginning of a string of successes with five consecutive drivers’ titles from 1967 to 1972, enhanced by the triumphant season of 1969 in which the McLaren M8B won 11 out of 11 races. 

8-1970-McLaren-M8D 1970. The McLaren M8D used an integrated rear spoiler and continued to be extremely competitive, but for Bruce it would be his final year. His fatal accident in September brutally cut short his career