Goodwood toasts supreme Kiwi talent
Bruce McLaren was the brains behind some extraordinary engineering
This year’s Goodwood Revival tribute to legendary Kiwi driver and engineer Bruce McLaren was as much about the man as the machines he raced and developed.
The Revival, hosted by Lord March, is regarded as one of the world's most authentic historic racing festival, and this year it attracted 149,000 spectators over three days.
The event featured races involving original Formula One, endurance and sports cars from the Goodwood circuit's active years between 1946 and 1966.
Described by Lord March as “highly skilled, meticulous and always fun“, Bruce McLaren was one of New Zealand’s great ambassadors, and the success and scale of present-day McLaren Automotive is considered testament to his relentless drive and vision.
The Revival, though, meant winding back the clock and returning to the beginning of Bruce McLaren’s career abroad, celebrating the cars with which he enjoyed success, and also recognising a tragic ending at the Goodwood circuit while testing a Can-Am car in June 1970.
Living the driver’s dream
1960 Cooper Climax
Backed by the Driver to Europe scholarship and Australian driver Jack Brabham, Bruce moved from Auckland to London in 1958 to work for the Cooper team. Six Cooper F1 cars were among the evocative collection of late-1950s and 60s cars assembled in the Revival paddock.
Kiwi businessman and historic racer Roger Wills brought several cars to the event, including his ex-McLaren Cooper-Climax T51, the first rear-engined F1 car. Bruce scored his debut grand prix victory in a T51, becoming the youngest GP winner at the 1959 US Grand Prix, aged 22.
Wills also recently discovered the Lotus 15 sportscar raced by McLaren and fellow Kiwi Syd Jensen in the 1958 Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood, and had this car air-freighted from Australia.
“It was spotted at a Phillip Island historic meeting, the chassis was correctly identified, and I flew it directly to England for the Tribute with only enough time to apply the correct livery.”
Wills is also overseeing the restoration of a McLaren M1B, which represented the team’s first foray into the lucrative Can-Am sportscar series in North America. The car was driven extensively by Bruce and Chris Amon in the mid-1960s.
The duo famously won the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race in a black Ford GT MkII and this car made an appearance for parade laps alongside earlier GT40s that Bruce had helped develop and raced in endurance events. To a large degree, Bruce engineered Ford’s Le Mans success from the cockpit.
But the most imposing sportscar at the Revival, and certainly one of the most demanding to drive in race conditions, was the bright orange McLaren M6B in which Bruce and Denny Hulme dominated the North American Can-Am championship. It was the first monocoque chassis McLaren.
British racer Jackie Oliver competed in Can-Am in the late 60s and early 70s and described it as an unlimited formula with unlimited power, huge downforce and huge speeds that placed massive demands on drivers.
“They were very physical cars to drive; I used to get muscle spasms and required injections from a doctor. My neck size went up two inches.” he said.
‘The more power, the better’ seems to have been a McLaren mantra and one of the reasons Bruce enjoyed the Can-Am series so much.
Former endurance racer Alain de Cadenet was himself a Formula 1 team boss and, like McLaren, designed, built and drove race-winning sportscars.
“I worked with Bruce when we built a prototype McLaren and we came to Goodwood to test it,” he recalled. “We put a Cosworth DFV engine, for which Bruce designed the back end, into an M8 Can-Am car and ran it as a three-litre prototype. He tested the car here, for me, and got out and I said, “So, what do you think?”
“The handling’s fantastic,” he replied. So I asked him if he would drive it in the BOAC 1000km race for me. And he thought about it, and said: “No. It’s like driving a Can-Am car with a clockwork motor!” So he didn’t want to drive it but he was a great ‘sorter-outer’ of cars — just fantastic — and a really nice guy to work with.”
It was while he was still at Cooper that Bruce founded the Bruce McLaren Racing team and the M1A sportscar established McLaren as a manufacturer, explained 1960s team mechanic Howden Ganley, who subsequently achieved his own dream of racing in Formula One.
Speaking at a memorial tribute conducted by Bruce’s sister Jan McLaren, Ganley recalled receiving a call from Bruce in June 1964 in which he asked him to come and work for him.
“It was a lucky break because I learned so much from Bruce in a short space of time. Progress was incredibly fast. We built the first McLaren car in September/October of 1964 and started building the prototype F1 car (M2B) in June the following year. So from M1 to M2B was only a period of 18 months.”
One of many highlights for Ganley was being one of two mechanics responsible for the F1 debut of McLaren Racing at the 1966 Monaco GP.
“We were confident before the race and the car was competitive but for an oil pipe leak that meant Bruce almost shunted it and forced the car’s retirement. There’s a photo of the car on the grid before the race with myself and the other mechanic working on it. And Bruce is working on the car, too. How many other Formula One drivers would you see working on their car?”
Sir Jackie Stewart at the wheel of the 1967 McLaren M5A
The M2B scored points at both the British and US grands prix in 1966 and appeared in the Revival tribute alongside its 1967 successor, the McLaren-BRM M5A, with Scottish F1 great Sir Jackie Stewart at the wheel.
The following year Bruce won the Belgian GP in a car with distinctive orange paintwork and thus achieved the rare feat of winning a grand prix in a car bearing his own name. Sir Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney are the only other drivers to have this distinction.
At Revival race control, British sportscar racing legend and five-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell described Bruce, the eternal innovator, developing a four-wheel drive McLaren for grand prix racing.
“I was with Ferrari in 1968/69 when they pulled out of F1 and I got a call from Bruce to drive in the British GP in a four-wheel drive car. Bruce came here to Goodwood on the Wednesday and tested it, thought it would be okay for the grand prix, phoned me up and said ‘How about it?’.
"Ferrari said fine, you do it. So I went to Silverstone, got in the car, went out and did a few laps, and I thought it wasn’t quite working the way it should be with the gearbox and braking slowing me down.
"I did the race, was at the back of the grid and the suspension broke, and I remember afterwards Bruce and Denny finished third and fourth in their conventional cars. And that was it: four-wheel drive stopped there, but Bruce had built this incredible car which still exists,” said Bell.
Despite some near-misses, the McLaren innovation continued apace. For the Revival, McLaren Automotive brought along the radical twin-winged M7C F1 car, which was banned following testing at the 1969 Monaco GP.
The McLaren M6 GT prototype
At the same time, Bruce was eager to create the world’s fastest road car, and built the dramatic M6GT. Based on a Can-Am car, it was hugely noisy but Bruce regularly drove his GT prototype in England. It was flown to Goodwood by an American collector, allowing Bruce’s daughter Amanda to be reunited with a car from her early childhood and take to the Goodwood track for the Tribute parades.
NZ High Commissioner in London, Dr Lockwood Smith, had the broadest grin on the grid as he led the Tribute fleet by driving the 1958 Lotus 15 flown in by Roger Wills.
“Bruce was an extraordinary engineer as well as a wonderful racing driver,” he said.
“So many people have gone to so much trouble to bring cars to Goodwood and it shows the respect people have for him. It’s also wonderful that the University of Auckland is naming its new engineering centre after Bruce and at long last his extraordinary contribution to automotive engineering is being recognised.”
The 1960 jaguar E2A prototype raced by Bruce McLaren
Bruce McLaren’s interest in fast road cars was almost as keen as his passion for race-winning cars. As a grand prix driver from 1959 he was able to secure a Jaguar MkII saloon, which he promptly unleashed on the new M1 motorway north of London at a time when no speed restrictions were in place. He subsequently shipped the car back to New Zealand.
The association with Jaguar strengthened when Bruce earned a paid drive in the one-off E2A prototype at the Laguna Seca Pacific GP in 1960. The car was campaigned by wealthy American Briggs Cunningham and was effectively a cross between a D-type and E-type and tested several features of the forthcoming E-type production car.
It starred in the Goodwood Revival tribute alongside a silver E-type coupe that McLaren raced at both Silverstone and Brands Hatch in 1961.
Jaguar enjoyed being associated with high-profile drivers at the time and Bruce found himself in line for one of the first E-type roadsters upon its launch in 1961. A photograph shows Bruce polishing his brand-new roadster at the back of his shared flat at Osborne Court, Surbiton, not far from the Cooper team’s factory in south-west London.
Another Kiwi, mechanic Howden Ganley, fondly remembered Bruce’s E-type.
“One day Bruce said to me, ‘There’s a guy called Mike Hewland, he makes gearboxes in a place called Maidenhead. Can you find it, go have a look and find out exactly what he’s making? And take the E-type ... ‘ Bruce was fantastic like that — the most wonderful guy I’ve ever met.”
It seemed fitting to drive a gleaming black Jaguar XE to the Revival from London each day, calling in at Surbiton and joining the swift road through Guildford where Jaguar dealer John Coombs once supplied and serviced the cars with McLaren links.
Before long the blurred scenery is completely green West Sussex countryside broken up by small historic towns leading to the idyllic estate of Lord March, where Goodwood House is the landmark building.
In his tribute written for the Revival programme, Chris Amon offered the most light-hearted anecdote, recalling drives back to London after a hard day’s testing at Goodwood and Bruce’s ability to fall asleep on the back seat of a car within seconds.
“When we got as far as Petworth, he had this uncanny knack of waking up, then he’d tell me to stop so that he could get out and buy a Mars Bar. His internal clock was dialled into his Mars Bars, that’s for sure ... “