Bruce McLaren was a very fine Formula 1 driver and an excellent Can-Am racer, at a time when a contender who possessed a broad range of engineering smarts and great feedback could take his car to the next level of competitiveness.
McLaren was also a fantastic team owner with a strong work ethic who inspired all those around him, and he learned much while racing for John Cooper’s squad and observing the efforts made by Jack Brabham, who set up his own team in 1962, a year before McLaren followed suit.
This video initially traces McLaren’s early Formula 1 ventures, and also shows why the Can-Am series’ apparently one-sheet-of-paper rule ‘book’ was always going to lure McLaren into demonstrating his company’s expertise. McLaren’s M6 and the incredible M8 series of cars combined mighty power from oversized Chevrolet engines with thoroughly thought through chassis dynamics and aero solutions.
This combo allowed Bruce, fellow Kiwi Denny Hulme, and America’s Peter Revson – Bruce’s long-term replacement following the proprietor’s fatal crash in 1970 – to rack up five straight titles in a scorched earth approach to racing.
Even when up against the even more powerful Penske-run Porsche 917/10Ks, the McLaren M20 – the M8F’s successor – was able to take Hulme to second in the 1972 Can-Am championship. It took the 1100hp 917/30 for Porsche to blitzkrieg the championship in ’73, and by then McLaren was gone as a works team, focusing instead on its booming Formula 1 and IndyCar campaigns.
This video provides insight into the world championship success of Gordon Coppuck’s wonderful M23 in which Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt won championships, the Ron Dennis (team principal) and John Barnard (designer) takeover in 1981, the Niki Lauda/Alain Prost era, the Prost/Ayrton Senna era and then the slow build-up of the Mercedes-Benz partnership. That culminated in world title success for Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and ’99, and Lewis Hamilton’s first title in 2008. This video, which was made in 2018, also provides a doleful reminder that the team’s last F1 win came as long ago as 2012…
But for many viewers the most prized footage here will be of the sensational Can-Am cars that for several years reduced the series to the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’, and saw some of the most unrestricted machines in motorsport history thundering around some of the greatest tracks in North America.