Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited was formally incorporated by Bruce McLaren and Teddy Mayer on September 2 1963. The two men rented a shed, with an earth floor, in Wellington Crescent, New Malden. It was anything but glamorous. The team’s first two mechanics: Tyler Alexander (a pal of Mayer’s) and Walter Willmott (a pal of McLaren’s) began work on a substantial rebuild for the ex-Mecom Racing Team Zerez Special sports car, which McLaren had purchased in the United States. This had started out life as a 1961 Cooper T53 Formula 1 car and had been converted into a sports car spec by Mecom in 1962. It was raced successfully by Roger Penske before being sold to McLaren. The team modified the space frame and stuck in a large Oldsmobile V8, which was rather bigger than the Coventry Climax for which it had been designed.
Not long afterwards Mayer found a proper workshop for McLaren and, in the early part of 1964, the operation moved to Feltham, where the original Zerez design was rethought and a new car was developed. This would become known as the McLaren M1A and because McLaren did not have the capacity to manufacture large numbers of cars, the design was licenced to Elva in Rye, which had at that point just been taken over by Peter Agg’s Lambretta Trojan Group. Around 200 McLaren-Elvas would be built in the years that followed.
At the time McLaren was still racing for the Cooper factory Formula 1 team and so kept his own team at a relatively low profile. However the US tyre giant Firestone had new management and was keen to make a bigger international impression and so commissioned McLaren to build them an F1 test car. The McLaren team thus moved to a much bigger factory in an industrial estate in Poyle. It is easy to find. If you go west down the main northern runway at Heathrow Airport, it is the first place that the planes pass over. At the time McLaren felt that the Coopers were becoming less competitive and had ambitions to run his own F1 team and so the Firestone commission was very useful. Early in 1965 he recruited a bright young aerospace engineer who had previously worked at the National Gas Turbine Establishment at Farnborough, Robin Herd. McLaren wanted new ideas and felt that aerospace was the place to find them.
By September Herd had built a car called the M2A. The car featured sections of a material called Mallite – light wood sandwiched between two sheets of aluminium. The car was fitted with the same Oldsmobile engines as the M1A. While the Firestone testing pushed ahead, Herd and another new recruit, fellow aerospace engineer Gordon Coppuck, began work on a full F1 version of the car, which would meet the new 1966 3-litre Formula 1 World Championship rules. The car initially featured a downsized 4.2-litre Ford V8 IndyCar engine. McLaren announced that he was leaving Cooper to start his own team and appeared with the new car for the Monaco GP. The team then fitted the car with a Serenissima V8, which enabled McLaren finished sixth at the 1966 British GP, scoring the team’s first point. The team also ran a pair of M1Bs in the new CanAm Series for Bruce and Chris Amon and in the British sports car series.
For 1967 it was decided to try out the BRM V12 engine, but this was delayed and so some of the races were run with Formula 2 BRM V8s. The best result was fourth at Monaco. That year, however, armed with the Chevrolet-powered M6A, Bruce and Denny Hulme dominated CanAm, winning five of the sixth races and finishing 1-2 in the championship. Denny won the World Championship that year with Brabham but decided to leave the team at the end of the year to join McLaren, expanding the F1 team to two cars, with a new M7A from Herd and his team and Cosworth V8 engines. The result was a competitive challenge and Bruce won the Race of Champions and Denny the International Trophy. At the Belgian GP, however, McLaren won the team’s victory. Hulme followed up with wins in Italy and Canada and McLaren finished second in the Constructors’ World Championship. And in CanAm the domination continued with four wins in six races and another championship 1-2 for Denny and Bruce. The team continued to grow but in June 1970 McLaren was killed testing a CanAm car at Goodwood, Mayer took over the running of the operation and by 1974 Emerson Fittipaldi was able to win the team its first Formula 1 World Championship. James Hunt would win a second in 1976, while over in the United States McLaren continued competing in CanAm until the end of 1972, by which time McLarens had begun appearing in the Formula 5000 championship and in IndyCar racing. The cars won the Indy 500 three times between 1972 and 1976.
Towards the end of the 1970s, however, there was pressure for better results from sponsor Marlboro and in 1980 a merger was organised with Ron Dennis’s Marlboro-sponsored Formula 2 team – Project 4 Racing. The result was McLaren International, and with John Barnard designing the ground-breaking MP4-1 and a deal was struck to use Porsche-designed TAG turbo engines. The result was consecutive World Championships in 1984, 1985 and 1986 for drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost and then, after a switch to Honda power in 1988, four consecutive titles in 1988-1989-1990 and 1991 for Prost and Ayrton Senna.
The company’s first road car – The McLaren F1 – was unveiled in May 1992 at the Sporting Club in Monaco. The car is still regarded as one of the greatest ever supercars. It has been followed by a series of other McLaren-built road cars, most recently the 12C and 12C Spider and the new McLaren P1TM.
In 1995 McLaren won the Le Mans 24 Hours on its first attempt with an F1 driven by Yannick Dalmas, JJ Lehto and Masanori Sekiya. Mika Hakkinen would add two more Drivers’ titles for McLaren in 1998 and 1999, the team by then using Mercedes engines. The team has won a total of eighth Constructors’ Championships in F1 in addition the the Drivers’ crowns.
The organisation has continued to expand to encompass McLaren Electronic Systems, which supplies technologies to every team in F1, NASCAR and Indycar, and McLaren Applied Technologies, which applies McLaren expertise to a wide range of industries from elite sport and healthcare to energy and product design. And there are plans for even more ambitious growth in the future.
“McLaren started as the dream of one man, and it’s since grown to encompass the hopes and dreams of more than 2000 men and women, who work as tirelessly as Bruce McLaren himself once did to ensure that everything we do reflects well when compared with everything we’ve ever achieved,” says Ron Dennis. “Our 50th anniversary provides an opportunity for every single McLaren employee to realise that he or she is an utterly crucial part of an organisation with a history and a culture that really mean something. Call it McLaren’s DNA, if you like. Call it McLaren’s brand continuity, if you prefer. Call it McLaren’s corporate culture, if you will. Call it McLaren’s undiminished hunger to win in everything we do, and you’d probably be getting closest to what I mean, what I think, and what I feel.”