The very first car to carry the McLaren name was an Oldsmobile-engined sports car, which made its debut at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park on September 26, 1964. The car had been built by McLaren’s crew in the summer of 1964, using the Oldsmobile V8 engine that McLaren had been using in the Zerex Special that he raced in the British Sports Car Championship earlier in the year, before deciding to design his own chassis. It is often said that this was a Group 7 CanAm car, but initially that was not the case, because neither Group 7 nor CanAm existed until 1966, although later versions of the car would be used in Group 7.
At the time sports car racing was as confusing as it is today and the Canadian Grand Prix was a round of the Canadian Sports Car Championship. The M1A was a space frame chassis built around a 4.5-litre version of the all-aluminium GM215 V8 engine, which Oldsmobile used in some of its production models. Tuned for McLaren by Jim Travers and Frank Coon at Traco in California, this light and powerful engine allowed McLaren to finish third at Mosport and later, during the Bahamas Speed Weeks in early December, he finished runner-up in the Nassau Trophy. This success led to the decision to have the car put into production by Elva – and 24 copies of the car were eventually built.
Another version of the GM215 V8 engine would be used as the base for the Repco F1 engine in 1966, which won the World Championship for Brabham with Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme driving. The engine would also later become the Rover V8.