At a moment when the distraught Bruce McLaren Company needed hope for the future, a reason to carry on, the company would find that its hope for moving forward would turn out to come in the form in the form of the very car that had taken the life of the company's founder.
On a late Tuesday morning in early June, Bruce McLaren would climb inside of his newest Can-Am racer. Nicknamed the 'Batmobile', McLaren would strap himself inside of the new car and would set off around the 2.39 mile Goodwood circuit beginning early shakedown tests of the car.
All would be going well throughout the first hour and a half. He had been testing the new car getting more and more comfortable inside of it. His pace continued to creep up and up until he was seen powering his way down the main straight at speeds of around 170 mph. All of a sudden, the rear bodywork would lift up off the car causing there to be a lack of downforce at the rear of the car. At that point, the car would turn sideways and would slide off the circuit at a high rate of speed.
Two years previous, McLaren would pen these words speaking about the loss of Jim Clark: 'too often someone pays the penalty for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a situation or set of circumstances is such that no human being can control them…' And when the car turned and slid sideways, McLaren became just a passenger awaiting the collision surely about to occur. Sliding across the grass, the car would quickly slam into a marshal's stand at more than 100 mph. The impact would kill McLaren instantly. He was just shy of his 33rd birthday.
Investigating the cause of the accident it would be determined that a simple tail securing pin had gone missing and allowed the bodywork to come flying up into the air. Unfortunately, the accident meant the McLaren team lost more than just a car. In no small way, the team had lost its figurehead and visionary. Things would only be made worse by the news Denny Hulme, the other half of the 'Bruce and Denny Show' had suffered some burns while partaking in the Indianapolis 500. It seemed the world at McLaren was coming crashing down.
In spite of the tremendous grief everyone at Bruce McLaren Motor Racing was experiencing there was still a Can-Am racing season about to begin. In fact, the first round of the Can-Am championship would be just 10 days away. And while it would not be surprising if Bruce McLaren Motor Racing took time off or disappeared altogether it would not have been what Bruce McLaren wanted for his company. He would have wanted his company to carry on in his absence forging a path with excellence and as one of the most dominant players in any of the racing series in which the company took part.
This is what his company would do. And do so, the company would have to look to the very car McLaren had lost his life in while testing. In fact, the only way in which the M8D 'Batmobile' could arise from the stigma would be to utterly dominate Can-Am just as its predecessors had over the previous couple of years.
Bruce McLaren Motor Racing became the preeminent team in Can-Am racing in 1967 when McLaren designed the M6A. Focusing on the new unlimited series, McLaren's M6A would come into the season as the most dominant car and would win all but one race during the season.
The following season, McLaren would debut its new M8A chassis and would go on to win four of the six rounds of the championship that year. The M8A followed the successful pattern of the M6A but did feature some new evolutions including the engine being a partially-stressed structural member of the car and the evolution of the monocoque structure of the chassis itself.
It was clear the simple design was a good one and the four victories would only prove this point. However, the gap back to the competition was beginning to close. The reason for this was simple—McLaren was selling his rivals his own chassis for use in the series. In fact, in 1968, no fewer than 5 teams would enter McLaren chassis of some kind for the first round of the championship. Despite the fact the competition was using McLaren chassis and drawing ever closer, Denny Hulme would still come through to take the championship giving Bruce McLaren Motor Racing back-to-back championships.
Heading into the 1969 season, McLaren and his team would continue to improve upon their championship winning designs in order to maintain its advantage within the Can-Am series. It was obviously clear the M8A chassis was still just as good as its other brethren, but it was obvious to McLaren there were still ways in which the car could be improved to ensure the team's dominance in the series.
Drawing upon the same basic shape of the M8A with its tall rounded front fenders and extremely low-profile line in between that swept upward toward the rear of the car, it would become clear to McLaren that the easiest way to improve the car was to come in the form of a large high-mounted wing that could improve handling.
The M8A, with its 7.0-liter Chevrolet V8 producing 625 bhp, certainly had enough power to develop some incredible top end speed. However, being able to carry some more of that speed through the corners would only ensure an advantage over the rest of the competition. This had been proven by Jim Hall with his adjustable wing Chaparral. Therefore, McLaren and his team would include a large suspension-mounted rear wing that would help generate downforce directly onto the rear wheels.
This proved to be an ultimate combination as the 'Bruce and Denny Show' would absolutely romp the competition throughout the 1969 season. Out of eleven rounds of the Can-Am championship in 1969, the M8B would go on to provide McLaren victory in every single one of the rounds that year and would give McLaren his final championship. What would be most amazing about that year would be the fact the M8B would prove so successful that McLaren would earn one-two finishes in all but three of the rounds of the championship that year. In the end, the combination of McLaren and Hulme would produce an astronomical 325 total points for the team. To put things into perspective, Chuch Parsons would finish the season in 3rd place, he would score just a little more than half of the points that McLaren would earn.
Those governing Can-Am knew there needed to be some changes made to help disrupt the reign of the 'Bruce and Denny Show' at the top of the Can-Am network. And to help achieve their aim, the governing body would focus on an element they believed made all of the difference.
Heading into the 1970 season, McLaren had scored three-straight championships in Can-Am racing. However, they were faced with a change during the off-season. There had been problems reported with the suspension-mounted wings. In addition, it seemed to be the one element that caused McLaren to absolutely enter a whole new sphere of dominance within the series. Therefore, for 1970 and going forward, the suspension-mounted wings would be banned.
In an effort to maintain its 'unlimited' reputation, the change by the officials to ban the suspension-mounted wings was not only a minor move it was also a rather simple fix for teams like those of McLaren.
McLaren would start out with the very same tubs that had been used on the M8B. However, to ensure better handling and stability, McLaren would design the car with 4 inch wider suspension and wider bodywork. Still, the overall design of the M8D would remain the same as that which had been used on the M8B.
The radiator would again be placed up in the nose at an angle so as to allow the narrowest of openings. The wider bodywork would still sport the tall wheel arches covering the front wheels. The nearly flat profile of the bodywork in between the two wheel arches was truly a striking contrast and made for a very low driver position. As with every other McLaren chassis, the nose of the bodywork would feature deeply-cut vents to allow the airflow built up around the radiator inlet to flow out and keep from causing blockages at the inlet. This reduced drag and instability at the front of the car.
The low-slung bodywork would place the driver in a reclined position when in the cockpit and a wrap-around windscreen would turn upwards on all sides to provide what was literally the only protection the driver had, at least from the chest upwards.
Over the course of the season, the M8D would be affixed with some special elements to help with stability and airflow control. A couple of the more noticeable additions would be the inclusion of fences along the top of the front wheel arches. The wheel arches themselves would also undergo changes as the season progressed. Initially, the M8D would be introduced with smooth, rounded wheel arches. However, to help relieve some of the pressure built up around the rotating wheel, the lower portion of the aft part of the arch would be cut inwards allowing airflow to escape out around the side of the car.
The cockpit would be straight-forward and simplistic. Besides the small steering wheel and small gauges for fuel and oil, the driver's view would be simply dominated by the rpm gauge representing the number of revs the giant 7-liter V8 was turning right behind. Just to the right of the driver then would also be the small manual gear lever controlling the Hewland 4 speed manual gearbox.
Heading into the 1970 season, the occupant of the driver seat would find themselves with even more power at their disposal than in previous seasons. George Bolthoff would experiment with a new engine. He would try to use an 8-liter 700 bhp engine in tests. However, this engine would practically shake it and everything else apart. Therefore, the decision would be made to have the M8D make do with an upgraded version of the 7-liter powerplant. Instead of the 625 bhp, or so, that had been developed with the M8A and M8B, the power would be upgraded to a mere 675 bhp. And behind the tall, rectangular roll bar would be found the tall inlet pipes feeding the all-important air into the engine to develop the monster power the V8 was capable of achieving.
The basic core of the rear bodywork that had been used on the M8B would remain mostly unchanged on the M8D. Just aft of the cockpit, and on either side, would remain the extremely large NACA vents that would be beautifully designed into the leading edge of the rear fenders to provide as smooth a surface as possible. Each one of these vents fed all-important cooler air to oil coolers situated on either side of the engine. This positioning allowed the backend of the car; which is where most oil coolers of the day would be placed, protruding up into the airflow at the rear of the car, to remain clear of all obstructions that could possibly cause instability at the rear of the car.
However, it would be at the rear of the car the most obvious difference of the M8D to every other sibling ever developed by McLaren. Instead of the high-mounted wing that had been so prevalent on the M8B, the new M8D would feature two endplates that would blend seamlessly into the upper line of the rear wheel arch. The large rear wing would be attached to either both endplates and would be further supported by a couple of support pillars located toward the middle of the car.
When it was all said and done, McLaren would have one truly competitive car on its hands. And it would be the reason why McLaren would make the trip back from the United States to be aboard by that late Tuesday morning.
In spite of the tragic events, everyone, including Bruce himself, knew the M8D had what it took to continue to the team's dominant run in Can-Am. Therefore, any problems would be fixed and the team would ship the new car over to North America in order to take part in the first round of the Can-Am Championship for 1970.
In the first race of the season, Denny Hulme, despite still suffering from burns, would drive the lone Bruce McLaren Motor Racing entry and would finish in 3rd place while Dan Gurney would win the race in another M8D entered by McLaren Cars Ltd.
Dan Gurney would follow the victory at Mosport up with another victory at the second round. Denny Hulme would not finish due to an oil leak. Despite Bruce's death there were a number of fantastic drivers just waiting and willing to take over the vacant seat and help the team continue its run of success. Besides Dan Gurney, Peter Gethin would also share time driving one of the M8Ds throughout the 1970 Can-Am season.
And, despite the company losing its founder and dealing with the heartache and the grief associated with the loss, McLaren's winning ways in Can-Am would continue. The M8D would not achieve the kind of dominance the M8B would a season earlier. But then again, it wouldn't have to. By the end of the 10 round 1970 season, McLaren's M8D had gone on to win no less than nine of them. And after Dan Gurney took victory in the first two rounds of the season, it would be Denny Hulme resuming his hosting duties despite the loss of his other half. By the end of the season Hulme would win no less than six races and would more than double the points total of his next-closest championship rival Lothar Motschenbacher.
The M8D continued McLaren's dominant run in Can-Am. In fact, it would even help McLaren go on to win another championship with Peter Revson at the wheel in 1971. The M8F, as it would be known, would be just another evolution of the M8D and would prove as formidable as any of the other McLaren chassis.
McLaren's run in Can-Am would come to an end with the introduction of Penske's ultimate Porsche 917. Absolutely unlimited, it represented the lengths to which competitors had to reach to be able to compete with the cars that had been the genius of Bruce McLaren. However, at that moment when the dominance could have waned, when Bruce McLaren Motor Racing gasped for its last couple of breaths lost in its incredible grief, it would be the very car that would knock the wind out of the team that would provide the company with life and purpose and a reason to carry on. In many respects, because of the M8D, McLaren remains one of the most dominant forces in motorsport to this very day. In death, would be found new life.Sources:
'McLaren Can-Am Cars', (http://www.bruce-mclaren.com/the-cars/canam/mclaren-can-am-cars2679.html?page=1). Bruce McLaren Trust. http://www.bruce-mclaren.com/the-cars/canam/mclaren-can-am-cars2679.html?page=1. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
'Drivers: Bruce McLaren Archive', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Bruce-McLaren-NZ.html?page=3). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Bruce-McLaren-NZ.html?page=3. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
'Drivers Denny Hulme Archive', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Denny-Hulme-NZ.html?page=3). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Denny-Hulme-NZ.html?page=3. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
'McLaren M8A', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/314/McLaren-M8A.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/314/McLaren-M8A.html. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
'McLaren M8D Chevrolet', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/324/McLaren-M8D-Chevrolet.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/324/McLaren-M8D-Chevrolet.html. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Can-Am', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 June 2012, 02:46 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Can-Am&oldid=497161549 accessed 29 August 2012
Wikipedia contributors, '1970 Can-Am season', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 August 2011, 18:45 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1970_Can-Am_season&oldid=447177815 accessed 29 August 2012 By Jeremy McMullen
McLaren had done extremely well during the 1967 CanAm season with their M6A Works Team cars. They had secured a championship victory with their three cars. For 1968, McLaren put this design into production as a customer car and dubbed them the M6B.
Bruce McLaren was the youngest Grand Prix winner who would eventually become a car manufacturer. His resume includes racing on the Cooper Works F1 team during the era of the very competitive mid-engined Coopers. He was a works driver for a few years before purchasing his own Cooper in 1963, a car known as the Zerex Special. He campaigned the car in the American sports car series for a few years, modifying it as needed, and eventually building a new racer from the group up. The car has a spaceframe chassis and was named the M1. It was first seen in 1964 and it quickly proved it was a very capable machine earning a reputation and a contract with Elva/Trojan for the production of customer versions. This gave the Works team the financial backing and the time to focus on their racing program.
Within a few years, McLaren had diversified into other racing segments, building monoposto's that could be used in Formula 1 competition. The M1 was used in the newly formed CanAm Series with some success, but the Lola T70 ultimately proved too competitive. The M1 was replaced by the M6 that featured an aluminum monocoque and fiberglass body. This setup was similar to the T70. The McLaren Oldsmobile V8 engines that powered the M6 cars had been lightweight but lacking in power compared to other team cars. A change was made to Chevrolet engines that offered large displacement sizes. The chassis of the M6A was brought to life in just eleven weeks. The design had been made by Robin Herd. Bruce McLaren and teammate Denny Hulme fine-tuned the design through rigorous testing session. The chassis was aluminum monocoque which was both lightweight and strong. During the 1967, McLaren and Hulme dominated. McLaren earned 30 points and Hulme was close behind with 27. The McLarens and their Gulf-sponsored cars had won five of the six qualifying races and easily outclassed the competition.
Trojan handled the production of the M6B customer cars, again freeing McLaren for new development work and to concentrate on racing. The next McLaren racer was the M8A introduced in 1968. It had a big-block V8 engine that produced 620 horsepower. It had an aluminum monocoque, independent suspension, and ventilated disc brakes on all four corners. The entire package was clothed in a fiberglass body which was wider than its predecessors. The increased width helped conceal the very wide tires and also aided in vehicle aerodynamics.
Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme drove the Works M8A to the Championship, winning four of the six rounds. The other two races were won by customer driven McLarens. An added bonus for the team was that their M7 Cosworth powered racer had also won the Formula 1 Championship that year.
The M8B McLaren was the next iteration of the M8 series. It drew its inspiration from the Chaparrals, being given a large wing, a slightly increased width, and an increase in power. These small changes kept the car competitive, well, dominate! McLaren won all eleven races during the season with Bruce winning six of the races and his second CanAm title.
The suspension mounted wings were deemed too dangerous and banned for the 1970 season. The customer cars this season were the M8C while the Works drove the M8D. The M8C models, the first customer cars of the M8 model-line, featured a chassis mounted wing and a body design similar to the prior McLaren M8 cars. The Works cars again grew in width to accommodate the wider tires. The engines received an increase in power which made the wider tires even more necessary to help alleviate wheel-spin and to keep the vehicle stable during heavy cornering. The 7-liter engine was enlarged to 7.6-liters resulting in a very impressive 670 horsepower. The body was new, with a design that earned it the nickname 'Batmobile.'
The season would begin with tragedy, as Bruce was killed during a test session in the M8D at Goodwood. The season would continue for the McLaren marque, with Dan Gurney filling the void left by Bruce during the first race. Peter Gethin would take over for the remained of the season. Denny Hulme won six victories with Gethin/Gurney winning three.
For 1971, the M8F was introduced. It was an evolution of the M8D with many changes to the engine. The V8 unit was constructed from lightweight aluminum and had a displacement size over 8 liters. The result was a staggering 740 horsepower making this the first CanAm car to exceed the 1000bhp/ton mark. Trojan continued to build the customer cars which were now called the M8E. This versions were similar to M8C but fitted with a new strut mounted rear wing. Two of the M8E cars were modified to similar design of the M8D cars; these two cars are known as the M8E/D.
The factory drivers for 1971 were Hulme and Peter Revson. Hulme won three races with Revson winning four. This made Revson the first American to win the CanAm Series title.
For 1972, the factory cars were the newly introduced M20 which featured a turbocharged V8 engine and side-mounted radiators. By now, other marque's had caught up to McLaren in terms of design and development, and the McLaren winning streak would come to an end. Leading the pack were the very powerful Porsche 917s which had over 900 horsepower at their disposal. The McLarens, producing just under 800 horsepower, were unable to keep pace as they once did.
When the 1972 season came to a close, McLaren withdrew from the series. Instead, they turned their attention to monoposto racing. The CanAm series would continue for only a short time longer, as sponsorship continued to decline resulting in the season ending prematurely.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2008