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