1968 McLaren M7A

1968-1969 McLaren M7A

In 1966, at the famed Monaco Grand Prix the windows of the expensive downtown hotels and shops would be rattled an incredible cacophonous sound. Adorned in white with a small green stripe, Bruce McLaren's first effort in Formula One was certainly more sound than fury. However, when the team made the move to the more glaring bright orange, the team would trade in raucous noise for outright performance until it wouldn't be the sound but a flash of orange brilliance that would capture the attention of people around Formula One circuits the world over.

That first effort at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 would be anything but a little embarrassing. The sound from its adapted Ford engine would be enough to split eardrums as the incredible sound echoed off the buildings of the tiny principality. However, even all of the noise from the engine could do little to straighten-out the car's teething problems and poor speed. In fact, Bruce himself would recognize that the only success the car seemed capable of achieving was by being the noisiest car circulating the Monaco circuit.

The problem was that it wasn't really circulating the track. In the end, the M2B's debut would consist of just nine painfully slow laps around Monaco making a ton of noise but leaking oil profusely into the cockpit and onto the circuit. McLaren's response couldn't have been a more obvious statement when he said, 'We're going to have to make some fairly drastic moves in the engine room…' And with that, McLaren's Formula One debut would be always remembered more for ear-splitting noise than on track performance.

McLaren wasn't interested in noise but in performance and the initial M2B just didn't have it. Therefore, McLaren and his team would quickly set about finding a more suitable solution than an adapted Indianapolis 500 Ford engine. In Italy, Count Volpi would be producing Serenissima V8s design by Ing. Alberto Massimino, the same man that had previously worked with Lancia-Ferrari during the late 1950s. Volpi was interested in Formula One and would provide the engines to McLaren.

This would be a difficult marriage at first as the team would not even manage to start the Belgian Grand Prix and the team would scratch its entry before the French Grand Prix. This new V8 was proving to be just as difficult as the raucous powerplant that shook the buildings in Monaco. However, the team would work hard and would make improvements that would end up resulting in the team taking its first championship points at the British Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch.

The British Grand Prix was just the fourth round of the 1966 World Championship and would prove that McLaren had all of the right people to be successful in Formula One. He just needed the finances and the right elements to come together.

The following season would see more of the same for McLaren, but it was clear the team was improving. Heading into the 1967 season it was clear to McLaren his team needed to stop getting thrown together engines and had to procure a competitive engine with stable backing to help ensure that his team had the best possible chances at success. Therefore, McLaren would approach BRM about the potential of becoming a customer for its 2-cam V12 engine they had been developing.

BRM would agree to a deal and the McLaren team would set about designing a car for the large V12 engine. Herd's M2B design was actually quite elegant were it not for the large bay that had been designed for the Ford engine that had originally graced the backend of the initial McLaren chassis. Therefore, he would keep with the same basic design element when preparing for the BRM V12. However, there would be a problem.

The BRM V12 project would hit delays and delivery would be subsequently delayed for McLaren. In fact, there was a rather long wait for delivery of the new engine. This would cause McLaren, Herd, Teddy Mayer and everyone at McLaren to hastily put together a stand-in for the team's original design.

Named the McLaren BRM M4B, the car originally had been developed for the 1.6-liter Formula 2 category using basically a Cosworth four cylinder engine. This design would have to be altered and would include the addition of long range pannier fuel tanks and an enlarged engine bay ready to receive a 2.1-liter BRM V8 engine producing around 280 bhp.

This make-shift, hybrid would make its debut with a red livery at Brands Hatch with McLaren driving in the Race of Champions. While this race would end with an early retirement, the car would go on to earn a couple of 5th place results in non-championship events.

This car, the M4B, had been thrown together and certainly didn't look like a Formula One car. However, the work that McLaren, Herd and Mayer would do in such a short time would be incredible. And on the tight streets of Monaco, the second round of the Formula One World Championship that year, the small car was just perfectly suited to the circuit.

Heading into the final laps of the race, McLaren was running an absolutely surprising and fantastic 2nd. However, the car had problems. Misfires were slowing McLaren's pace and he would pit sure the problem had to do with fuel pressure. However, Jack Brabham, McLaren's former teammate at Cooper and a good friend would come running over declaring the problem was with the battery. Brabham had his own team he was running, but his cars were out of the race. He would come over to help out his old friend and would diagnose correctly what the issue truly was. A new battery would be put in the car and McLaren would rejoin the race in time to finish in 4th.

The delay with the BRM V12 would lead to McLaren and his team to seriously look to other suppliers. BRM would finally finish their V12 and would deliver a couple to McLaren. Because the team had to come up with an alternative, the new car with the BRM V12 engine would be known as the M5A-BRM and would make its debut at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1967. The car was strong as McLaren would run as high as 2nd place during the race. However, battery issues would again cost Bruce and he would only manage to finish 7th in its first race. In fact, the best result the M5A would achieve throughout its career would come in 1968, in what should have been its second full year powering a McLaren chassis.

In the South African Grand Prix, while Bruce McLaren and the team were busy preparing the team's new car, Denny Hulme would take the M5A for one last fling. In the end, Hulme would finish the race in 5th place, 2 laps behind eventual winner Jim Clark.

The delays with the BRM engine and unsatisfactory results would lead to McLaren designing an all-new car, this time to be built around the new Ford Cosworth DFV V8. The Cosworth DFV engine had been campaigned successfully by Team Lotus and McLaren knew the potential that existed with the engine. Therefore, McLaren would become just one of two customers, other than Lotus, that would take receipt of the new engine.

Though he was a racer, McLaren was also very technically competent. He understood car design and the necessary elements involved in car design. However, he had also assembled some very talented individuals within his own team and he needed to let them apply their talents to help improve the team. Thankfully, McLaren would have the humility to acknowledge this. Therefore, Robin Herd would be given the task of designing the new car for the team, Herd's first to be designed according to his own specifications.

McLaren knew he could trust Herd. The two had worked together and designed the Can-Am winning M6. The experience with the M6 actually helped to give Herd a sense of direction he knew he wanted to go.

When it came to the chassis itself, Herd would depart from the norm of the fully enclosed chassis like that used on in the Lotus 49 and would instead choose a bathtub style monocoque chassis. Rigidity for the chassis would come from three steel bulkheads along with the riveted aluminum sheets. On either side of the driver Herd would place the rubber fuel tank bladders. Such positioning would help to maintain a lower center of gravity and would also help with forward and aft stability.

Though given the task of designing an all-new car, Robin Herd would be lured away by the very engine supplier McLaren was looking to to help them reach the top of the running order. Unfinished in many respects, Herd would leave McLaren to take part in Cosworth's intended plans of designing its own grand prix car. This left McLaren back in charge of the M7A project.

Bruce would provide assistance and guidance but would turn Gordon Coppuck loose completing the car. Again, familiar with car design, McLaren would pick up on Herd's overall design and would let Coppuck work on the car's suspension.

The work on the Can-Am Series cars would be clearly evident on the M7A's design. If the circuit was a high-speed venue, the M7A would sport a long and rather pointed nose with a very low-profile oval shaped radiator opening. If it were a circuit like Monaco where cooling was of greater importance, then a larger, rounder radiator opening would be seen in the nose. However, one aspect that would be a part of the car no matter the type of circuit would be the deeply-channeled radiator exists just aft of the fiberglass nose. McLaren and his team understood well that the air trying to flow through the radiator actually gets backed up and causes more drag and instability at the front of the car. Therefore, through the application of the deeply-cut radiator exists the air flowing over the top of the nose of the car would help to pull the air through the radiator thereby reducing the blockages and improving straight-line speed.

The overall profile of the nose would be flat and quite low with the radiator inlet very close to the ground. The top line of the nose's design, however, would remain quite flat, even past the front suspension, and then would gracefully curve upwards until it blended seamlessly into the higher-arching wrap-around windscreen. This design resulted from the use of the 'bathtub' style chassis and helped to keep a very low center of gravity. However, the low profile of the nose did cause some changes to be made at the front of the car from previous models.

The low, sexy lines of the M7A's body made it impossible to conceal the coil-sprung double-wishbone suspension. This was something Lotus was able to get away with on its Lotus 49 design, all but the wishbones remained hidden inside the bodywork and chassis. But on the McLaren, every aspect, from the anti-roll bar to the coil springs would be left attached to the outside of the car, but this would be considered a necessary trade-off to maintain a lower center of gravity and to keep the tight, low lines of the car itself.

Despite the fact the chassis was nothing more than a 'bathtub' arrangement, the lines of the bodywork would cause the fiberglass to close in tight around the driver's cockpit. Therefore, the driver squeezed into the car and found their shoulders tight up against the windscreen. Though cramped inside, the cockpit featured some very reliable components that would help it hopefully take McLaren, finally, to the front of the field. A Hewland 5 speed manual gearbox would supply the power from the 430 bhp Cosworth V8 to the wheels. The rack and pinion steering, combined with the simple layout of the car and its components itself would provide the driver with a very positive feel through the corners. Ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels would only provide further confidence to McLaren and his team that they finally had created a car capable of challenging each and every race it attended.

Trailing link rear suspension and a perfectly placed Cosworth DFV engine toward the rear of the car meant McLaren finally had a complete car from nose to tail, not one put together piecemeal and with the intention of merely surviving until the next year. Aerodynamic additions could include rear bodywork covering the engine, suspension and oil cooler all in the attempt to reduce possible drag. Later models would even include high-mounted wings attached out at the wheels of the car itself to help aid in downforce.

The addition of the other half of the 'Bruce and Denny Show' meant McLaren finally had all of the components and personnel in place to finally shoot for victory. And, by the Spanish Grand Prix, just the second round of the 1968 season, the new M7A would make its first appearance.

The car's first appearance would prove quite successful for one-half of the Bruce and Denny Show and disappointing to another. Denny would like the car very much and would come away with a 2nd place result. Unfortunately, McLaren would not experience such a good time and would be out of the race after 78 laps due to a loss of oil. Still, no battery problems or some other issue had robbed the team of a good result. It was more than evident the team was heading upward.

More podium results would come the M7A's way and would be further testimony to the work McLaren and his team had done, and the skills they also had. All of the hard work and commitment would be rewarded when, in just the car's third ever race, it would go on to achieve victory in the Belgian Grand Prix with Bruce McLaren at the wheel. This would be followed up with Denny Hulme scoring back-to-back victories in the ninth and tenth rounds of the 1968 season.

Whereas the previous McLaren chassis had been thrown together or delayed, the M7A project would be a clear focus of the team from the very beginning. It was clear the team had learned a patch-work chassis just could not be as successful as one that had been intentionally thought out and closely assembled. But it was the inclusion of all the right elements, from the people and the work on the design to the new Cosworth engine, that made it all come together and work.

'McLaren Formula 1', (http://www.bruce-mclaren.com/info_pages.php/pages_id/11). Bruce McLaren Trust. http://www.bruce-mclaren.com/info_pages.php/pages_id/11. Retrieved 23 August 2012.

'McLaren M7A Cosworth', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/313/McLaren-M7A-Cosworth.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/313/McLaren-M7A-Cosworth.html. Retrieved 23 August 2012.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Cosworth', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 August 2012, 17:54 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cosworth&oldid=505775134 accessed 23 August 2012

By Jeremy McMullen

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