McLaren-Chevrolet M1B Race Car

The great New Zealand racing driver Bruce McLaren made his name as a world-class competitor with the Cooper factory Formula 1 team through 1959-1960. In their cars he became the youngest Grand Prix winner to that time when – at the age of only 22 years 104 days – he won the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring, Florida. He then promptly won the following Argentine Grand Prix – opening round of the 1960 World Championship season – again for Cooper. He was at that time a terrific No 2 driver for the team, learning rapidly – and eagerly – at the knee of his team leader, and great mentor, double-World Champion elect Jack Brabham.

At the end of the 1961 World Championship racing season, Jack Brabham left Cooper to establish his own Brabham marque, as owner/driver/ constructor combined. Bruce McLaren took his mentor's example seriously, and for the 1964 Tasman Championship series in New Zealand and Australia he founded his own concern, Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited, to build Tasman and sports-racing cars of his own concept and his new team's design. His McLaren marque went on to establish itself similarly in Formula 1, Formula 2 and Indycar racing – but the foundation of its true success – and its survival into the 21st Century) was the domination it established in the money-rich Canadian American Challenge Cup race series of 'free-Formula' Group 7 sports-car races in North America, from 1967 to 1971 inclusive.

The initial Tasman cars built by the new concern were named Cooper to maintain Bruce's fine relationship with his Formula 1 employer, for whom he became team leader from 1962-65 – winning the Monaco Grand Prix, and the non-Championship Reims Grand Prix, in the 1962 season. Bruce himself won the CanAm Champion title in both 1967 and 1969, while his loyal (and rugged) team-mate Denny Hulme became CanAm Champion in the intervening seasons of 1968 and 1970 (when poor Bruce lost his life tragically in a testing accident). In 1971 team driver Peter Revson won McLaren their fifth consecutive CanAm Championship title – before the unbeatable juggernaut that was the Porsche factory with its turbocharged Typ 917/10 and 917/30 designs took charge of the competition, and killed it through unbridled cost inflation...

Such a pedigree makes any CanAm McLaren a mouth-watering piece of sports equipment for an Historic racing enthusiast. Back in 1964-65, once the new McLaren works team's cars had proved their original concept and design, Bruce signed a customer-car production agreement with Peter Agg of the Trojan Group in the UK – owners of the Elva racing car concern - to manufacture the cars. The first McLaren-Elva M1A Group 7 machines emerged during 1965, and for 1966 the big news in that particular market was the birth of 'CanAm' racing in the USA and Canada combined.

For that inaugural 1966 CanAm season a rebodied version of the 1965-originated McLaren-Elva Mark 1A was introduced. The new model wore a bulbous but handsomely proportioned new bodyshell panelled in moulded glassfibre by Specialised Mouldings Ltd. It had been styled by the leading motor racing artist Michael Turner – who was a personal friend of Bruce's – and it clothed a refined version of the McLaren M1As' original multi-tubular spaceframe chassis. The cars proved to be light in weight, agile, good handling and were powered by a choice of the small-block lightweight Oldsmobile V8 engine or the larger, heavier V8s from either Chevrolet or Ford. The new M1B model could be specified by customers to accept an engine of their preference. The cars were sold in the US market not as 'McLaren M1Bs' but as the 'McLaren-Elva Mark 2'.

We are advised that the history of this particular McLaren-Chevrolet M1B now offered here began in August 1966 with its supply to enthusiastic American owner/entrant John Klug of Pacesetter Homes. The car was to be driven for him by the immensely experienced bass-voiced sometime Formula 1 driver – and 1965 Ferrari Le Mans 24-Hour race winner - Masten Gregory. The car featured quite prominently in that year's CanAm series, and finished fifth overall in the Monterey Grand Prix Championship round, run at Laguna Seca in California.

First time out in that year's CanAm inaugural event at St Jovite in Canada, Masten Gregory had unluckily damaged the car's radiator in a start-line incident. He did not finish at the Bridgehampton course on Long Island, but at Mosport Park, Canada, brought the car home tenth overall. His fifth place finish at Laguna Seca was the aggregate result of the two matching race Heats between no less than Mark Donohue (fourth in Roger Penske's Sunoco-backed Lola-Chevrolet T70), and John Cannon in a sister McLaren-Chevrolet M1B. Masten Gregory had finished 8th in Heat 1 and 6th in Heat 2 for that fifth on aggregate overall. He did not finish in either the Riverside Raceway or Las Vegas Championship rounds, suffering gearbox failure in the Nevadan title decider, but was still classified as a finisher there, 12th overall.

Of the Chevrolet V8 engines such as that installed in the 'Pacesetter Homes' M1B now offered here, Bruce's business partner and team director Teddy Mayer would recall: "We should have made the change from the little Oldsmobile V8s sooner...". And Bruce himself would confess: "I guess we were wrong to stick with the Oldsmobile for so long. In the early stages of sports car racing, development of tyre and transmission wasn't up to the stage where 500 horsepower could be used reliably. Now I think it is...".

As a measure of the McLaren M1Bs' potential, the two works cars of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon had finished 2nd and 3rd in that year's opening CanAm round at St Jovite – both with Olsdmobile engines. At Bridgehampton with Chevrolet power Bruce and Chris finished 2-3 again, at Mosport Park customer McLaren-Chevrolet M1Bs placed 3-4, and at Laguna Seca Bruce finished third behind the dominant Chaparral-Chevrolets of Phil Hill and Jim Hall. In the deciding round at Las Vegas Bruce's works M1B-Chevrolet finished second overall behind new Champion John Surtees's monocoque-chassised Lola-Chevrolet T70.

Today this well-known McLaren-Chevrolet M1B is offered by a very prominent Historic racing owner/driver in whose hands it has been raced successfully in recent years. It has been maintained and prepared by leading Historic racing preparer/driver Alan Baillie and, as the vendor relates "...we have spent quite a lot of money getting it into good (original) condition. We have tried to maintain its 'patina' (not like some of the equivalent cars which look better than new)...".

The engine currently fitted to the car was built by Robert Jung, who works for Edelbrock in California. This engine was previously in Doug Mockett's Carrera PanAmericana Oldsmobile..". A spare engine is available via separate negotiation. A considerable stock of spares is offered with the car, including 16 wheels, body moulds etc.

Also accompanying this most attractive Historic CanAm car is
an album of original black and white photos, showing the car in its frontline-racing heyday, plus a contemporary notebook containing notes/comments by the car's crew chief Roy Campbell, which make interesting reading, and are written literally on the spot and lap by lap (not just for this car but for other team cars including Indianapolis).

Overall, this McLaren-Chevrolet M1B is described as being "ready to run, having competed just recently in the Goodwood Members' Meeting". It is eligible for several forthcoming Canadian/American events scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of CanAm racing in North America, including St. Jovite (where the first event was held), Road America (Elkhart Lake) in July and Monterey in August. The car is a welcome entry in experienced hands at Goodwood, and is fitted with magneto ignition and so can run indefinitely – making it ideal for longer-distance Historic events. The car has a current FIA Historic Technical Passport valid until 31/12/2025.

Source: Bonhams press

Gallery: McLaren-Chevrolet M1B Race Car