Bruce McLaren was born to Les (Pop) & Ruth on 30th August 1937 at Auckland, New Zealand, He was the second child with an older sister in the family. His father had invested in a service station in Remuera late 1936, after driving petrol tankers for the Texaco/Caltex Oil Co. Mclarens younger years were spent learning to broadside around shop corners on two wheels of his tricycle becoming a pest, “borrowing mechanics spanners, etc. just when they needed them to repair my ‘racing machine'”. The family moved to 8 Upland Road after the war and it was there that we found that, owing to a fall, that he had developed Perthes Disease (a hip joint problem). He Meadowbank School and spent the next two years in the Wilson Home in Takapuna on a Bradford Frame – a special traction bed.
His family came across on the Vehicular Ferry every weekend from the city. Pop used to say “I have just about brought this Ferry boat” then at the end of 1949 (2 Years later) McLaren was allowed to go home on crutches. This must have been a traumatic experience for that family as well as for a boy of nine but McLaren never seemed to dwell on it. Not allowing his disability to limit his life hood dream McLaren started correspondence school with a tutor and in 1951 he attended Seddon Technical Memorial College (actually a secondary school) studying engineering.
Motor racing was all that Mclaren could think about and soon his doting father brought home an Austin Ulster, towed behind his truck and enough spare parts to get it going, it was hoped. McLaren’s first race car; actually his Dad had intended to race the car himself but young Bruce was not one to quibble when it came to racing machinery. It took nearly a year to assemble the parts, all the while McLaren was given hands on instruction regarding the mechanical operation of a motor car.
My motor racing career had started. How Mum put up with Dad and me with her kitchen table covered in bits and pieces of the engine during meals I will never know. She used to say “If I gave them dry bread and water they wouldn’t have noticed”. Bruce McLaren – Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Trust
As soon as the Austin was “drivable” his dad took it out for a spin, literally. It was all he could do to keep it on the track with handling described as diabolical and braking that was nonexistent. The car would belong to young Bruce after all and as soon as McLaren was old enough to get a license. Pop was in the hospital when young Bruce entered his first event, a hill climb at Muriwai Beach, about 25 miles outside Auckland. His words of warning to the youth were short and to the point, “if you damage so much as a mudguard, the Ulster’s gone for good!”
Mclaren would go on to enter local hill climbs, gymkhanas and sprint meetings. what he saw as his lucky break, came when he was allowed to race his Dad’s Austin Healey at Ardmore. He eventually graduated to a Bobtail Cooper. Then my “god father” as Bruce called him Jack Brabham came onto the scene. McLaren was selected as “Driver to Europe” by NZIGP Association (Brabham was on the selection committee) and his next two years at University studies were put on hold. Mclaren left New Zealand on March 15th 1958 for England with his good friend and mechanic Colin Beanland. In his first year he was driving for John Cooper of Cooper Cars as his “new boy”.
December 9th 1961 he married his wife, Patricia Broad. In 1965 I decided to invest in a service station – just like his Dad. The service station was in Te Atatu, a western suburb of Auckland and came to be called it Bruce McLaren Motors. His sister Pat and her husband John returned managed the business. On November 20th 1965, a daughter Amanda was born. He would build a new house and name “Muriwai” after the hillclimb and in memory of his happy days as a child, watching his Dad race cars on the black sands of the beach at low tide. One day he had hoped to return home and have his own beach house built there.
When McLaren arrived in England nobody knew his name or why he was even there except for Jack Brabham and the Cooper brothers who hired the young New Zealander for no money, but for a chance to build and race his own F2 car. it was later that year at the 1958 German Grand Prix, a combined F1 and F2 race at the legendary Nurburgring when other people began to know his name. McLaren was 5th overall and first with an F2 car and stood on the victory dais beside Tony Brooks, who had won the F1 race in a Vanwall that day.
McLaren was always known as somewhat of a perfectionist, even as a young driver starting out with his own checklist before each race.
The following year saw Mclaren join the Cooper factory team partnering Jack Brabham. In 1959 he won the 1959 United States Grand Prix at age 22 years 104 days, becoming the youngest ever GP winner up to that time. He followed that with a win in the Argentine Grand Prix, the first race of the 1960 Formula One season. Both McLaren and Jack Brabham spent countless hours in testing, development and preparation than would result in two World Championships for Brabham in 59-60. In 1960 McLaren was 2nd to Brabham in the Championship. At Argentina where McLaren had won, “Lotus had turned up in Argentina with this rear-engined car, the first rear-engined Lotus, and it was very quick,” remembered Cooper. “On the way home in the airplane, we said if we’re going to win the world championship again, we’d better have a completely new motor car, with a new gearbox. And Jack and Bruce started designing it on the way home in the plane.” McLaren remembers the time he spent working alongside Brabham and the rest of the mechanics at Cooper fondly but the urge to create his own racing team was soon pulling him in another direction.
Charles Cooper always maintained that they had taught Jack Brabham all he knew and he had stolen this knowledge to build his own cars and raced against them. He did not want to help Bruce do the same thing and Bruce had to sail a careful diplomatic line with his own first Cooper-based cars like the Zerex sports car, carefully referring to them as Coopers to dodge flack back at Surbiton – Eoin Young
In 1963 Bruce McLaren Racing Ltd was established. Along with Teddy Mayer, an American who would become a financial backer, his brother Timmy as number two driver, mechanics Tyler Alexander the team prepared special Cooper cars for the Tasman Series which McLaren won. Timmy Mayer was tragically killed during practice for the last race of the series. Teddy Mayer would stay with the team and become an investor.
In late 1964 McLaren’s first proper race car the McLaren M1A was completed. Know official as the Cooper-Oldsmobile in “honor” of McLaren’s current employer, the Olds was maintained by Traco Engineering out of Culver City, California before McLaren established their own engine department. That same year they were contact by Frank Nichols, owner of Elva Cars (Trojan) regarding the possibility of Elva building customer versions of the McLaren. The relationship would prove fruitful for both parties and last until the early 70s. The M1A would be replaced by the McLaren M1B, the first car to be officially named after the team’s founder.
While building his up own team McLaren continued to driver for Cooper in F1 and Ford in endurance racing. In 1966 he won the 24 hours of Le Mans with Chris Amon in a 7-liter Ford Mark IIA and in the following year the 12 hours of Sebring with Mario Andretti in a Ford Mark IV. McLaren had finally left Cooper and would go on to developed his own Formula 1 race car. He also entered the new Canadian-American Challenge Cup for sports cars. The Mclaren Can-Am cars would firmly establish McLaren in racing as a company to be reckoned with. Success in F1 was a little harder to come by.
On 2 June 1970 at Goodwood Circuit in England it all ended …
The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone. Bruce McLaren – The Death of Timmy Mayer