McLaren Design

GB - New Zealand

Car Designers - Can Am in 60ies - 1969


THE CHAIRMAN OF McLAREN MOTOR Racing was sitting relaxed in his office at the McLaren factory on a trading estate
near London Airport; opposite him with feet irreverently placed on the boss's desk sat Denny Hulme, taking it easy after the strenuous CanAm series, while joint Managing Director Phil Kerr and design man Gordon Coppuck popped in and out as Bruce and Denny talked to us about the CanAm series which had just finished and the season which lies ahead.

Conversation soon turned to the $95,560 that Denny won and the $69,370 that Bruce brought home, together with various other prizes which put their combined earnings at around $170,000 (about £71,000); they are both a little embarrassed about talking about such a large sum because everyone tends to think of it as all profit, whereas in actual fact they spent more than £71,000 in preparing the cars! Bruce pushed a photostat of an article from Time magazine across the table which insinuated that he was worth over $1,000,000. 'If we realised all our assets and sold all the cars for what they cost us we might just be worth a million but unfortunately we have to absorb development costs -- you can't sell cars at £30,000 apiece. For a start we spent $75,000 on our CanAm engine programme, then the two new cars cost us $70,000 each, taking development costs and overheads into account, so you can see that we had spent more than our $170,000 prize money before we even got to the States!

Far from being wealthy young men we only made a profit on the trip because of our sponsors out there, Goodyear and Gulf-without them we would be in trouble. We could have done it more cheaply, of course, but we couldn't have guaranteed to win.'

It's obvious that Bruce sees the future of his team more and more closely allied with the American racillg scene, so much so that if there was a clash betweetl all FI and a CanAm race the American race would win hands down - fortunately, by adroit planning it looks as if there won't be any clashes despite the fact that the 10 race 1969 CanAm series starts as early as June. As Bruce says 'Finding support for Formula 1 has become very, very difficult
and unless you have good sponsorship you cannot make money. In fact for every pound we spend in Formula 1 we make three pounds out of CanAm racing. You just don't make money out of Formula 1.

While we're not beating sponsors away in America there are plenty of people prepared to listen to you and if you've got a good case you have a chance of getting a sponsor, but in Europe very few people are interested. The general news media is more interested in racing in the States too, and although we're very appreciative of the detailed job the motoring press does, it's articles iike this one in Time which catch the eye of potential sponsors who haven't previously been interested in racing.

At this point Bruce and Denny became absorbed in a cutting from the Auckland Star which lauded their exploits in America. We made the editorial column,' said Denny in wonderment, and they're praising us.; Both of them obviously regard themselves as prophets without honour in their own country.

Talking of their success in the recent series in which Denny won three of the races, finished second in one, fifth in another and retired in the remaining one and Bruce won one, finished second in two, fifth in one, sixth in another and retired in the sixth, Bruce made the point that they were really the only professionally organised team to take part in the series. ''We_have_some basic rules which'may sound childishly simple but I'm going to hang them up in the drawing office wall because they are essential. The first is that you've got to get to the race and be on the starting line. This is obvious but so many of the teams in the CanAm series were just not ready in time because they were busy playing with new cars, engines, transmissions and a hundred and one other new ideas with the result that they started the races with untried machinery which was destined to fail. The other problem is' transporting all the men and machinery over the vast distances involved in getiing from Northern Canada Southern United States-we have complicated movement schedules for everyone, with the result that we were generally in the right place at the right time.

The second point is that if you want to win a race you have to finish-again almost stupidly simple but many people lose sight of this fact by having way-out designs and experimenting right up to the last moment.

We are often ribbed about the simplicity of our design but you cannot afford to play about with radical designs with the very short development period available.

Our simple monocoque chassis, which weighs a bare70lb, proved to be very strong indeed and by bolting the engine to the back of the chassis as on the Formula 1 cars we saved some weight and had no trouble at all.

We used the aluminium block 7litre Chevrolet engine which was produced by General Motors and which weighs 100lb less than the cast-iron version. Chevrolet sold complete engines with aluminium blocks at a sort of give away price of $3000 (about £1255) to any of the competitors who wanted them and I think they got rid of about 30. Our engine man Garry Knutson modified our five engines pretty thoroughly, converting them to Lucas fuel injection and so on, so that these 450lb enginns were giving a comfortable 620bhp at 7000rpm'. The engines had their problems as the team couldn't find the right combination of piston rings for a long while and the engines burned a great deal of oil which filled the combustion chambers with deposits, which in turn led to detonation and piston burning, followed rapidly by the bearings getting hammered out and the oil pressure disappearing. It wasn't until the penultimate race of the series that the team finally got the right combination. and could rely 100percent on the engines. They had even got to the stage of fitting an auxiliary oil' tank from which oil coulCl be passed to the main tank when the engine had used up the initial supply--and it saved them from wtirement; at least once. So the team didn't have it all their own way. Fortunately other likely winners had even more problerms-like John Surtees who fitted virtually untested Weslake heads to his ali' block and bad insurmountable problems.

We asked Bruce if he liked the CanAm formula and whether he preferred designing to a virtually free formula as compared with the stricter limitations of Formula 1.

He quickly came back: The success of any formula almost invariably depends on the availability of engines and if you have what amounts to Formule Libre rules you have a complete and open choice of engines. And this is good. Being able to buy big engines from Detroit and trying to persuade the big manufactUJ;ers to help out a bit in supplying engines-not that it's ever worked in the past although we've always kidded ourselves it will-is a very cheap way of getting a helluva lot of power. If there had been a 4' or 5litre limit for CanAm racing we would all have been building' four overhead cam engines and the expenses would have run away with themselves.'

The next obvious question was whether Ferrari's intervention with a proper racing four cam 6/itre engine which is giving over 600bhp with hardly any development could upset the CanAm apple cart. Bruce thought not: 'We can go up to 8 litres on the current pushrod V8 and end up with an engine that's as light if not lighter than the Ferrari's which will have a better torque curve. The criterion is more a matter of power for weight of engine than power for displacement. From that view point the pushrod is as good as the overhead cam engine. We're not too worried about it.
There was a move some time ago--and we were partly behind it although I'm not sure we are now-to restrict overhead cam engines to say 5litres or even restrict the fomula to stock blocks only, but it is the Sports Car Club of America's wish at the CanAm series should become the biggest, best, fastest, greatest form of racing, we've ever seen--even allowing Formula 1 and for this reason everyone agreed not to ask for any restrictions-just let it go!'

There was a strong rumour that McLaren would be running a turbine engined CanAm car but he scotched the story. 'No, we did look at a, couple of turbines but by the time we started seriously looking and checked on their capacity equivalents under FIA rules--the engines were about 5litre equivalent and we were intending to use two of them equal to 10 litres the_SCCA had brought in their 3 litre turbine limit which would have brought us more than three times over the capacity limit! Nobody could cheat that much!'

Bruce wasn't sure whether they would have used a turbine at each end of the car as th ey hadn't got that far but he opined that '....there really are some lovely engines around, real beauties, but we decided not to use them for racing-they'd be great for a production car J I must admit. Kinda tempting for the future but expensive of course....' Since McLaren issued a brochure in early 1968 which made the enigmatic comment that: Later the McLaren design team may turn its attention to a high qualily low volume road car, you may like us wish to draw your own conclusions and start saving your pennies for the McLaren M9A turbine road car!


Another question which always crops up when ,the American racing scene is discussed is the amount of assistance given by the outspokenly anti-racing General Motors colossus to the racing fraternity. As far as Bruce McLaren is concerned the answer was short and sharp, None at all', but he knew that Jim Hall's Chaparral team had received assistance in the past but he had no idea how far this went. 'But Chevrolet did make that aluminium engine this year largely for CanAm, which I had a fully nitrided crank, forged pistons, I a damned good camshaft and a very good alloy in the block. They definitely went to some effort to
make sure they kept the lead.

Would Ford do anything to bolster tlreir sagging reputailon in the CanAm field?, 'Very definitely. In the aluminium 7litre they've got what can be a good engine but time is so short now.

We were toying with the idea of using Ford engines but there just isn't the develoment time, so we're sticking with the Chevy which was very reliable over the last two races this year.


Rumours had percolated back to England that some of the owners of the twenty or so production versions of the M6A1967 car which the Lambretta - Trojan group builds under licence for Mclaren, were not too happy with the handling of their cars, caused by the front suspension geometry. This brought an explosive. 'Bloody hell!' from Bruce, and a quick rebuttal, as his experlence was that everyone was delighted with the car as delivered by Trojan.

'Bonnier had problems with his steering box but you give Bonnier anything and he has tremendous problems that no one else has.
The cars that people left alone such as Jerry Titus's which was bog standard went beautifully and was the fastest of the M6Bs apart from Donohue who had the 7litre engine, and Titus was going round corpers quicker even than Donohue. The worst of the production cars was Gurney's but that was because he had improved it so much!

'Most of the customers who left the cars alone were delighted with the way they were built. The only problems were with those people who wouldn't believe we run our cars the way we say in the sales brochure which gives information on setting up the suspension, tyre pressures, etc. There's always an American mechanic coming up to tell us that our recommendations are all wrong. We were terrified of selling cars to people like Gurney because if he had put in his Weslake Ford with say 570bhp and left the car standard he could well.have blown us off

We always get accusations of this sort while we're selling cars and in fact we were accused of selling different F2 cars to customers by one journalist but we were able to prove him wrong by showing him an old car of ours side by side with a production car. Trojan's build the cars to the same drawings we used for the works cars-we just haven't got time to make new drawings.'

Conversation turned to the 1969 season. As before, the current M8A will become the production car of 1969, to be knouwn as the M 12 which will sell for $15,000 less engine and gearbox. A number of improvements will be made mainly in the rear framework, for Bruce feels that hanging the engine on the back of the chassis is not ideal for selling to private owners - firstly because on the Chevrolet engine a great deal of maching has to be done on the bell housing to fit the suspension pick'-ps and secondly it would be difficult to switch from a Chevy to a Ford engine as the bell housing would be different, so the momocoque chaissis will be extended back below the engine as on the M6 and the rear suspension will be chassis mounted, but all the good bits of the M8A will be incorporated on the M12, and they should be every blt as quick as the 8As. A number of orders haw already been received and Trojan will once again be building them. Bruce and Denny will start 1969 with the existing M8As highly modified but a radical new car may be ready by mid season

As well as the M 12 there will be a Group 4 car based on tlte M6 chassis but fitted with a coupe body and 5 lilre engine to comply with the regulations. At least 25 of these have to be built for homologation but enquiries were already coming in during early December before the car had been officially announced, Another project is a Formula A/5OOO car wInch Bruce reckon will be the big thing of 1969,

The first chassis was well on the way to completion at the time of our talk, the deslgn being rather different from that of the Formula 1 car as the monocoque section extends below the engine and is also swept up as high as rhe driver's head, incorporating the roll over bar, while the cockpit area is much more enclosed than on the M7A Fl car, this car will sell for $10,750 less engine and gearbox.

In Formula 1 Bruce and Denny will start the season wIth the same 1968 M7As, one probably remaining 'very much the same' the other having a number of modificatiorns which will be in the nature of a test bed for the all new car which should be ready by mid season if all goes well. Naturally Bruce was reticent on the subject of the deslgn but a sketch of a proposed car which we were able to look at showed a very wedge-shaped car, much more so than the Lotus 49, with fuel contained in large pontoon tanks very similar to the Lancia D50. The car will definitely have four wheel drive to a Hewlalld design and some thoughts on suspension design, assuming they pass their trials,

We asked if four wheel drive wouldn't lead to even less spectacle in Formula 1 racing than there lis now where the vast tyres allow the cars to corner on rails most of the time, Both Denny and Bruce thought that this was a danger bill as neither of them had raced a 4wd car they don't know anything about it as yet, However there is a possibility given sufficient power, that spectators would see all four wheels spinning coming out of a bend. They were unanimous that single seater racing could 'well become boring for watchers if the cars did not look more spectacular, 'In CanAm racing said Denny, there are about six or eight people who can use the full 600 or 650 bhp coming out of a bend and it's pretty exciting sitting behind watching one of them going round a right-hander on full left lock with the rear wheels pouring out clouds of smoke. In fact even if a car is out of sight you can tell he has just gone round a bend by the long black lines on the track with clouds of smoke still rising.

back to index

McLaren Design 1967

Author: ArchitectPage