Bruce McLaren (30 August 1937 – 2 June 1970) was a New Zealand race-car designer, driver, engineer and inventor.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Bruce McLaren attended Meadowbank Primary School. As a nine-year-old, he was diagnosed with Perthes disease in his hip that left his left leg shorter than the right. Bruce spent two years layed up on a trolly with weight's hung off his leg, this was a method used to help with the disease.
His parents, Les and Ruth McLaren, owned a service station and workshop in Remuera Rd, Remuera, Auckland; Les 'pop' McLaren had been a motorcycle racing enthusiast, but gave that up due to an injury before Bruce's birth, and began racing cars at the club level instead. Bruce spent all of his free hours hanging around the workshop and developed his passion during his formative years.
Les McLaren restored an aging Austin 7 Ulster, which 14-year-old Bruce used in 1952 when he entered his first competition, a hillclimb. Two years later, he took part in his first real race and showed promise. He moved up from the Austin to a Ford 10 special and an Austin-Healey, then an F2 Cooper-Climax sports. He immediately began to modify and improve — and master — it, so much so that he was runner-up in the 1957–8 New Zealand championship series.
His performance in the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1958 was noticed by Australian driver Jack Brabham (who would later invite McLaren to drive for him). Because of his obvious potential the New Zealand International Grand Prix organisation selected him for its 'Driver to Europe' scheme designed to give a promising Kiwi driver year-round experience with the best in the world. McLaren was the first recipient, to be followed by others later including Denny Hulme. McLaren went to Cooper and stayed seven years. He raced in F2 and was entered in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in which F2 and F1 cars competed together. He astounded the motor racing fraternity by being first F2, and fifth overall, in a field of the best drivers in the world.
McLaren left Cooper at the end of 1965, and announced his own GP racing team, with co-driver and fellow Kiwi Chris Amon. Amon left in 1967 to drive for Ferrari. In 1968, McLaren was joined by another fellow Kiwi Denny Hulme, who had become world champion in 1967 with Brabham. McLaren took his fourth career win racing his own McLaren car at Spa in 1968, achieving the team's first Grand Prix win. Hulme won twice in the McLaren-Ford.
The 1969 championship was also a success, with McLaren finishing third in the standings despite taking no wins. In tribute to his homeland, McLaren's cars featured the "speedy Kiwi" logo
McLaren's design flair and ingenuity were graphically demonstrated in powerful sports car racing. Just as the Can-Am began to become very popular with fans in Canada and the U.S., the new McLaren cars finished second twice, and third twice, in six races.
In 1967, they won five of six races and in 1968, four of six. The following year, McLarens proved unbeatable, winning all 11 races. In two races, they finished 1–2–3. (McLaren, Hulme, and Mark Donohue).
In 1966, McLaren and co-driver Chris Amon won the prestigious 24 Hour Race at Le Mans in a Ford GT40.
McLaren was a competitive driver, but his legacy, the McLaren Racing Team, stems from his abilities as an analyst, engineer, and manager. In the early days of McLaren sports cars, McLaren was testing and as he drove out of the pits, he noticed the fuel filler access door was flapping up and down as he drove. The current aerodynamic thinking was that it should have been pressed more firmly in place as the speed of the car increased. Instead, it bounced more vigorously as the speed increased. Instantly, his frustration at the sloppy work changed and he had an insight. Stopping in the pits, he grabbed a pair of shears, and started cutting the bodywork away behind the radiator. Climbing back in the car, he immediately began turning lap times faster than before.
Later he explained,
I was first angry that the filler door hadn't been properly closed but then I began to wonder why it wasn't being pressed down by the airflow. The only answer was that there had to be a source of higher pressure air under it than over it.
From that session came the "nostrils" that have been a key McLaren design feature, including in the McLaren F1 road car.
Bruce McLaren died (aged 32) when his Can-Am car crashed on the Lavant Straight just before Woodcote corner at Goodwood Circuit in England on 2 June 1970. He had been testing his new M8D when the rear bodywork came adrift at speed. The loss of aerodynamic downforce destabilised the car, which spun, left the track, and hit a bunker used as a flag station.
The team Bruce McLaren founded in 1963 would continue on after his death and win 8 Constructors' Championships and 12 Drivers' Championships in Formula One, today McLaren continue's to produce some of the world's leading supercars and luxury sports cars.
Bruce may have died that day trying to make his car go faster but I feel the spirit of McLaren never died and lives on in McLaren today. The history, the legacy, the attention to detail, the passion, everything McLaren was about has carried through and today the end results are the P1 & the P1 GTR. He would be proud.