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The first McLaren sports car

18 December, 2014

The current crop of McLaren sports cars — including our featured 12C Spider — can all trace their ancestry back to the late ’60s, and one of Bruce McLaren’s personal projects.

Having totally dominated the Can-Am race series, as the ’60s wound down, Bruce McLaren and his team started to work on a road-going sports car based on their M6 race-car. In effect, the plan was to design and build a coupé body and fit it to an M6 monocoque chassis in order to compete in the lucrative Group 4 category of the World Sportscar Championship (WSC). In that series, Bruce’s proposed M6GT would race against cars from Ferrari, Porsche, Lola, and Alfa. However, before the concept could reach fruition, the homologation rules changed. Introduced by the FIA for the World Championship of Makes, the new ruling stated that 50 cars would have to be built before any car could race in the WSC series.

This was essentially too big a project for the small concern to handle, and, alas, the project was scrapped.

Instead, Bruce decided he’d build it as a pure road car — and a single M6GT powered by a Bartz-tuned 5.9-litre Chevrolet V8 was completed for Bruce to test as a prototype. Built at McLaren’s racing factory, this first M6GT became Bruce’s personal car: two, or possibly three, more cars were also completed.

Registered as ‘OBH 500H’, Bruce’s red M6GT had an estimated top speed of 265kph (165mph), and was reputedly capable of dispatching the zero to 161kph (100mph) dash in only eight seconds. Bruce used this car as his personal transportation right until his death in June 1970.

Although Bruce had made plans to produce as many as 250 M6GTs a year — possibly powered by Ford’s 7.0-litre V8 — that dream died along with him.

Following his demise, Phil Kerr and Denny Hulme acquired the M6GT and brought it to New Zealand, where it remained on display at the Museum of Transportation and Technology for many years. Sadly, the car was sold in 1990 to an American businessman, before finally ending up on display at the Mathews Collection. It was auctioned off in January 2006, and was purchased for US$423,500.

Bruce’s untimely passing meant the M6GT never became a production reality. However, two decades later, with the revival of McLaren in Formula 1 racing, the dream to build a road-going sports car carrying his name was finally realized with the introduction of the McLaren F1 supercar in 1994.

Becoming fond of Fords part two – happy times with Escorts

In part one of this Ford-flavoured trip down memory lane I recalled a sad and instructive episode when I learned my shortcomings as a car tuner, something that tainted my appreciation of Mk2 Ford Escort vans in particular. Prior to that I had a couple of other Ford entanglements of slightly more redeeming merit. There were two Mk1 Escorts I had got my hands on: a 1972 1300 XL belonging to my father and a later, end-of-line, English-assembled 1974 1100, which my partner and I bought from Panmure Motors Ford in Auckland in 1980. Both those cars were the high water mark of my relationship with the Ford Motor Co. I liked the Mk1 Escorts. They were nice, nippy, small cars, particularly the 1300, which handled really well, and had a very precise gearbox for the time.
Images of Jim Richards in the Carney Racing Williment-built Twin Cam Escort and Paul Fahey in the Alan Mann–built Escort FVA often loomed in my imagination when I was driving these Mk1 Escorts — not that I was under any illusion of comparable driving skills, but they had to be having just as much fun as I was steering the basic versions of these projectiles.

Fear and loathing the blue oval – part one

The slogan went something like ‘There’s a Ford in your future’. ‘Bugger off!’ were always the words that sprung to my mind. Ford and I have never really got on in the manner of many of my friends, so I’d say my relationship to the brand was distant. The accelerating blur of passing time has helpfully blanketed memories of a few Ford encounters which I probably wanted to forget but I have to admit, now I look at them, they are re-appearing through the mists of time. What comes to mind more readily, to quote some uncharitable wit, is that the letters Ford could stand for ‘fix or repair daily’. Still, I have to ’fess up, there were several Fords in my past.