Marques of Distinction - McLaren

By: Unique Cars magazine

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The death in 1970 of Bruce McLaren did little to slow development of the competition cars that immortalised his name

From the archives: Unique Cars #279, Oct/Nov 2007

New Zealand-born McLaren had been a front-running Formula One driver for almost a decade before building and racing his own F1 car. The Ford-engined M2B failed to finish its first event at Monaco in 1966 but within eight years the team was winning races across the world and in a range of motor sporting categories.

Recruitment of Emerson Fittipaldi to the Formula One team in 1974 brought immediate success – a World Drivers’ Championship for Fittipaldi and the first of eight Constructors’ Championships for McLaren.

Even greater success had already been enjoyed in the US, where McLaren cars dominated Canadian-American Challenge Cup (CanAm) sports car events.

Two cars contested the inaugural series in 1966, driven by McLaren and fellow New Zealander Chris Amon. For 1967, Amon’s seat was taken by soon-to-be Formula One Champion Denny Hulme and the team recorded the first in its unbroken sequence of five CanAm titles.

Just as McLaren’s CanAm involvement began to wane, its success in the arena of North American open-wheel racing was taking flight. McLaren’s inaugural Indianapolis 500 victory came in 1972, followed by further wins in 1974 and 1976. The first of these was an extraordinary result for the brand, with driver Johnny Rutherford coming from 25th on the grid to win.

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Throughout the 1970s, McLaren’s focus on Formula One dominance was maintained. Association with British racer James Hunt secured the 1976 Drivers’ Championship before the brand joined the ranks of F1 turbo cars with its Porsche-powered MP4/2.

As the 20th Century drew to a close, McLaren continued to attract drivers of exceptional quality. Between 1984 – the year that Niki Lauda beat Alain Prost by half a point for the Drivers’ title – and 1999, McLarens driven by Prost, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen recorded eight Drivers’ and six Constructors’ titles.

While associated with Mercedes-Benz for its F1 engines, McLaren’s trip into the previously untravelled territory of Le Mans sports car racing, where an F1 GTR won the 1995 race at its first attempt, was powered by a BMW V12.

A limited number of road-going F1s were built, one of which was famously crashed by actor Rowan ‘Mr Bean’ Atkinson. The company maintains a presence in the arena of ultra-exotic Grand Touring cars via the SLR and SLR 722 coupes which were designed by McLaren and are built on behalf of Mercedes-Benz at the McLaren Technology Centre.

 

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