The Mclaren con­nec­tion


New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorman -

Muri­wai, a sea­side set­tle­ment an easy one-hour drive from Auck­land, was a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion for beach rac­ing in the ’30s and was still used on rare oc­ca­sions right up to 1963. So it was some­how ap­pro­pri­ate Bruce Mclaren’s fam­ily had a hol­i­day home less than a kilo­me­tre from those black sands on which man and ma­chine fought bat­tles.

This was also the place where my Scottish grand­mother moved to re­tire, be­com­ing a lo­cal iden­tity for her regular fish­ing off the rocks and sup­port of the lo­cal surf life­sav­ing club. My aunty and un­cle also moved to Muri­wai, and our fam­ily had many hol­i­days there, stay­ing in a cramped but cosy con­verted garage in front of their prop­erty.

Life-long ca­reer

One of my mis­sions in early life was pub­lish­ing, and a kids’ jokes and non­sense mag­a­zine called Sun­beams was an ini­tial en­deav­our be­fore I con­cen­trated on a much more im­por­tant topic — cars and mo­tor sport! Motorman mag­a­zine was born at Muri­wai in the sum­mer hol­i­days of 1956, when the weather was too iffy for swim­ming and ex­plor­ing. Those prim­i­tive hand­writ­ten at­tempts by a young school­boy formed the ba­sis for a life-long ca­reer in motoring jour­nal­ism.

The first de­vel­op­ment was to hand-write copy and draw­ings in hec­to­graph ink, lay the orig­i­nal face-down on a pan of set gela­tine, and then take up to 25 copies on blank news­pa­per be­fore the pow­er­ful ink faded away. The first copies were al­ways the best, with the ink still strong. Of course I had yet to ac­cess read­er­ship po­ten­tial, so chanced my arm by pop­ping one of the first two copies into the let­ter box of the Mclaren prop­erty, just around the cor­ner from where we were stay­ing at my un­cle’s house.

Years later came the re­al­iza­tion that Bruce Mclaren was one of the first read­ers, if not the very first reader, of Motorman. The am­a­teur ef­forts on roughly cut pa­per do not hold up well to­day, but it is some con­so­la­tion that I was just 11 at the time. Bruce mean­while was 18, and al­ready some­thing of a vet­eran, hav­ing been in mo­tor sport for three years. In­deed, his first com­pe­ti­tion out­ing was a loose gravel hill climb on a nearby road in Muri­wai that to­day is sealed, and lined with homes.

Bruce al­ways remembered his links to this spe­cial place, and when he bought his new home in Bur­wood Park, near Wal­ton-onThames in Sur­rey, in 1969, he named the prop­erty ‘Muri­wai’. Right from the early days, Bruce and the Mclaren fam­ily gave me huge en­cour­age­ment and sup­port for the mag­a­zine, of­ten when the odds were stacked against the vi­a­bil­ity of my fledg­ling project.

Early links

I was re­minded of my early links with Mclaren while thumb­ing through a Jan­uary 1975 edi­tion of Motorman, pub­lished when I was liv­ing in Eng­land and no longer ed­i­tor. Peter Hill took a ride in the M6GT Mclaren pro­to­type sports car with Bruce’s fa­ther, Les, on Auck­land roads. Hill penned an ar­ti­cle in which he said he felt guilty en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence when it should have been me, since Bruce had been such an early reader of the pub­li­ca­tion. Nice of him to say so, but not nec­es­sary.

Motorman was for­tu­nate to sur­vive those early days be­cause the young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced ed­i­tor was run­ning to stand still. The mag­a­zine had to share time with an early morn­ing start six days a week de­liv­er­ing more than 100 copies of The New Zealand Her­ald, a gro­cery run in late af­ter­noons, at­ten­dance at school and maybe time for home­work. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the least im­por­tant of those, in my mind, was school­work.

Frank ‘Buzz’ Perkins, the vi­brant and ex­tro­vert English sec­re­tary and man­ager of the New Zealand Grand Prix As­so­ci­a­tion, kindly al­lowed me use of the GP’S Gestet­ner print­ing ma­chine and pa­per to print the pub­li­ca­tion, as cir­cu­la­tion rose to 100, and a fur­ther de­vel­op­ment into off­set print­ing meant photos could be used and the mag­a­zine be­came more pre­sentable. By now the monthly print run was 300, and this soon grew to 600, while ad­ver­tis­ing sup­port from oil com­pa­nies made the project fi­nan­cially vi­able.

The Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion in Welling­ton had its own pub­li­ca­tion, The New Zealand Mo­tor World, and when I sug­gested to the ed­i­tor we might ex­change pub­li­ca­tions he saw no rea­son why this was jus­ti­fied. In­deed, he thought Motorman was not a good choice of ti­tle, and that “rac­ing sport of­fers lim­ited scope”.

He un­der­lined the fact that his pub­li­ca­tion had a paid cir­cu­la­tion ex­ceed­ing 79,000 mo­tor own­ers when it was part of AA mem­ber­ship. The AA ed­i­tor rea­soned, by the time I was through uni­ver­sity, this par­tic­u­lar jour­nal­is­tic urge would have left my sys­tem. Wrong on two counts, as I never at­tended uni­ver­sity, and the urge re­mains to­day.

Golden days

This year marks the 60th an­niver­sary since Motorman first ap­peared, and what changes in six decades. Not with Motorman, of course, since it no longer ex­ists, ex­cept on these pages. Sadly so many of the old guard have gone, leav­ing few of us to re­mem­ber those golden days. Dur­ing the for­ma­tive years of the mag­a­zine, Bruce Mclaren was build­ing what would be­come one of the great­est Formula 1 teams in the world. It was a priv­i­lege — and a great deal of fun — to be around at the time.

On lo­cal cir­cuits, New Zealan­ders on their own turf would be treated to sev­eral Mclarens, in­clud­ing the all-con­quer­ing M10 Formula 5000s, the pretty and pur­pose­ful Formula 2 M4A Cos­worth, two Can-am cars (an M8 and M12) and Hulme’s 1973-era M23 Formula 1 open wheeler. The M6GT, some­times la­belled the Mclaren road car that never hap­pened, spent sev­eral years here. Based on the M6 1967 Can-am open racer, the first Mclaren to be painted or­ange, the M6 chas­sis was mated to an en­closed coupé body that would be more suited to en­durance rac­ing.

How­ever, the project was halted when the FIA changed the rules for the World Cham­pi­onship for Makes class and re­quired a min­i­mum of 50 pro­duc­tion ex­am­ples, a number too great for the size of the Mclaren op­er­a­tion at the time. The car that came to New Zealand af­ter Mclaren’s death in 1970 was jointly owned by Bruce’s wife Pat, Denny Hulme and Phil Kerr.

It lan­guished in the Mu­seum of Trans­port and Tech­nol­ogy at Auck­land’s Western Springs, and in 1974 was taken on a tour of New Zealand by Les Mclaren, cul­mi­nat­ing in a re­union with Bruce’s first car — the Ul­ster Austin — in the former Queen­stown mo­tor mu­seum. Later the M6GT found its way into the hands of an Amer­i­can owner be­fore sadly mov­ing off­shore.

Key fig­ures

In the early ’60s, Bruce al­ways granted me an in­ter­view when re­turn­ing to Auck­land af­ter his Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can rac­ing, and al­lowed me to sam­ple the mod­i­fied Mini Cooper he cam­paigned in sa­loon car events run in con­junc­tion with the 1963 Tas­man Cup se­ries.

For the 1964 Tas­man se­ries, the Mclaren team looked hugely pro­fes­sional with a pair of new Coop­ers for Bruce and Amer­i­can, Tim Mayer, to drive. Wally Will­mott from Ti­maru and Bos­ton-born Amer­i­can, Tyler

Alexan­der, built the cars on a dirt floor in the back of Cooper’s F1 work­shop in Sur­biton, and they all came down to New Zealand, along with Tim’s wife, Gar­rill, and his lawyer brother, Teddy. While they did not know it at the time, both Teddy Mayer and Tyler would be­come key fig­ures in the Mclaren or­ga­ni­za­tion. Bruce’s charisma and en­gi­neer­ing abil­i­ties were a good fit with Teddy’s lawyerly at­tributes, de­ter­mi­na­tion and fi­nan­cial in­put.

Although based on the 1963 Cooper T61 F1 car, the two ‘slim­line’ Tas­man Coop­ers in­cor­po­rated ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tions spec­i­fied by Bruce, in­clud­ing weight sav­ing mea­sures, repo­si­tion­ing of the fuel tanks, and sus­pen­sion changes. The top rear wish­bone was re­placed with a top link and a long ra­dius arm.

The late Eoin Young, a direc­tor of Bruce’s com­pany, kept the op­er­a­tion in­tact, and Hamil­to­nian, Len Gil­bert, a long-time friend of Bruce’s, was roped into the team for the down-un­der se­ries. Len, who passed away in 2011, had shown his prow­ess in a Maserati 250F, and his mul­ti­ple tal­ents in­cluded power­boat rac­ing and stunt fly­ing, and he was also a drum­mer and restau­rant owner. Gil­bert had been a team me­chanic for the Coop­ers of Mclaren and Tony Maggs dur­ing the 1962/63 Tas­man se­ries, so it was no sur­prise he re­joined Bruce for the fol­low­ing sum­mer.

First New Zealan­der

My fa­ther com­peted in the odd Auck­land car-club event in the ’30s and took my brother and I to all the early Ard­more Grands Prix. Yet de­spite tak­ing an ac­tive in­ter­est and en­cour­ag­ing us as we grew up, he sud­denly as­sumed a dis­like for the sport. How­ever, he was happy to take

Bruce, Timmy, and Teddy wa­ter­ski­ing on two oc­ca­sions at the Orakei Basin in the week be­fore the sec­ond round of the 1964 Tas­man Cup at Pukekohe. That week­end Bruce be­came the first New Zealan­der to win the lo­cal Grand Prix in the 11-year his­tory of the race.

The day be­fore the first Pukekohe prac­tice ses­sion we went to Western Springs, where Mclaren — without a crash hel­met — com­pleted al­most 200 laps of the speed­way oval in his Tas­man Cooper, bed­ding in a new short-stroke Cli­max en­gine fit­ted with high-com­pres­sion pis­tons. Our mag­a­zine art direc­tor, Bob Chap­man, ap­plied his magic to one of Jack In­wood’s photos of Mclaren in ac­tion at Western Springs, which made an unusual Motorman cover for the May 1964 edi­tion.

That week pho­tog­ra­pher, Jack, and I vis­ited the May­ers, who were stay­ing in the Re­muera Mo­tor Lodge in Minto Road, near the cor­ner of Re­muera and Up­land Roads, and a short walk from the Mclaren ser­vice sta­tion and garage where the race cars were kept. Timmy was quiet and low key, but had a good sense of hu­mour and was show­ing a lot of abil­ity be­hind the wheel — and he was a hit at a noisy post-race party at In­wood’s Man­gere home.

Less than two months later, we were dev­as­tated when Mayer was killed dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for the fi­nal round of the Tas­man Cham­pi­onship at Long­ford in Tas­ma­nia, rac­ing on a road cir­cuit that was po­ten­tially highly dan­ger­ous. Timmy had fin­ished sec­ond three times in New Zealand, and ear­lier in Fe­bru­ary led the Tas­man race at Lake­side near Bris­bane un­til his en­gine blew. Eoin Young said that as a race driver, Tim had a big heart, and was al­ways pre­pared to try his hard­est. Gone were plans for Mayer to have his first drive in the Formula 1 Cooper works team, and we were learn­ing the tough les­son that mo­tor sport can sud­denly be so cruel.

A sad­dened Bruce with­drew from Long­ford prac­tice, and started from the back of the grid the next day. Af­ter three wins in New Zealand, he went on to fin­ish sec­ond to Gra­ham Hill’s Brab­ham, gain­ing enough points to win the 1964 Tas­man cham­pi­onship. Bruce Mclaren Mo­tor Rac­ing Ltd was formed in Septem­ber 1963, and the fa­mous Bri­tish mo­tor rac­ing artist Michael Turner was com­mis­sioned to de­sign a team badge. “My brief was to in­cor­po­rate the Union Jack, a Kiwi to rep­re­sent New Zealand, and a styl­ized rac­ing car,” Turner said. He pre­pared just one pro­posal, which was im­me­di­ately ac­cepted, and the badge — which is still seen to­day — was de­scribed by Phillip Turner, sports ed­i­tor of The Mo­tor mag­a­zine, as “a Kiwi run over by a Cooper”.

Tyler Alexan­der, writ­ing in his 456-page book A Life and Times with Mclaren in 2015, said the Bruce Mclaren Mo­tor Rac­ing com­pany still ex­isted, owned by Teddy Mayer’s son and daugh­ter, Timmy and An­nie, and him­self. “It would be nice if we could do some­thing with it,” Alexan­der said, only months be­fore he died in Jan­uary 2016.

Un­sung tal­ent

So many tal­ented, yet un­sung, New Zealan­ders contributed to the suc­cess of Mclaren in those early years. Peo­ple like Colin Bean­land, Alis­tair Cald­well, Jimmy

Stone, Bruce Harre, Chris Charles, Cary Tay­lor, the late Peter Bruin, Pete Kerr, Graeme Cook, Dave Ryan, Phil Sharp, Ian Grif­fiths and Ge­orge Begg. Leo Wy­brott was with Lo­tus be­fore mov­ing to Mclaren. You can bet I have missed a few names. In 2016, of course, Chris Amon was the last of the ‘trio at the top’ to pass away and so, too, have the ranks thinned of those work­ing be­hind the scenes.

The orig­i­nal Mclaren stal­wart Teddy Mayer died in 2009, and Phil Kerr in 2015, while Bruce’s wife Patty passed away last year just a month af­ter the death of Alexan­der. More re­cently, me­chanic Bruce Wil­son died in De­cem­ber 2016. Wil­son is best known for his work on Amon’s works Tas­man Fer­rari, but he also mended the Ford en­gine in the works Mclaren, prior to the Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1966. There were bent valves, and it ap­peared the car would be a non-starter but, much to the amaze­ment of Mclaren, Wil­son had the en­gine re­built in short time, al­low­ing Bruce to fin­ish fifth.

Also miss­ing from the ranks in Jan­uary, at the grand age of 100, was Graeme Lawrence’s dad Doug, who had been around mo­tor rac­ing for longer than most can re­mem­ber. Allan Mccall, who passed away in Fe­bru­ary 2017, was one of our great­est rac­ing en­gi­neers, act­ing as me­chanic for world cham­pion Jim Clark be­fore mov­ing to Mclaren, where his cre­ative tal­ents in­cluded the M15 that Hulme drove at In­di­anapo­lis.

Personal trib­ute

My personal Mclaren con­nec­tion did not end that tragic day at Good­wood in June 1970. On regular trips back to the UK, there was usu­ally time for lunch with Patty at a coun­try pub in Sur­rey. I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to en­joy three record-break­ing fu­ele­con­omy drives — two in Bri­tain and one in New Zealand — with Bruce’s daugh­ter Amanda. And it is heartening to see the Mclaren Trust en­sur­ing Bruce’s name is kept to the fore, with the hard work of Jan Mclaren and the volunteers.

Most morn­ings, on my walk through the gar­dens at the Wil­son Trust for Chil­dren with Dis­abil­i­ties in Taka­puna, I think about Bruce Mclaren. As a young­ster suf­fer­ing from Perthes dis­ease, which re­sulted in the vir­tual seiz­ing up of the ball-and-socket hip joint, Bruce spent al­most three years at the Wil­son Home, his leg en­cased in plas­ter casts, but with char­ac­ter­is­tic de­ter­mi­na­tion, he was back on his feet with one leg slightly shorter than the other.

Tyler Alexan­der re­tired at the end of the 2008 season af­ter 18 years with Mclaren In­ter­na­tional, and 44 years since he first be­gan with Bruce Mclaren Mo­tor Rac­ing. Pay­ing trib­ute to Teddy Mayer eight years ago, Tyler said, “When Bruce didn’t come back from Good­wood that day and the fac­tory dropped into a bleak hole, he (Teddy) had to do some­thing. That some­thing was to say that ‘we’ had a Can-am race in two weeks, so we’d best get on with it — and ev­ery­one did.”

Tyler reck­oned he learned so much about mo­tor rac­ing by be­ing around Bruce and work­ing with him on his car. The Amer­i­can al­ways thought that pas­sion, trust, fo­cus and ded­i­ca­tion were crit­i­cal. “But,” Tyler said, “I also learned from Bruce and Teddy just how im­por­tant it was to work with a first-class team of peo­ple who were not afraid of a bit of per­se­ver­ance.” This is all part of the Mclaren legacy that to­day still seems to know no bounds.

Donn An­der­son and Bruce Mclaren at Levin in Jan­uary 1964 (Photo - Jack In­wood)

Above: Bruce Mclaren wa­ter­ski­ing be­hind the An­der­son boat at the Orakei Basin in Jan­uary 1964 (Photo - Jack In­wood) Left: Cover of Jan­uary 1958 Motorman mag­a­zine — from hum­ble be­gin­nings! Be­low left: Motorman mag­a­zine, Jan­uary 1959 edi­tion — a year of progress Be­low right: Motorman mag­a­zine cover, March 1960, and photos are used for the first time!

Above: Amer­i­can, Timmy Mayer, with the Tas­man Cooper at Pukekohe in Jan­uary 1964 (Photo - Jack In­wood)

Left: Les Mclaren with the M6 Mclaren road car in an Auck­land city pa­rade in 1976 (Photo - Donn An­der­son)

Right: This Motorman cover of Bruce Mclaren from May 1964 was cre­ated from a Jack In­wood photo taken at the Western Springs speed­way oval in Auck­land

Left: Bruce Mclaren knew how to re­lax — catch­ing 40 winks be­fore the start of the 1964 NZ Grand Prix at Pukekohe (Photo - Donn An­der­son)

Be­low: The fa­mous Bruce Mclaren team badge de­signed by UK artist, Michael Turner

Right: A Mclaren get-to­gether at Good­wood with Bruce’s daugh­ter Amanda, wife Patty, and sis­ter Jan

Left: Tyler Alexan­der and Tim Mayer on the grid at Tere­tonga, Jan­uary 1964 (Photo - Jack In­wood)

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