The Mclaren connection
SIXTY YEARS AGO DONNA ND ER SON BEGAN WRITING A SCHOOL BOY MOTORING MAGAZINE THAT HAD A VERY SPECIAL EARLY READER…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)