Mclaren the movie
Filmmaker Roger Donaldson has accomplished producer Michael Garlick’s lifelong ambition to pay tribute to one of New Zealand’s greatest sporting heroes, by making Mclaren the movie.
There is a real poignancy about this movie, with its focus on a dedicated group of young easygoing New Zealanders led by a smiling, fresh-faced Kiwi from Auckland.
They took a huge gamble, and trusted in their abilities and commitment to doing the very best they could with limited resources, and very little money, while achieving so much on a worldwide stage.
It couldn’t have been for financial gain. Motor-racing in the late 1950s was very short on reward compared to its contemporary status. It could be brutal, as Bruce Mclaren found out when close friends and associates succumbed around him. The death of teammate Tim Mayer in 1964, at Longford, Australia, in a crash during the Tasman series was a harsh reminder.
Speaking at Tim’s funeral, Bruce expressed his thoughts on involvement in a sport which could demand so much. “To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”
From a dirt-floor workshop in an earth-moving company’s premises to a world-class technical centre at Woking in England, the Mclaren name has come a long way. Surprisingly, many people today in the US and England are not aware of the Bruce Mclaren connection with the racing team name.
Emotion is there too with the likes of drivers such as the late Chris Amon, plus Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, and mechanics such as a tearful Alastair Caldwell and Wally Willmott from the early days of Mclaren — they all brought it into stark reality. There was huge respect from all for Bruce Mclaren.
It was the start of a golden era of international motor sport through the 1960s, which was to be often dominated by New Zealand names from cinder speedway tracks to F1 tarmac.
It was only just in the last few years that we are starting to see that dominance again, with names such as Hartley, Bamber, Van Gisbergen, Evans. Could it be another golden era for New Zealand motor sport?
Celebrities knew the name too, and it was ‘The King’, Elvis Presley, who enjoyed driving the first Mclaren M1A Can-am car in the 1966 film, Spinout. Graham Hill drove the car in the USA and England, and it was amusing to see Elvis Presley named on the side of the car as a driver with Graham Hill!
It was a great year, and Le Mans 1966 capped it with an involvement with Ford with its GT40 one-twothree win, with Bruce driving with another New Zealand great, Chris Amon, followed by Denny Hulme paired with Ken Miles in another GT40. It showed just how significant an impact Mclaren and his team had on motor racing.
Perhaps it was the punishing schedule of racing Can-am and Formula 1 which drove the team to get the job of testing new ideas done in as short a time as possible, but on June 2, 1970, while testing at Goodwood in England, at just 32 years of age, it was over.
Typically, the team continued on just as Bruce would have demanded, and today it’s a great legacy with a Mclaren family involvement — Bruce’s daughter Amanda is still involved at Mclaren’s Technical Centre at Woking.
The Invercargill premiere was followed by an insightful evening at the Richardson Transport World, with a presentation by Bruce’s first mechanic, Wally Wilmott. Fun times as well as sad times. Wally (“I was just a petrolhead”) recalled his part of the Mclaren legacy, and it was a great way to finish a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and with a modern Mclaren road car parked outside.