The critically acclaimed and surprisingly popular Ford v Ferrari lm has shone the spotlight on the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race and the extraordinary lengths that Ford went to secure victory. Thirteen Ford GT40s including eight entries from three factory supported teams against a Ferrari team operating on little more than Ford’s catering budget!
There were six antipodean drivers in the Ford camp. The Kiwis included the victorious Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon plus Denny Hulme (who drove with Ken Miles) both in Shelby American entries. The Australian contingent were Frank Gardner and Brian Muir in Alan Mann Racing GT40s and Paul Hawkins in a Holman and Moody Ford. But for the tragic
ckle hand of fate there should have been a fourth Australian born driver at Le Mans that year. His name was Bob McLean. Never heard of him? Read on.
Bob McLean was born in Port Pirie South Australia and moved with his older brother Alvin to Melbourne in the mid-1950s. Alvin pursued a motorcycle racing career but was tragically killed when his Norton 500 left the road during a race at the Bandiana Army Base near Albury, where British superstar Geoff Duke was competing, in January 1955.
Their distraught mother forbade young Bob from competing but a year later he saw Stirling Moss win the Australian Grand Prix in a Maserati 250F at Albert Park. He was trans xed and his mind was made up. When McLean left Australia and why he ended up on the west coast of Canada in Vancouver, British
Columbia is lost in the passage of time. However he was there in 1959 in his MGA for the inaugural race meeting at Canada’s rst permanent motor racing circuit Westwood. In an inauspicious debut he rolled the MGA.
McLean was serious about his racing and in early 1961 ventured to England to attend the Rob Walker Motor Racing Stables racing school. This was an arduous six stage course that McLean completed over two separate visits to England. He set the fastest ever student lap at Silverstone and was offered a works drive in a Formula Junior Cooper. However his heart and ancé were in Canada so he returned there with the Cooper, which he raced across North America during 1962-63 winning 19 out of 22 races.
For 1964 he upgraded to a Lotus 23B (with a Lotus Ford 1.6 engine) clocking up 60,000 miles crisscrossing the country and chased the Canadian championship, which he won in 1965 taking 19 wins from 21 races and often beating much larger engined cars. He also prepared and raced a Ford Mustang in local events.
In 1966 McLean hit the big time, securing a drive with the Comstock Racing Team who were elding two Ford GT40s in Canadian racing colours of green over white and with Ford of Canada support. The intention was to do all of the major international races including Le Mans. The rst race was the 12 Hours of Sebring in March where McLean quali ed 16th and started the race. It was at the beginning of his second stint in the third hour that it appeared the rear-end of the GT40 locked up sending him off the road and into a series of rolls that ended when he hit a telegraph pole. The GT40 with full tanks exploded in a ball of re and McLean perished in the ames.
It was a tragic end that hit the team hard. Mclean’s co-driver Jean Ouellet never raced again and the Comstock team was immediately disbanded. But the memory of Bob McLean lives on. He was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1993 and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame.
Canadian enthusiast Vince Howlett knew Bob and his family and has custody of the family scrapbooks. He describes Bob as a kind and gentle, softly spoken guy – a real gentleman. His widow Kathie passed away in 2011 and his son Rob, a promising young racer who moved to England to pursue a career was tragically killed in a road accident in the mid-1980s. Bob’s daughter Michelle now lives in Melbourne, where her father’s adventures all began long ago.
The similarities of Bob McLean’s career to Allan Moffat’s are uncanny. Almost unknown in his country of birth, Moffat became a hero in his adopted Australia whereas McLean, who proudly displayed the ying kangaroo on his helmet is fondly remembered in his adopted Canada but all but unknown here.