Paul Newby

Australian Muscle Car - - Maniac -

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.

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