A LIFE IN ACHIEVEMENT: THE MCLAREN STORY
The final checkered flag sits poised in the distance as the three Ford GT40s fly down the Le Mans 24-hour Race side-by-side. The win will symbolize the culmination of a long journey by the Ford company to beat Ferrari at their own game - designing the fastest racecar in the world. While Ken Miles' Ford GT, designed by Carroll Shelby, would cross the finish line first, Bruce McLaren would be named the 1966 24-hour Le Mans champion. Winning the Le Mans would be another incredible achievement for Bruce in what was already a storied career in racing.
Bruce McLaren was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on August 30th, 1937. His parents Les and Ruth, were owners of a small service station in Auckland off Remuera Road where he came to love cars of all types. His father had a passion for motorcycle racing, so from a young age he was entrenched in motorsports and the blossoming automotive industry. Bruce could be found under the hood long after the service station's daily hours ended. Covered in grease, examining the elements and components of his favorite vehicles.
At age 9 Bruce was diagnosed with Perthes disease. A hip disorder that would make his left leg longer than his right, resulting in a permanent limp. He battled this illness from a bed off and on for two years. While life may have limited his athletic prowess on his feet, Bruce would prove there is more than one way to go fast.
Behind the wheel of an Austin Ulster 7 he and his father had fixed up, a 14-year-old Bruce would win the first auto race he ever entered. A mere six years later, he would stand high atop the podium as the greatest race car driver in the country after winning the New Zealand Grand Prix. The teenage service station attendant with a limp, typically picked last for sports, was now the best race car driver in the entire country. The world was put on notice by the Kiwi prodigy.
An Everlasting Legacy
Two years later at the United States Grand Prix, Bruce went up against world-class racers and the staples of the racing community like Ferrari. He stunned the world by becoming the youngest person to ever win a world-class Grand Prix at just 22 years old. A win at the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix cemented his legacy and sent him speeding down the halls of automotive glory. The following year in 1963, the 25-year-old racing vet would start his own McLaren Motor Racing Ltd. With undeniable prowess behind the wheel, Bruce would now engineer the fastest vehicles to hit the track.
Continuing to grow his racing career to new heights, Bruce would win the Le Mans 24-hour race in 66’ while also engineering his vehicles for McLaren MotorSports. The fruits of his labors would begin to pay off in 1969 when the first rollout of McLaren vehicles would see the track.
A year later, on a sunny summer morning in southern England, Bruce would be taking test laps in his latest Can-Am race car at Goodwood Circuit. The rear bodywork of the McLaren M8D he was testing would come adrift. Sending Bruce off the track and fatally injuring him. He was 32.
Bruce's passing sent shockwaves through the racing and automotive industry. Six years prior, Bruce had written a book called "From the Cockpit," in which he penned an epitaph to racing teammate Timmy Mayer who had also passed away on the track:
"To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. On the other hand, 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." - Bruce McLaren
To measure Bruce's life in achievements, he lived centuries. In 32 years his contributions are some of the most significant in the auto industry. Those achievements would inspire the world of vehicles we see at McLaren Automotive today and revolutionize the industry's approach to racing. While we can't guess what else Bruce would have done, the inspiration of his inventive spirit still propels the automotive passions of today. We feel blessed to have had a small piece of Bruce's incredible legacy for the time we did, and have us counting the days till another McLaren rolls through our garage doors here at SWAE.