New Zealander Bruce McLaren founded his company in 1963 to go racing.
Born in August of 1937, McLaren’s family owned a gas station and an automobile workshop in Auckland, New Zealand. His father, Les McLaren, restored an Austin Seven Ulster and handed it over to the then-14-year-old Bruce to drive in a hill climb competition.
At 16, he drove in his first wheel-to-wheel race with other drivers and did well enough to encourage the continuation of the effort. By the time he turned 21 in 1958, Bruce McLaren was known as the second-best racing driver in New Zealand.
This brought him considerable notoriety and a highly coveted opportunity to go to Europe to hone his skills on the international Grand Prix racing circuit. He was assigned to drive in Formula 2 for the Cooper team. At the 1958 German Grand Prix—his first race—McLaren won his class and finished fifth overall. Cooper then moved him up to Formula 1 and McLaren proceeded to become the youngest F1 driver ever to win a Grand Prix (at the time), when he finished the U.S. Grand Prix in first place at the age of 22.
He then went on to win the 1961 Argentine Grand Prix, as well as finish that season second in points for the Driver’s Championship. In 1962, McLaren won at Monaco, and finished the season third in overall points. In 1963, he founded Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, which would ultimately evolve into the McLaren Group, of which McLaren Automotive is a subsidiary. He continued to drive—and win—in Coopers through the 1965 season—including a win in front of a hometown audience at the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1964.
Bruce McLaren Motor Racing started running its own cars in 1966. It took a couple of years for the team to gain traction, but once it did, it proved practically unstoppable. Team McLaren’s first Grand Prix win came in 1968 at Spa, with McLaren driving his own car. But the Can-Am series is where Team McLaren really shone. In 1967, McLaren won five of the season’s six races, in 1968 his team won four out of six, and in 1969 it won all 11 races—taking the entire podium (first through third places) in two of the 11 races. And yes, McLaren won at LeMans to, albeit behind the wheel of a Ford GT40 in 1966.
McLaren’s engineering prowess, in addition to his abilities as a driver fed his success. In many cases, his competitor’s vehicles were more technically innovative, however McLaren’s designs were more reliable.
They finished races.
And you have to finish to win.
McLaren’s first road car evolved out of a stillborn racing car he was developing to run at LeMans. To qualify as a homologation special, 50 road going copies of the car had to be built for it to be considered to be based on a production model. Work began on the McLaren M6GT in 1970, with the goal to eventually build 250 of them. However, only two were ever built. The prototype was pressed into service as McLaren’s daily driver and remained so until he was killed at Goodwood in June of 1970.
The next of the McLaren automobiles for the street—the McLaren M81 Mustang—appeared late in 1980. Developed in conjunction with Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) group, the M81 Mustang was virtually hand built. Because of this, its price tag hovered in the $25,000 range, which was considered a whole lot of money for a Mustang in 1980. This, despite the fact it featured low-riding side-skirt spoilers, functional hood scoops, a more aggressive suspension system to improve handling, and massive fender flares covering a set of high-end German BBS alloy wheels shod with super-sticky Firestone high-performance tires. Powered by a variable boost-controlled turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the M81 boasted 175 horsepower—compared to the stock Mustang’s 132. Only 10 of them were ever built.
McLaren Automotive’s first ground-up road car effort was the 1992 McLaren F1. A three-seat mid-engine exotic sports car, the F1 holds the title of the world’s fastest normally aspirated production car at 242.97 miles per hour. The F1’s zero to 60 time was quoted at 3.2 seconds.
Yes, the Bugatti Veyron is faster.
It is also turbocharged.
A BMW V12 engine developing 627 horsepower powered the McLaren’s rear wheels. A mildly modified McLaren F1 GTR entered in the GT1 category won outright at LeMans in 1995—even over much faster LeMans prototype cars. Remarkably, the car that did so was the very first of the production McLaren F1 automobiles—car number 001. McLaren F1 GTRs also finished third, fifth, and 13th overall.
The next McLaren road car was built in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, whose engines currently power McLaren’s Grand Prix cars. The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren debuted in 2003, featuring a 626 horsepower 5.5-liter supercharged V8. The front mid-engine layout used a five-speed automatic transmission and rear-drive.
A number of technological innovations further enhanced the SLR McLaren’s aura. Active aerodynamics, brake by wire, an air brake, and carbon reinforced plastics were all prominent components of the car. Top speed was quoted at 208 miles per hour. For 2006, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition was released. Slight engine modifications increased horsepower to 640. The open roadster version of the car debuted in 2007.
In 2009, McLaren Automotive unveiled the plans for the McLaren MP4-12C— the first car the company would do on its own from the ground up since the 1992 McLaren F1 vehicles. The MP4-12C went on sale in 2011, with a 616-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 engine designed and developed by McLaren, but loosely based on a Nissan racing engine. The mid-engine McLaren exotic car uses a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission and is capable for going from zero to 60 in just over three seconds.
A convertible version of the car, the McLaren MP4-12C Spider, went on sale for the 2013 model year. Also for 2013, the McLaren’s engine output was increased to 615 horsepower. Top speed is estimated at 204 miles per hour.