Designers – Bruce McLaren-“Hey Mr. Tangerine Man”

The Colin Chapman design peers series:-

Bruce McLaren-“Hey Mr. Tangerine Man”

Len Terry on Bruce McLaren:-

  • Best combination of driver and development man
  • First class engineer
  • Paid attention to details tenaciously
  • Relatively conservative
  • Undertook pains taking development
  • Committed to long term evolution


“He was not a large man but a bigger heart and victory grin would be hard to imagine.

Bruce McLaren was an innovator, a motivator of colleagues, a tiger behind the wheel……”


The A&R considers that Colin Chapman’s design career in FI embraced two periods:-

  1. From the inception of Lotus cars to the late 1960’s early 1970’s
  2. The mature period covering the wings/ ground effect and turbo era until his sad and early death in 1982

We don’t know what he might have achieved had he lived beyond this.

The FI designs of Colin Chapman were considerable not least because of his relatively low budget .He did not have the resources of a multinational to cross-subsidize its racing programme against publicity and a means of developing its engineers.

In order to evaluate Colin Chapman better the A&R is committing to a series of benchmarking exercises analyzing the design achievements of his peers.

These design studies are a natural complement to our series on Design Heroes that gives priority to Industrial and Product Designers.

The Designers

We offer the list below and would be interested to hear from our subscribers if they would like to make other recommendation for inclusion and also if they have priority/ preference in our selection.

We appreciate that some of these designers were colleagues of Colin Chapman at Lotus at some point in their careers but went onto achieve success in their own right.

As a prompt subscribers might like to use the list to pencil in those cars they associate with the designers.

Designer Marque Model

Len Bailey
Dave Baldwin
Ralph Ballamy
John Barnard
Michel Beaujos
Nigel Bennett
Eric Broadley
Gustav Brunner
Rory Bryne
Paul Carillo
Colin Chapman
Carlo Chiti
John Clark
Peter Connew
Gordon Coppuck
Andre de Cortanze
Frank Dernie
Richard Divila
Gerrard Ducarouge
Geoffrey Ferns
Mauro Forghieri
Derek Gardner
John Gentry
Chuck Graemiger
Herve Guilpin
Patrick Head
Robin Herd
Jean-Pierre Jabouille
Ray Jessop
Georges Martin
Tico Martini
Alan McCall
Arturio Merzario
Kenij Mimura
Robert Morin
Vic Morris
Gordon Murray
Morris Nunn
Martin Ogilivie
Masa Ono
Enzo Osella
Luciano Pederzani
Maurice Phillippe
Mike Pilbeam
Harvey Postlethwaite
Adrian Reynard
Franco Rochi
Ken Sears
Tony Southgate
Giorgio Stirano
Ray Stokoe
Nigel Stroud
John Surtees
Andy Swallman
Ron Tauranac
Len Terry
Michel Tetu
Antonio Tomaini
Martin Walter
Tim Wardrop
Dave Wass
Peter Wright
Edy Wyss

Each of the assessments will adopt a set format for a degree of uniformity and fairer evaluation. The assessment criteria as follows [but again we are happy to take suggestions from our subscribers]:-

    • Brief biography and design methodology
    • FI car design
    • Sport / sports racing car design
    • Road car design
    • Consultancy and any other product design
    • Legacy or design influence

The editors are thinking of starting with Gordon Murray but will be influenced by our regular subscribers. The editors have been influenced by “The Art of the Formula 1 Car” but aesthetics alone will not influence inclusion.

Subscribers might like to see the directly relevant and integrated A&R pieces that complement and help structure this article:-

  • Lotus the Types 30& 40 and the proposed GT Coupe [ cf the McLaren M6 GT]
  • Lotus and Can Am
  • Pieces of Eight Ford V8 engines
  • Lotus F1 cars and in particular the 4 wheel-drive

From the net:-

“Bruce Leslie McLaren (30 August 1937 – 2 June 1970) was a New Zealand race-car designer, driver, engineer and inventor.

His name lives on in the McLaren team which has been one of the most successful in Formula One championship history, winning a total of 8 World Constructors’ Championships and 12 World Drivers’ Championships. McLaren cars dominated CanAm sports car racing with 56 wins, a considerable number of them with him behind the wheel, between 1967 and 1972 (and five constructors’ championships), and have won three Indianapolis 500 races, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring.

They are one of the most successful racing teams in Formula 1 history. 182 races won.12 Driver’s Championships. 8 Constructor’s Championships. Some of the greatest drivers to ever compete in F1 made their names winning titles for them: Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton.

Can-Am series

McLaren’s design flair and ingenuity were graphically demonstrated in powerful sports car racing. Just as the Can-Am began to become very popular with fans in Canada and the U.S., the new McLaren cars finished second twice, and third twice, in six races.

In 1967, they won five of six races and in 1968, four of six. The following year, McLarens proved unbeatable, winning all 11 races. In two races, they finished 1–2–3. (McLaren, Hulme, and Mark Donohue).

In 1966, McLaren and co-driver Chris Amon won the prestigious 24 Hour Race at Le Mans in a Ford GT40, after Ken Miles was instructed to slow down despite of leading.[4]

Career as a constructor

McLaren was a competitive driver, but his legacy, the McLaren Racing Team, stems from his abilities as an analyst, engineer, and manager. In the early days of McLaren sports cars, McLaren was testing and as he drove out of the pits, he noticed the fuel filler access door was flapping up and down as he drove. The current aerodynamic thinking was that it should have been pressed more firmly in place as the speed of the car increased. Instead, it bounced more vigorously as the speed increased. Instantly, his frustration at the sloppy work changed and he had an insight. Stopping in the pits, he grabbed a pair of shears, and started cutting the bodywork away behind the radiator. Climbing back in the car, he immediately began turning lap times faster than before.

Later he explained,

I was first angry that the filler door hadn’t been properly closed but then I began to wonder why it wasn’t being pressed down by the airflow. The only answer was that there had to be a source of higher pressure air under it than over it.

From that session came the “nostrils” that have been a key McLaren design feature, including in the McLaren P1 road car.

McLaren noticed that his team’s cars were less innovative than the Chaparrals of rival driver/designer Jim Hall, but their superior reliability was rewarded by race and championship victories. That culture continued after his death and when Ron Dennis bought the team was reinforced by the lessons learned in his early career as a race mechanic.”

Personnel & Team Work associated with the Bruce McLaren era

  • Bruce McLaren
  • Tyler Alexander
  • Phil Kerr
  • Teddy Mayer
  • Don Beresford
  • Jo Marquardt
  • Sue Winslade
  • Harry Pearce

Nye observed:-

“The management at Colnbrook, 1968, their combination of driving skills, technical ability, business sense, and good old fashioned dynamism made the team work and work well”

Pete Lyons:-

It’s not Bruce’s budget that makes him win, but the manner in which he goes about the whole job. He has a practical conception of what machines he needs to win. He starts to build and test them on time.

He hires the best brains and keeps them happy. He organises bases,transport and supply lines in a Para-military manner………….and has a continuing programme of refinement that amounts to a restless search for perfection………perhaps most importantly he never lets his men ease up……

McLaren were good at logistics, testing and detail.

McLaren major sponsors


  • Goodyear
  • Gulf Oil Corporation
  • Reynolds Aluminium

Designers and Design Methodology in the Bruce McLaren era

Quoted by Nye

“What you have got to do is come up with a car that is slightly better than someone else’s, and do it now. Get it done, get it done simply, and get it done early”

Significant individuals included:-

  • R.Herd
  • Gordon Coppuck
  • Gordon Murray

Retail Prices –Customer Cars

The editors believe that the M3 was offered to customers as a rolling chassis for private entrants at £3,000.

Twite observes that the Chevrolet ZL-1 427[7Litre] Corvette engine was sold over the counter for £3000 in the US.

Sports Racing

Bruce McLaren gained some useful early experience in sports racing cars and he exploited this throughout his career.

Some examples include:-

From the net:-

M1A – 1964-65
“the original McLaren built Group 7 sports racing car was a simple space frame design with a light and compact Oldsmobile V-8 engine, cooper wheels, uprights and steering arms, and a Hewland Gearbox. Fitted with the engine effort the Zerex, the McLaren M1 lowered the Zerex’s records at Goodwood by a clear 3 seconds.
The car was painted black with a silver stripe ( New Zealand’s colours) and it was the fastest car on the track at Mosport in September, but with a broken throttle linkage and a long pit stop, Bruce came back to finish third. Later on that season at Nassau the car was painted an orange red colour and the car finished second to Roger Penske’s Chaparral.
In England Frank Nichols of Elva Cars called on Bruce and a long association was formed with Peter Agg of Trojan (Elva’s parent company) to build McLaren replicas They were to be called McLaren-Elvas. The M1A was put into production as the McLaren-Elva Mark 1 and versions appeared with 4.7 litre Ford V-8 power in addition to the standard 4.5 litre Olds, A total 24 were built and met with success, although it became apparent that the Olds engine was just too small for the class.
Chassis: Large diameter round and square tubular frame with light alloy sheet riveted and bonded to it, forming stressed undertray and bulkheads.
Suspension: Independent by unequal length wide based wishbones, anti-roll bar and adjustable coil spring/shock units in the front. Trailing radius arms with single top links, reversed lower wishbones, anti-roll bar and adjustable coil spring/shock units at the rear.
Brakes: Dual circuit Girling discs all around.
Body: Four section polyester resin with integral brake and radiator ducting and side sections housing twin fuel tanks.
Engine: Traco Oldsmobile 4.5 Litre V-8 standard with Hewland LG4 speed gearbox.
Dimensions: Wheelbase 91 inches, front track 51 inches, rear track 51 inches.”

Figure 1.Editors photography of early McLaren in the paddock of the Llandow race track in the late 1960’s

Figure 2. Contrasting competition the McLaren alongside the Le Mans Aston Martin at Llandow; editors photograph


McLaren entered F1 not long after Lotus by which time Bruce had gained useful experience with Cooper.

Some of the early cars included the:-

Early F1 cars included the M2B, M4B & M14A

Here we look at the Bruce McLaren era when Lotus were competing but also acknowledge the evolution of the brand and subsequent very successful cars.

From the net:-


  • Year 1968
  • Race wins 3
  • Series Formula 1

The elegant M7A tends to be mistaken for the first single seater McLaren that was designed specifically for Formula 1, doubtless because it was the first to succeed. It was another product of the fruitful Robin Herd/Gordon Coppuck pairing.

Like the M6A the new car proved a winner not just first time out but on its first two outings. Bruce won the 1968 Daily Mail Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March, and the following month Denny fought back from a problem when a stone smashed a lens in his goggles, to win the Daily Express International Trophy race at Silverstone. Both were non-championship events, but the M7A was to make the McLaren marque a Grand Prix winner that season, too.

Herd conceived McLaren’s first Ford Cosworth DFV—powered contender around a simple, three-quarter length monocoque, following Lotus’s lead in using the V8 as a structural element. Transmission was provided by a standard Hewland DGSOO five-speed transaxle.

The chassis was of the so-called bathtub type, open to the top in the fashion of the Lotus 25, and was skinned mainly in 22-gauge L72 aluminium sheet or, in a few places, 20-gauge magnesium sheet, which was riveted and bonded to three internal 20-gauge steel bulkheads. 40 gallons of fuel were distributed between four rubber bag tanks, one each longitudinally on either side of the tub, another behind the driver’s seat, and the fourth in the scuttle. Sleek glass-fibre bodywork completed the attractive package. Other notable points were the use of Lockheed brakes, at a time when every other British team opted for Girling.

The suspension was conventional and derived from the M6A’s, via outboard coil spring/dampers units both ends and single lateral links and trailing arms at the front and single lateral top links, reversed lower wishbones and twin radius rods at the rear.

There was a story behind the suspension, for Herd had left McLaren to join Cosworth shortly after drawing the M7A’s chassis. Bruce had schooled him in the rigours of applying his impressive aerospace knowledge to the practicalities of motor racing, and felt aggrieved when his design protégé upped and left. It was left to Coppuck to do the detail design on the suspension, after Bruce had largely been responsible for the geometry”


Figure 3.McLaren.From top down: M7c [1969], M14 [1974], M19A [1971] and M19C [1972]

The McLaren 9A is worthy of detailed study in relation to Lotus [tech spec from Twite]

Marque McLaren
model M9A
Engine /Cyli Ford V8
Bore /Stroke 85.6 x 64.8 mm
CC 2995 cc
Valve Gear twin ohc
Comp Ratio 11 to 1
Carburettors Lucas fuel injection
Max.Power 430 at 10,000 rpm
Trans/Gears McLaren-Hewland four wheel drive 5-speed
Front Brakes Girling disc 11.5in dia
Rear Brakes Girling disc 11.5in dia
Steering rack and pinion
Front Susp’ double wishbone inboard coil spring dampers
Rear Susp’ double wishbone inboard coil spring dampers
Chassis aluminium monocoque
Wheel base 7ft-11in
Front Track 4ft-11in
Rear Track 4ft-11in
O’length 13ft-6in
O’width.body 3ft
Kerb weight 1250 lb
Front Tyres 13in
Rear Tyres 13in

Figure 4. Editors front three quarter sketch of McLaren M23

Figure 5. Part working drawing sketch by editor

Figure 6. “Smoking tyres”

Figure 7.Editors sketch tracing the successful evolution of the McLaren brand with the MP4


McLaren enjoyed some success at Indianapolis some of the cars competing included the:-

M15A 1970

M16A 1971


Both as driver and owner McLaren did extremely well in Can-Am through the 1960’s.

Twite informs us that the purse for winning in 1969 was in excess of $1million.

McLaren entered a succession of cars that evolved.

It’s worth noting they also sold variants to private entrants.

From the net:-

M8A – 1968
“The 1968 Can-Am works cars were further developments of the very successful M6A design and were again kept as simple as possible, employing single curvature panelling and square tube sections in the monocoque, which now used the engine as a partially stressed structural member. Three cars were built, dominating the series with Denny winning the championship.
Chassis: Aluminium alloy and magnesium panelling monocoque based on steel bulkheads and using the Chevrolet engine as a partially stressed structural member stiffening the rear bay.
Suspension: Single top link with radius arm, lower wishbone, anti-roll bar and coil spring/shock units in front. Twin radius arms with single top link, reversed lower wishbone and coil spring units at rear. McLaren cast magnesium wheels 15 x 10 front and 15 x 15 rear.
Brakes: Lockheed discs all around, 12 inch diameter with 17/3P calipers and dual aerodynamic surfaces.
Body: Reinforced polyester resin panelling.
Engine: Chevrolet V-8 with 4 speed Hewland transaxle.
Dimensions: Wheelbase 94 inches, front track 57.6 inches, rear track 56 inches.”

Figure 8. Editors sketch working drawing of late Can Am car in its papaya livery

Formula 5000

Like Lotus McLaren produced at F5000 specification car.

Tech spec from Twite.

model M9A
Engine /Cyli Ford V8
Bore /Stroke 85.6 x 64.8 mm
CC 2995 cc
Valve Gear twin ohc
Comp Ratio 11 to 1
Carburettors Lucas fuel injection
Max.Power 430 at 10,000 rpm
Trans/Gears McLaren-Hewland four wheel drive 5-speed
Front Brakes Girling disc 11.5in dia
Rear Brakes Girling disc 11.5in dia
Steering rack and pinion
Front Susp’ double wishbone inboard coil spring dampers
Rear Susp’ double wishbone inboard coil spring dampers
Chassis aluminium monocoque
Wheel base 7ft-11in
Front Track 4ft-11in
Rear Track 4ft-11in
O’length 13ft-6in
O’width.body 3ft
Kerb weight 1250 lb
Front Tyres 13in
Rear Tyres 13in

Learning Opportunities

Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.

These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • At one point McLaren competed in F1/GP, Indianapolis and Can-Am, which other motoring brands have achieved this?
  • What would Bruce McLaren have learnt from driving the Ford GT40?
  • In detail explain McLaren success in Can-Am, what did they earn?
  • McLaren produced customer cars what did this contribute to motorsport?
  • McLaren have employed some of the greatest F1 designers, benchmark these in particular examine Gordon Murray
  • Some of the McLaren cars were built by Trojan at Purley Way, Croydon; what operation was this? Study the economic geography and archaeology
  • McLaren used some very high tech materials in their monococque chassis , list and describe these
  • Compare the McLaren M6 GT Coupe with the P1

Exhibitions, Education, Economics and Entertainment

In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • McLaren the “Orange Blossom Special”
  • Bruce McLaren: The Mandarin Orange
  • McLaren: the orange oracle
  • McLaren & the House of Orange
  • Bruce McLaren & the Orange Men
  • McLaren: Speedy Kiwi
  • McLaren:Kiwi takes flight
  • McLaren Kings of Can-Am
  • Big Bangers & Cash :McLaren & Can-Am



“By the start of 1970 Bruce McLaren had established himself as a respected and prosperous businessman as well as an accomplished racing driver. The team was launching an assault on the Indianapolis 500, his plans for an exclusive high performance road car were nearing fruition, and he was happily married with a young daughter….

Although not the fastest driver of his time, he had consolidated a reputation for absolute consistency and dependability “

“Bruce Leslie McLaren was a brilliant combination of driver, designer, engineer and car-builder. There were others who were better drivers, designers or engineers but there was none who combined these talents as successfully as Bruce”

The test and development driver must have the correct mentality and behavioural patterns including consistency and discipline.

Bruce McLaren was versatile demonstrating achievement at different levels from F1 to Le Mans and Can-Am.In addition he was known to be sincere and possessed of good manners with a sense of humour and relaxed. But he was also disciplined.

He recognised the commercial importance of racing in America.

He commented of their cars:-

“And this is why our cars are so good-they are well engineered”

And this particularity applied to attention to detail.

Bruce McLaren provides some deserved comparison with Chapman and Lotus [see detailed checklist /benchmarking criteria below]


  • Qualified academic engineers, exceptional drivers and entrepreneurs
  • Raced in diverse classes in America, Europe and Tasman
  • Sold customer cars
  • Employed some enormous design talent overlapped in construction of cars including the 4 wheel drive.
  • Both brands continue to the present with iconic road cars and considerable legacy
  • These two men died too young and might have gone on to greater achievement.

A Trust has been set up to honour Bruce McLaren-see appendix below for details.

Figure 9.”McLaren Racing published by the team then based at Colnbrook, Bucks, UK.

Appendix 1

Colin Chapman’s Achievement
F1 Constructors & Drivers Championship
Le Mans
British Club level
Single seat formula below F1
Iconic Road cars
Technical /engineering innovations
Development of human talent
Facilitation & sponsorship
Aesthetic appreciation
Product Design
Design Methodology
Legacy, continuity, heritage
Impact on popular culture
Contribution to British economy
Significant Awards
Documentation, books & articles etc.

Appendix:2 McLaren cars

Type No Category Designer Engine
M1A Group 7 Ford & Chevrolet V8
M1C Can Am Coustomer
M2A Robin Herd
M3 Formula Libre
M4A F2/3 Robin Herd
M5A F1 Robin Herd BRM V12 Coustomer
M6A Can Am Chevrolet V8
M6GT Coupe
M7A F1 Robin Herd
M7B F1 Experimental
M7C F5000
M7D Alfa Romeo
M8A Can Am
M8B Can Am
M8C Coustomer
M8D Can Am
M8E Can Am Coustomer
M8F Can Am
M8FP Can Am Coustomer
M9A F1 Experimental 4×4
M10A Formula A/5000 G.Coppuck
M10B Formula A/5000
M12 Can Am
M14A F1
M14D Alfa Romeo V8
M15A Indianapolis G.Coppuck Offenhauser turbo
M16A Indianapolis
M16B Indianapolis
M16C Indianapolis
M16C/D Indianapolis
M16E Indianapolis John Barnard
M17 Abandoned
M18 Formula 5000 Coustomer
M19A F1 Ralph Bellamy Cosworth DFV
M20 Can Am
M21 F2 Ralph Bellamy
M22 Formula 5000 Coustomer
M23 F1
M24 Indianapolis Cosworth DFX
M25 Formula 5000 John Barnard still-born
M26 F1 G.Coppuck
M28 F1
M29 F1
M30 F1
MP4/1 F1 John Barnard
MP4/1B F1
MP4/1C F1
MP4/1D F1 TAG-Porsche turbo test car
MP4/1E F1 TAG-Porsche interim
MP4/2 F1
MP4/2B F1
MP4/2C F1
MP4/3 F1

Appendix 3

The Bruce McLaren Trust

The Bruce McLaren Trust was publicly launched at Wings & Wheels, Whenuapai, Auckland in March 1997. In July 1990 a small memorial trust had been formed to honour Bruce. Upon its closure in 1995, it was realised by the McLaren family and Ross Jensen that there was a need to form a permanent trust. Therefore in response to repeated demands to commemorate Bruce McLaren’s achievements and honour him as one of New Zealand’s international heroes, the new Trust was formed by Ross Jensen and Bruce’s younger sister Jan McLaren. The overall purpose of the Bruce McLaren Trust is to be a living working memorial to Bruce McLaren and the McLaren Team heritage. Bruce McLaren was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1937 and was killed tragically whilst testing one of his cars at Goodwood circuit, England in June 1970. From the young school boy with Perthes Disease, strapped to a metal frame at the Wilson Home in Takapuna, Auckland, to a world class international motor racing driver, engineer and designer whose name is still used in Formula 1 motor racing today, is a remarkable achievement. With fellow New Zealanders, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon, Bruce took on the might of the international motor racing world and triumphed with enormous success. It was all about team work and there is no doubt that Bruce and his team did for New Zealand and New Zealand motorsport in the 1960s and 1970s what Sir Peter Blake and Team Black Magic have done for New Zealand and New Zealand yachting


McLaren Sports Racing Cars.Friedman.MBI.2000.

ISBN: 0760367245

Bruce McLaren.Ludvisgsen.Haynes.2001.

ISBN: 1869708248

McLaren 50 Years of Racing.Hamilton&Fearnley.Prestel.2013.

ISBN: 9793791365169

Bruce McLaren.Young.Patrick Stephens.1995.

ISBN: 1852605111

McLaren- A Racing History.Williams.Crowood.1991.

ISBN: 1852236035


The Worlds Racing Cars.Twite.Macdonald.1971

SBN: 356031551

A-Z of Formula Racing Cars.Hodges.Bayview.1990.

ISBN: 1870979168

Famous Racing Cars.Nye.Guild.1989.

Classic Racing Cars.Posthumus.Hamlyn.1977.

ISBN: 0600319091

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.