Designers – Gordon Coppuck, McLaren, Yardley and the Y fronts

Colin Chapman Formula1 Car Designer Peers Series

Gordon Coppuck, McLaren, Yardley and the Y fronts


“Behind every successful organisation is always one if not more leading figure who eschews the limelight; in McLarens case this was Gordon Coppuck. He stood almost permanently in the shadows of the other more extrovert members of the team yet he more than played his part “……..

“The design tradition at McLaren was unlike that at Lotus where one leading personality prevailed”

Figure 1. Editors sketch working drawing of the McLaren Can Am car


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 .As part of the exercise we will examine some specific models from the respective seasons.

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 F1,F5000,Indianapolis F2/3, and Can Am
  • Lotus family of cars proposed by Chapman in and around Type 30
  • Bruce McLaren

Gordon Coppuck has an interesting overlay with Chapman/ Lotus as they competed against each other in various racing classes. Both had some excellent drivers/World Champions.

Coppuck may not have contributed to the McLaren M9 four wheel drive but overall the teams overlapped and on occasions went into the same design cul-de-sac.

Herd & Coppuck

“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.”

These two major designers collaborated but also worked independently.

See A&R piece dedicated to Herd.

Gordon Coppuck from the net:-

“Gordon Coppuck (born 8 December 1936 in Fleet, Hampshire)[1] is a British racing car designer who was chief designer for McLaren and later worked for March and co-founded Spirit.

Born in December 1936, he attended Queen Mary’s School for Boys before becoming an apprentice at the National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE).[2] In 1965 he followed his ex NGTE colleague Robin Herd to McLaren, working as his assistant.[3]

In 1971 he became chief designer at McLaren, responsible for various models including the Indianapolis 500 M16 and world championship winning M23.[3] When McLaren merged with Ron Dennis‘s Project Four in 1980, Coppuck departed, rejoining Herd at March.[3] The following year he founded Spirit with March’s Formula Two team manager John Wickham.[3] Spirit raced in Formula Two and then Formula One before Coppuck returned to March.[3] [4] Coppuck’s relative Frank Coppuck is also a racing car designer. [3

And slight repetition/emphasis “Coppuck departed to join his old friend Robin Herd at March Engineering. He designed an IMSA sports car for March, worked briefly on the ill-fated RAM March F1 project and did the groundwork for a March Indycar. In the autumn of 1981, however, he joined forces with March’s F2 team manager John Wickham to establish Spirit Racing. The team ran in F2 in 1982 but soon began preparations to enter F1 with Honda engines. Wickham and Coppuck knew that the engines would go to Williams in 1994 but hoped that they would be able to survive without Honda. The team did not and Coppuck went back to March where he designed Formula 3000 cars until 1987 when Herd began planning a new F1 program. When Adrian Newey was taken on as chief designer Coppuck transferred to the Porsche CART program and achieved some success with Teo Fabi‘s victory at Mid-Ohio in 1989. The program ended in 1990 and at the end of the year Coppuck joined forces with some of his colleagues to establish a design consultancy business called Adrem, which was based in Bicester. In 1991 and 1992 he helped the struggling Leyton House F1 team and then went to America in 1993 and 1994 to engineer Mark Smith in CART. He joined Arciero Wells in 1995 as technical director. Gordon’s relative Frank is also an F1 designer.”

A brief Design Methodology

Nye observes regarding the M23:-

“……….They decided to build a properly-integrated, tailor made monologue to optimize their long-held tenets of strength, practicality, simplicity and quality workmanship “

For a period there was also considerable shared input into the design process.

Figure 2. Editors part working drawing of the M23

Figure 3. Editor’s translation of working drawing into front three-quarter view of M23

Coppucks Car designs-a brief cross section


“The M8D differed visually from the M8B. With new rules banning the strut-mounted wings that had proliferated in 1969, the solution at McLaren comprised a pair of tail fins which acted as fences to channel airflow over a wide, low-mounted wing located eight inches above the rear bodywork. The distinctive appearance earned the car the nickname ‘the Batmobile’. It was less efficient aerodynamically without the M8B’s high wing, so to maintain performance the team sought even greater horsepower. A new deal with Reynolds Aluminium gave it access to that company’s new silicon-aluminium Chevrolet blocks, 8-litre versions of which were said to be capable of producing 700bhp. In the interest of reliability a slightly smaller 7.6-litre was chosen, giving 670bhp.

“Outstanding Can Am cars

Gordon Coppuck designed the McLaren M8F for the purposes of competing in Can-Am racing. The Chassis was comprised of monocoque and a Reynolds aluminum body. The Group 7 8360 cc alloy Chevrolet V8 engine was capable of producing around 750 horsepower. A 72 gallon fuel tank was dispersed on either side of the driver. Packed in rubber cells and padded with layers of foam, it added to the distribution of weight throughout the vehicle improving braking and handling. A Hewland LG500 MKII transmission helped disperse the horsepower to the rear wheels. The aerodynamics of the body and the wing created over one and a half tons of downforce, which kept the 1850 pound vehicle firmly planted on the track at speeds. In 1971 Peter Revson drove a McLaren M8F to the Can-Am championship where he emerged as champion after winning eight of ten races. This meant he was the first American to win the title. His teammate Denny Hulme finished second. This would be the final year for the McLaren dominance in Can-AM racing.”

Specifications from Twite:-

Marque McLaren
Model M8B Chevrolet
Engine /Cyli Chevrolet, V8 water cooled
Bore /Stroke 4.25in x 3.75 in
CC 427 ci.
Valve Gear ohv
Comp Ratio 12 to 1
Carburettors McLaren modified Lucas fuel injection
Max.Power 650 bhp at 7500 rpm
Trans/Gears Hewland LG600 4-speed
Front Brakes Lockheed 12in discs
Rear Brakes Lockheed 12in discs
Steering rack and pinion
Front Susp’ unequal length wishbones and coil springs
Rear Susp’ wishbones , paired radius rods and coil springs
Chassis semi-monocoque with additional tubing at rear to support engine [stressed member]
Wheel base 7ft-10in
Front Track 4ft-9in
Rear Track 4ft-7in
O’length 12ft
O’width.body 6ft-3in
Kerb weight 1480lb
Front Tyres 9.00x10in
Rear Tyres 14x15in
Marque McLaren
Model M12 Chevrolet
Engine /Cyli Chevrolet,V8 water cooled
Bore /Stroke 4.25 x 3.75in
CC 427 ci.
Valve Gear ohv
Comp Ratio 11 to 1
Carburettors Lucas fuel injection
Max.Power 525 bhp at 7500 rpm
Trans/Gears Hewland LG600 5-speed
Front Brakes Lockheed 12in discs
Rear Brakes Lockheed 12in discs
Steering rack and pinion
Front Susp’ wishbones ,coil springs, adjustable dampers,
Rear Susp’ wishbones ,coil springs, dual radius rods
Chassis semi monocoque with steel bulkheads
Wheel base 7ft-9.5in
Front Track 4ft-5.5in
Rear Track 4ft-5.5in
O’length 12ft-11in
O’width.body 5ft-11in
Kerb weight 1400lb
Front Tyres 10x15in
Rear Tyres 15x15in

Twite observed:-

“In 1969 the championship grew to an 11 –race series with a prize fund in excess of one million dollars.The McLaren team won every single race between them , bringing back to England a very large portion of the prize money “

Other designs include:-

M10A- Formula 5000

Specification from Twite:-

Marque McLaren
Model M10 A [Formula 5000]
Engine /Cyli Chevrolet V8, water cooled
Bore /Stroke 102.1 x 76.2 mm
CC 4990 cc
Valve Gear ohv
Comp Ratio 11 to 1
Carburettors 4x Weber or fuel injection
Max.Power 450 bhp at 7500 rpm
Trans/Gears 5-speed Hewland LG600
Front Brakes Lockheed disc 12in .dia.
Rear Brakes Lockheed disc 12in .dia.
Steering rack and pinion
Front Susp’ wishbones and coil spring
Rear Susp’ lower wishbones , top links , twin radius rods and coil springs
Chassis aluminium alloy monocoque
Wheel base 8ft-1.5in
Front Track 5ft
Rear Track 4ft-10in
O’length 13ft-4in
O’width.body 6ft-3in [over rear wheels]
Kerb weight 1250lb
Front Tyres 15in dia x 15in rim width
Rear Tyres 15in dia x 15in rim width

M15 Indy



M23 [see below]



The M23

A good description of the M23 is provided by Nye in Famous Racing Cars-the 1983-76 McLaren-Cosworth M23’s


“Over a remarkable career spanning four and a half years as a front line GP car the M23 won 17 GP and 4 non championship races……the M23 ranks along side the Lotus 72 and McLarens own Barnard MP4 cars for competitive longevity

Gordon Coppuck described the car as a decade and a half on as, “The best F1 car for three years. Yes, it was a good design, but it also benefited from a lot of good development. The chassis changed very little, but we did a great deal of suspension work to keep it competitive. The chassis was much stiffer than those of our rivals’ cars, but it was pretty flexible by modern standards.”

Compared to the previous season the M23’s weight distribution had been improved by fitting a new bellhousing spacer between the engine and gearbox, hence the three-inch longer wheelbase. With an additional two inches of track, traction was also improved out of slow corners, while the rear wing was brought forward by 10 inches in order to comply with a new set of regulations. During the season three different wheelbase variations were employed, together with a distinctive narrow ‘winkle picker’ nose which saw service at Brands Hatch, Jarama and Monaco where its wider wings generated more front-end downforce.”

Figure 4. Editors part working drawing of the type 72 against which McLaren competed

Figure 5. Editors sketch of the MP4/1E see text and explanation of evolution post Coppuck

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:-

  • Name the McLaren drivers and F1 championships won in the Chapman era
  • Which sponsors did McLaren adopt in same period?
  • List concepts borrowed or perhaps inspired from Lotus
  • List other designers with the same breadth of success of Coppuck

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 exhibition generalized F1 titles might be appropriate:-

  • Engines and engine power
  • Aerodynamics
  • Structures
  • Tyres
  • Sustainability
  • Design down to budget
  • Sponsorship

And the following Gordon Coppuck/ McLaren specific:-

  • Coppuck,McLaren and Yardley: A close shave
  • Coppuck,McLaren and Yardley: The sweet smell of success
  • Coppuck, McLaren and Yardley: The Y fronts
  • Coppuck, McLaren and Malbro-Smoking Rubber
  • Coppuck, McLaren ,Indianapolis & CanAm- for a few dollars more
  • Coppuck, McLaren and Texaco-Fueling Finance
  • Coppuck, McLaren and Texaco-It’s a Gas

Figure 6.Editors sketch of direct view of rear of the M23

Exhibitions could tap into the rich diversity, explore communality and divergence, innovation v caution and place peer designed cars in juxtaposition with one another surrounded by the design principles the respective designers have adopted. This along with race simulators and film ought bring out and provide educational opportunities for students to comprehend how differing design approaches and content have impacted on success.


This series of benchmarking we hope will extract a meaningful “compare and contrast” approach that we believe will be both entertaining and educational. Furthermore we hope that they might provide the backbone concepts around which successful exhibitions can be formed.

Britain has a rich seam of FI drivers and design engineers but a benchmarking exercise will allow us to examine the international dimension too.

Gordon Coppuck is one of the few designers that have excelled at diverse branches of motor sport including:

  • F1
  • Can-Am
  • USAC –oval/ Indianapolis
  • Formula A/5000

He also contributed to the M6 GT which might have become a production road car based on their Can-Am model [see A&R on Lotus GT coupe]

The last two being American based were extremely lucrative.

There is some evidence that Coppuck benefited from Lotus/Chapman concepts.

The production of customer cars we believe contributed to extremely practical design- which benefited the McLaren F1 team.

Williams on Coppuck:-

“Behind every successful organisation there is always one, if not more leading figures who eschews the limelight in McLarens case, this was Gordon Coppuck. He stood almost permanently in the shadows of the other extrovert members of the team, and yet he more than played his part………

The design tradition at McLaren was unlike that at Lotus where one leading personality profiled….

[Commenting on the M23]

“Over a remarkable career spanning four and a half years as a front line GP car ,the M23 won 17 GP’s…….in this respect the M23 ranks along side the Lotus 72 and McLaren own Barnard –designed MP4 cars for competition longevity……….”

” Gordon falls somewhere between the original nice guy and the archetypal boffin but do not be fooled by the quite manner ,here is one of the most successful of the GP designers .Furthermore his string of successful designs in other categories of racing [Can-Am ,F5000 and USAC]is virtually unrivalled , giving Coppuck a unique place on motor racing history.”

Coppuck had a prodigious talent that may have been perhaps underestimated.

Although we don’t believe he had the same depth and breadth of Chapman he was both commercially and competitively successful at McLaren.

We invite subscribers to complete the benchmark exercise with Chapman set out in the appendix below.

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: Coppuck and McLaren

Type No Category Designer Engine
M1A Group 7 Ford & Chevrolet V8
M1C Can Am Customer
M2A Robin Herd
M3 Formula Libre
M4A F2/3 Robin Herd
M5A F1 Robin Herd BRM V12 Customer
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 Customer
M8D Can Am
M8E Can Am Customer
M8F Can Am
M8FP Can Am Customer
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 Customer
M19A F1 Ralph Bellamy Cosworth DFV
M20 Can Am
M21 F2 Ralph Bellamy
M22 Formula 5000 Customer
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


McLaren: A Racing history.Williams.Crowood.1991

Grand Prix .Cimarosti.Aurum.1997.

ISBN: 1854105000

The Perfect Car. The biography of John Barnard.Skeens.Evro.2018.

ISBN: 978

History of the Grand Prix Car.Nye.Hazelton.1992.

ISBN: 0905138955

Famous Racing cars.Nye.Guild.1989.

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

ISBN: 1870979168

The Art of the F1 Race Car. Codling & Mann.Motorbooks.2010.*

ISBN: 978076037318

Driving Forces.Henry.Patrick Stephens.1992.

ISBN: 185260302x

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.