The ’ 67 M6A boasted a stiff monocoque
chassis, high-downforce bodyshell and fuel
injection to make its 5.9-liter Chevy engines
more powerful and responsive.
The car received thorough development,
too; that was the real key. Turning a delay
on the F1 engine side of the shop to their
Can-Am advantage, Bruce and new New
Zealander partner Denny Hulme thrashed
their sports cars around and around the
UK’s Goodwood Motor Circuit for many
more test miles than they would ever race.
As Denny-the-Bear once slyly jabbed
McLaren’s less-prepared competition,
“We got those cars perfect, so when we
came racing, we were ready to go racing.
We weren’t ready to go testing.”
The payoff: the Kiwis won five races out
of six, and Bruce McLaren was the new
Can-Am champ. People began calling the
series itself the “Bruce and Denny Show.”
By McLaren’s new standards of
excellence, 1968 was a disappointment,
with the new, Big-Block M8As taking only
four wins in the six Can-Ams. However,
Hulme came out champion this time — and
as a brand, McLaren still had its nameplate
on the winners of those two lost races.
More than that, McLaren’s effort to
become competitive in F1 was coming
good; 1968 was the breakthrough year,
when Bruce won in Belgium and Hulme in
Italy and Canada. The year after, McLaren
began its Indianapolis program, which
eventually would pay off big as well.
Competing in three forms of major
international racing was difficult — few rivals
even tried — but for McLaren the synergistic
benefits were obvious. Expertise gained
in each series could prove vital in the
others; financial shortfalls in one could
more easily be made up; sponsors could
triple their “impressions” by appearing on
all of McLaren’s eye-catchingly distinctive,
papaya-painted racecars worldwide.
Can-Am 1969 was almost funny, if you
weren’t one of the Kiwi team’s hapless rivals.
The schedule nearly doubled in length,
from six rounds to 11. Wags suspected
series officials of trying to give rivals more
chances to beat Bruce and Denny...
The duo won all 11 races and McLaren
himself took his second Can-Am title in
the winged M8B in as perfect a season as
a driver-manufacturer could dream of.
Unfair to the others? If anyone thought
so, they didn’t understand racing.
Competition is about excellence, and the
Kiwis were doing precisely what any team
must, if it really wants success. Honed, not
in Can-Am, F1 and, soon, in Indycar, their
quality of personnel, depth of experience,
financial discipline, engineering ability and
manufacturing agility, a pragmatic view of
design based on winning races rather than
impressing rival engineers, having cars
ready on time and relentless testing,
McLaren’s Colnbrook, UK, factory didn’t just build Can-Am
cars. May 1972, with the Can-Am opener just weeks away,
an M20 (RIGHT) is prepared alongside an M16C Indy car
and an M19C F1 car. Outclassed by Porsche’s 917/10K, the
M20 would fail to match its predecessor, 1971’s M8F (TOP).
“They won five races out of
six, and Bruce McLaren was
the new Can-Am champ.
People began calling it the
‘Bruce and Denny Show’”