Bruce McLaren (pt. 2) + 1959 Portuguese GP.

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Bruce McLaren: The Man Behind the Name (Part 2).  

Bruce Mclaren OutlineWhen I left off, in the first part of this two-part series, Bruce McLaren had just started racing a 1920s era Austin Ulster.  In fact, as soon as the young McLaren got his license, he was participating in local hill climbs.[1]  The Austin Ulster was a basic car with notoriously bad brakes.[2]

In Young’s book on Bruce, on which I am relying heavily, he notes that McLaren was mechanically inclined from the beginning.[3]  Bruce once said, “One of my first lessons was to tackle one job at a time, do it thoroughly and be satisfied with the result before moving on to the next.”[4]  Over the next several years, Bruce heavily modified the Austin Ulster into a purpose-built racecar.

He was successful in local races.  But, a chance meeting with Jack Brabham, forever changed the course of his career.  Bruce McLaren’s father, known as “Pop,” helped bring a Formula Libre race to New Zealand.  Jack Brabham’s sponsor, a fuel additive company, had a small budget.  Accordingly, they arranged for him to go to the New Zealand race, but he would have to stay with a local family, to reduce the budget.  As chance would have it, Pop McLaren sold the same fuel additive at his service station.  Thus, Jack Brabham stayed with the McLaren’s for the ’54 New Zealand race.[5]

Through a series of chance connections and, generally, being at the right place at the right time, McLaren eventually got ahold of a single-seater Cooper Climax.[6]  Ultimately, he was successful enough with this to win a scholarship drive that sent him to Europe, and little else.  He was virtually on his own, once he arrived in England.[7]

By the 1958 German Grand Prix, held at the ominous Nürburgring, Bruce McLaren was in strong form.  McLaren, the man, was ‘only’ racing in the F2 race, which was run concurrently to the Formula 1 race.[8]  His skill was obvious.  He not only won the F2 race, but also beat a number of competitors from the Formula 1 race.  However, there was little to celebrate, as Peter Collins died in the race.

From there, Cooper bumped him up to Formula 1, for the 1959 season.  For a bit more insight, into who Bruce McLaren was, check out the following video presented by the McLaren racing team:

Normally, I am adverse to cartoons.  But the sheer accuracy of this short deserves mention.  The car pictured was his Austin Ulster.  And, from what I’ve read, it’s absolutely true that his modifications made things worse.  But, his true genius was the quickness from which he learned his mistakes.  Although a cartoon, this cartoon accurately captures more than it would seem.

And now, as is the general practice of GP evolved, time to cover the next race…

The 1959 Portuguse Grand Prix.

First off, cobblestones were involved, so you know it was sketchy.  The Ferrari’s suffered on the turns of the track; whereas, the Cooper-Climax seems to have come alive.  Stirling Moss, racing for Rob Walker racing (also the guy who was street-racing Mike Hawthorn when he crashed his tuned Jag) took the pole in a private Cooper-Climax.  Jack Brabham and, the younger Bruce McLaren, Bruce McLaren were second and third in the works Coopers.  The fourth on the grid was also a Cooper-Climax.

At the hot race, Stirling Moss held the lead for the entire race.  He also set fastest lap.  Thereby, grabbing all nine possible – and much needed – points.  For the second race in a row, two Americans stood on the podium as well.  Masten Gregory was second and Dan Gurney was third; both were a full lap down on Moss.

So, where did Bruce and Jack go?

On the ninth lap, Bruce McLaren’s gears stripped and he had to retire.

Jack Brabham, on the other hand, flipped his car and was thrown out.  Miraculously, he walked away without serious injury.  He was, nevertheless, pretty beat up from the crash.

Driver’s  Championship.

  • Jack Brabham – 27
  • Tony Brooks – 23
  • Stirling Moss – 17.5

Constructor’s Championship.

  • Cooper-Climax – 34 (37)
  • Scuderia Ferrari – 28
  • British Racing Motors (BRM) – 18




[1] Eoin Young, McLaren Memories: A Biography of Bruce McLaren, 29 (Haynes 2005) (noting that Bruce McLaren won his first race at an Auckland Car Club hill climb, which took place on the McLaren family holiday home driveway.  Bruce met longtime friend and partner, Phill Kerr, at this event).

[2] Id. at 31.

[3] Id. at 30-31.

[4] Id. at 31.

[5] Id. at 29-31 (providing the complete story of the 1954 New Zealand Formula Libre race.  The end was contested and a champion was not decided for several weeks).

[6] It was formerly Jack Brabham’s car.  I believe it would have been a Cooper T39.

[7] Frank Falkner, The Bruce McLaren Biography, Road & Track (August 1970) (available at ).

[8] The Nürburgring is the world’s longest automotive racing circuit.  Its length easily accommodates the added number of cars.