The McLaren postbag is often filled with letters from McLaren fans and enthusiasts from all over the world. One recent letter caught our eye; it was from 76 year old Robert Bruce McGowan.
He was the owner of a couple of large scale model kits of the iconic McLaren M23 and wondered whether someone at McLaren would like to have them. His letter was posted onto the internal intranet at MTC and soon found an interested party in the shape of Chassis Group Designer Steve Talbot. Steve got in touch with Robert and over the course of several emails some very interesting facts began to emerge.
It transpires that Robert is a native Kiwi and spent his early years living in Auckland where he attended University (1955-1960) studying hard to obtain all the qualifications he would need to become an architect. During the course of his studies he attended classes in Engineering Mechanics where he made the acquaintance of, and ultimately became friends with, one Bruce McLaren. Robert and Bruce became friends and Bruce would often give Robert a lift home in his trusty little Austin 7 Ulster. It was the memory of these trips in Bruce’s car and the rumour that there was a replica of this very car at MTC that prompted Robert to ask Steve if he could send him a photo. This was gladly done along with the news that this was no replica but was the very car that he had been given lifts in all those many years ago.
Robert also tells of the time when he was driving his own 1935 Riley 9 Lincock coupe, he pulled onto the forecourt of Les McLaren’s garage (Bruce’s father) on Remuera Road in Auckland and nearly ran over a young man who was larking around with a couple of friends. The young man in question was Jack Brabham (later to become driver and team owner), the friends; Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. They were at the garage preparing their Formula Libre cars in readiness for the NZ Grand Prix at Ardmore Aerodrome later that summer. Rolling on the years and Robert will also tell you of his friendship with a girl named Sally Hunt and the times he met her brother James. They even spent time together in 1974 on a Yacht James was living on in Monaco harbour, life can be hard sometimes but someone has to do it.
Robert sent the models down to Steve along with a large number of photos that he had taken of the M23 back in the seventies, some at Watkins Glen where Robert had attended the race and some from a visit he made to the McLaren headquarters, then at Colnbrook in the UK. Steve passed the photos onto Neil Trundle who looks after the heritage cars at McLaren and so grateful were they of the generous gift, they decided to invite Robert down to MTC so that he could see the Austin in the flesh and enjoy the experience of a tour round MTC and a visit to the road car production centre to see the home of the ground breaking MP4/12C and P1 road cars.
Robert made the trip down from his home in Scotland, not far from Twynham (birthplace of former McLaren driver David Coulthard) with his daughter Sara and her partner Douglas Swan. They were shown around MPC by Neil, after which Steve took them for a tour of MTC, including the incredibly impressive Boulevard, housing iconic McLaren race cars like the Le Mans winning F1, Ayrton Senna’s MP4/4, Alain Prost’s Mp4/2C, Bruce McLarens M7C and Denny Hulme’s M8D Can Am car, all looking resplendent next to the 2 storey glass wall which sweeps along the front of the boulevard and around the McLaren lake.
Robert, in his own words was “blown away” by the experience, not only by the impressive array of racing machinery on display but, as a retired architect he was also incredibly impressed by the building itself which he regarded as a “bit of a masterpiece”. High praise indeed and we agreed, but then we are a little biased...
Finally Robert was introduced to the car he had really come to see, forget the MP4/12C, the F1 race cars, the Can Am racers, “let me see the Austin 7 Ulster” he said. How could we refuse?
Bruce’s father bought the car for $110 and had planned to ‘do it up’ and sell it, 13 year old Bruce had other ideas, he convinced his father to let him have the car, he taught himself to drive it and set about modifying it with a view to racing it. At the ripe old age of 15, Bruce entered his first race, and won it. The rest, as they say, is history.
As a special treat, Robert got to sit again in the passenger seat he had so frequently occupied as a young man back in Auckland New Zealand alongside driver Bruce McLaren. How could we possibly refuse letting these two old friends be reunited.