If you regard 1967 as a bit of an experimental programme – with company founder Bruce McLaren using this as a shakedown with the BRM V12-engined M5A – team historians could fast-forward a year until the end of 1968 when the gorgeous orange-liveried M7As made their mark consistently at the front of the grid.
Some fans regard the M7As as the absolute epitome of well-balanced, Cosworth-propelled excellence. And this, remember, was at a time when the team was fielding cars in a series of hotly contested UK non-championship events in addition to a full Can Am sportscar programme: no wonder there were plenty of beads of sweat to be seen breaking out on the most seasoned and experienced of racing brows.
Even before Bruce and Denny kicked off the championship contest proper, they sent out a powerful signal that the M7As looked more than a match for the potentially formidable machinery fielded by rivals Lotus, Matra, Ferrari and Brabham come the main rump of the title contest.
Amazingly Bruce, who had last won a Grand Épreuve no less than six years before at Monaco in 1962, thought he had only finished second in the 1968 Belgian GP at Spa, only to be alerted that he had done one better as he pulled up on the exit of the La Source hairpin to save himself the stress and strain of an extra nine mile down lap. Looking up he saw the cheery visage of rival BRM team chief mechanic Cyril Atkins who slowing was grinning ear-to-ear at Bruce.
"You crossed the line number one," he shouted. Bruce was momentarily confused as his M7A was carrying race number five. Then he got the point as Atkins continued to bawl; "You’ve won, didn’t you know?"
Later in the year as the championship unfolded, McLaren needed no such prompting to keep track of their own personal team achievement. By this stage there had also been non-championship wins in the Brands Hatch Race of Champions for Bruce and the Silverstone International Trophy for Denny.
Moreover, by regular F1™ standards this was quite a challenging and unsettling year, but one which served to put on public display how well McLaren coped and adapted in the heat of battle. And indeed how they coped when they were half a world away from the team base at Colnbrook, near Heathrow.
As a comparison to modern-day Formula 1™, today the team administers TLC on damaged chassis in the field with key sub-assemblies prepared ahead of the race, or indeed the races. It wasn't like that at the 1968 US GP at Watkins Glen. Denny crashed his M7A during this penultimate round of the World Championship and the bent chassis had to be air freighted back to the UK for repairs, then flown back to Laredo, Texas, where it would meet the F1 cavalcade bringing all the other cars from Watkins Glen to Mexico city where the final race of the year was taking place.
There was a further complication in that the Mexican customs authorities and their onerous regulations also meant that the M7A had to be completely rebuilt and ready to race before it rejoined the convoy at Laredo. If McLaren did not link up with the transporter train, then there would be Mexican GP for the team. But nobody need have worried. McLaren would deliver against this exacting deadline. As everybody involved knew they would.
By ALAN HENRY