Bruce McLaren’s dream: The McLaren M6BGT
Bruce McLaren’s vision was not only to dominate the worlds of Formula 1 and CanAm racing on tracks all over the globe, but also to produce some extra-special McLaren machinery for the roads.
His first foray into this brave new world was the stunning McLaren M6BGT, a GT car for road use, of which only two prototypes were made, before Bruce’s tragic and untimely death at Goodwood in 1970.
Had he lived longer, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that we would have seen more Bruce McLaren masterclasses in automotive machinery before long. Sadly, the M6BGT is the only road-going Bruce McLaren-built legacy left behind, but it is a truly stunning one.
As we go back through the archives, we unearth a review of the only running model (the other was safely housed in a New Zealand museum at the time), which was residing in San Francisco and cared for by its extremely trusting owner Fred Knoop.
The lucky driver? John Rettie, a well-known motoring journalist, whose experience was featured in an article in the week ending November 29, 1975 issue of Motor magazine, which is now no longer in publication. The full, original article, as it was printed, can be viewed below.
His experience of this incredibly forward-thinking, unique car was truly once in a lifetime, and one he would certainly never forget.
Bruce McLaren’s dream
Two prototypes of the legendary McLaren M6BGT were made for road use. One is in a museum, the other is in regular use. John Rettie drove and photographed it.
Motor, week ending November 29, 1975 – 20p
To fire up turn on the master ignition switch and fuel switch, then flick the starter. So went the instruction from Fred Knoop who owns one of the world’s rarest and most desirable road cars.
The engine instantly burst into life with that unmistakable deep burbling sound of a Can-Am racing car. The noise, the appearance and above all the name betrayed the car’s heritage. This was the famous McLaren M6BGT.
Before Bruce McLaren’s untimely death he had been working on his favourite project of producing a road-going GT car. He got as far as building two prototypes, one of which now resides in a New Zealand museum, the other is alive and well near San Francisco.
Trojan first owned the car before selling it to Ted Peterson in California. He restored the car to road-worth condition using his own 535bhp 6-litre Can-Am engine. The motor blew up in a hillclumb and Ted fitted the present less highly-tuned 470bhp 6.5 litre VA Chevy engine instead.
Peterson kept the car for over two years before selling it for an undisclosed sum to an ex-club racing driver Fred Knoop, who also owns three road-going Ferrari racers.
Fred is a very trusting man. Not only does he let his 23 year-old son use his car, but he even let me loose in it along some of the winding roads near his home.
I was a little apprehensive as I stepped over the 18-inch wide sill into the driver’s seat and then, using both hands, lowered myself into the snug bucket seat.
The glass-fibre body is built around a Can-Am rub, but there is only just room for two people and then they rub shoulders. If the passenger moves his right foot it is liable to end up on the clutch pedal.
Forward vision from the cockpit is good but the view aft is not, but then there is very little else on the road that is likely to catch you up!
Despite the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit, driving the car was an exhilarating experience as we took to the winding mountain road, where signed 25 mph corners could be taken at 60 mph with ease.
Other road users treated the car with unbelievable respect – we had people pulling off the road just to let us pass, probably just so they could hear the glorious sound.
The car is remarkably easy to drive and once I had mastered changing the crash five-speed Hewland box, I really enjoyed myself pretending to be Denny Hulme while looking up at car’s hub caps. Despite the wide intermediate racing tyres, the steering is not too heavy.
Fred only uses the car around town and for racing, as there is no room for a spare tyre let alone any luggage. Moreover, after a few minutes in hot weather the car becomes a mobile sauna bath without any through-flow ventilation.
There is no speedometer (naturally) but Fred has thoughtfully put a chart showing speeds in the gears on the right-hand side of the cockpit.
I did not have the chance to take any performance figures but the car has run the quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 117 mph. Top speed is “only” 165 mph at 5800 rpm with the present de-tune engine. And all this from a legal road car, albeit an extremely impractical and uneconomical one.