The Bruce McLaren Trust
There is a bus from Auckland city centre that will take you out into the suburbs and stop right outside a small, out of use petrol station. The red and green shield featuring a black kiwi might catch your eye, if you were privy to what it was, but unless a special kind of McLaren fan were to seek it out, it’s unlikely that you’d ever even notice it. “They have to want to find us, they’ve got to have the passion. They come from all over the world, Argentina, Boston, Buenos Aries, and when they come they spend a good few hours.”
Officially launched in 1997, The Bruce McLaren Trust was created to be a living tribute to Bruce’s achievements in motor racing housed in his childhood home above the family’s petrol station and car garage. When I made the journey to visit the house in which Bruce grew up, I was lucky enough to meet his younger sister and co-founder of the Trust, Jan McLaren, who works endlessly to keep her brother’s memory alive. “We’ve got four or five thousand old motorsport magazines, newspaper cuttings, trophies, signed things of Bruce’s, pieces of cars and sometimes you’ll see a picture that you’ve never seen before which is nice. So it’s a constant work in progress.”
In between the garages that are still in use but no longer owned by the McLaren family, there is a small doorway that leads up a set of stairs and into an Aladdin’s Cave of McLaren and racing memorabilia.
As I stood in Bruce’s childhood bedroom I couldn’t help but feel moved by the thought that the room in which he grew up and dreamt of achieving his motor racing ambitions, is now full to the brim with evidence of his incredible success. From trophies and paintings of his CanAm days to merchandise with his face on it, not that I can imagine him being motivated by that sort of fame.
I asked Jan what items she felt were the crowning jewels of the collection: “Visitors get very excited about seeing his overalls, as well as James Hunt’s, and his personal brief case with his work books. We also have Emerson Fittipaldi’s M23 steering wheel, the blokes gasp when they see that one! But my personal favourites are some of the early trophies from ’59 and ’60 that now belong to me. As well as some of Bruce’s personal items like his gold cufflinks with the McLaren shield on one side and our Dad’s initials engraved on the other.”
As we talked about her brother it became clear that Bruce’s talent isn’t the only thing Jan is proud of. I asked her what it was like to grow up with him and she said he was every bit the adored big brother, “he would take us for rides in his Austin, going to school in that was rather trendy! As he grew up he became a perfect gentleman, I've never heard a cross word said about him.”
Despite the obvious sadness at Bruce leaving the family home and moving to Europe at just 19 years old, Jan speaks passionately of the enormous pride and excitement felt by the family. “When he first left he gave up university and told the family ‘just for a year, and then I’ll be back’. On his university record card it says in the notes section ‘Went motor racing’!
“I’d had motor racing in my family since the day I was born, I was young and I just thought, oh, so now it’s Bruce’s turn. He would send home tape recordings with messages and race reports, you didn’t get a lot of communication in those days but Dad would take some of those recordings down to the car clubs and everyone would sit around and listen to Bruce.
“Yes, a lot of pride and a lot of excitement.”
Not long after he left, Bruce became the youngest ever driver to win an F1 Grand Prix at 22 years and 104 days, “Being New Zealanders we took it all in our stride.” Jan joked.
As a McLaren fan and someone who is inspired by Bruce, getting to hold his old overalls is something I’ll never forget. It is when you see things like the old overalls and the 1973 steering wheel, that it becomes even more apparent just how phenomenal the change in the sport has been over the last 50 years. When compared with the MTC it’s incredible to think that the original factory had just 50 workers. And with these 50 workers Bruce was producing F1 cars, CanAm cars, Indy cars, developing Formula 5000 cars, his road car and F2 cars.
“Bruce would never ask anything of the team that he wouldn’t do himself.”
Bruce had a raw talent that was not in any way held back by the fact he didn’t have the technology that’s available today. Jan gave a brilliant example of this by telling me about how Bruce made the wire baskets on top of the metal trumpets that were featured on his and Denny’s M8A CanAm cars. “He made them using an ice cream tub, some plaster of Paris and a Winnie the Pooh ball. Well it was the perfect circumference, so he used it as mould!
“Even if you’ve got a machine that can do it all for you, you’ve still got to think and understand the basic principal of it because if you don't understand how you can do something basically, you can’t develop it.”
“Basic thinking can still outweigh a machine. It is common engineering sense.”
The Bruce McLaren Trust doesn’t just work to preserve the memory of Bruce but also to help educate the next generation. They are involved in supporting schemes that promote driving skills and road safety in New Zealand as well as supporting the Bruce McLaren Intermediate School and other schools where possible. “Dream, believe, achieve. You can say that to anybody, in any career, of any age and they can relate to it. You’ve got to dream it and you’ve got to believe it in your dream and then you will achieve it. You’ll never achieve unless you believe in yourself to do it and you have the dream that you want to do it.”
I was keen to know what Jan considered to be Bruce’s biggest legacy, what did he leave behind that still lives on within the team today? “The dream, the passion, the drive, the attention to detail and that desire to be at the forefront of developing technology. Because they sure as hell were doing it in the 60s.”