In Part One Howden Ganley recounted how he got to know his fellow Kiwi Bruce McLaren, and became one of the first employees of the team – only to quit right after the first Grand Prix in Monaco in 1966. In Part Two Howden recalls how he remained close to Bruce and the team as his own driving career took off – and was eventually promised an F1 seat.
After I left McLaren in June 1966 – I had been there for exactly two years – I went to work for Lola. After about a week I thought, ‘Hmmm, this wasn’t exactly my best idea!’ But I was stuck there, because the rule was once you had left McLaren, you could never go back.
And then after a couple of weeks Peter Revson came and rescued me from Lola. He found me standing outside the factory in the sun, and said, ‘We’re running these two M1Bs for Kay Racing and we’re prepping them at McLaren.’ I thought that could be a problem, but I agreed to work for him. I gave Lola three days’ notice, finished at the end of the week, and on Monday morning I was back in Colnbrook!
Returning to McLaren
There was a lot of grumping about me being back in the factory, but ‘Revvie’ smoothed it over. So we worked there and modified the cars. Fortunately I’d been involved with the stiffness programme on the chassis, and I knew where it was weak. The works stiffened theirs, and I stiffened ours, and then we went off and did Can-Am – 1966 was the first year of it. I’d been in America the year before with the Ford X1, although it wasn’t officially CanAm in those days.
So we ran those races with Skip Scott and Revson. One day Bruce came to me, I think it was at Riverside, and said, ‘I’ve been following Peter. What have you done to that car?.’ And I explained. So I still had a very good relationship with Bruce from that point of view.
We went to Nassau at the end of the year, and then back to England, and started building the new 1967 cars at Trojan. I was being paid well, and finally I had enough money to take delivery of a new F3 Brabham BT21. So I said to Revvie, ‘I’m sorry, I’m out of here.’ He was pissed at me! ‘I said I’ll give it a try and if it doesn’t work, I’ll come back.’ Of course, I never did go back…
I did the 1967 F3 season, mostly in Scandinavia, and in ’68 I did the same. Bruce said, ‘If you want to bring the Brabham in and work on it here at Colnbrook, you may.’ And I did, I modified the car a bit, using their space and equipment.
Bruce always wanted to know how I was going. I used to get Autosport and mark up my name, and either drop it at the factory every week, or I would find out what hotel he was at in Can-Am, and I’d mail it there.
Meanwhile I started a gearbox business, thanks to Mike Hewland. I couldn’t have a full-time job, being away in Europe at all those little events. I knew Mike, because I had been the original link between him and McLaren. I said to him, ‘Can I have a little deal to service Hewland gearboxes?’ He said, ‘A lot of people have tried, but it never works. If you want to have a go, I’ll give you a deal.’ And it worked, it took off and expanded. So I earned enough money to buy an F3 Chevron B15 for 1969.
I used to be at McLaren regularly, and there was an M4A, the F2 car that Piers Courage shunted. The tub was lying at Colnbrook for ages. One day I was talking to Bruce and he was showing me the new Can-Am car, and I said, ‘What are you going to do with that M4A?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, do you want it? If you like you can use the jig here to rebuild the chassis.’
I had to find some suspension for it, but after we’d been working on it for a couple of weeks, between my F3 racing, Bruce said, ‘We’ve got a whole big box full of M4B suspension, we’re never going to use it because the car is burned out, it’s gone, why don’t you take all that?’ That was from the little F1 car they had built for 1967 with the 2-litre BRM engine.
We were just about getting the thing finished, and he said, ‘What are you going to do about a body?’ I said, ‘It would be really nice if we had a miniature M7 body,’ as I didn’t think the M4A was that nice. He said, ‘That’s a good idea, leave it with me.’
We took the car to Specialised Mouldings, and he went up and supervised it. They took an M7 body and they split it horizontally and vertically, and compressed it down to F2 size. And it was absolutely beautiful. Bruce said, ‘This is so nice, it’s not an M4A, it’s an M4C!’ There was a delay because I’d bought an engine from Frank Williams, and it hadn’t been built, and by the time I’d got it all together it was the end of the 1969 season.
After the team came back from the Mexican GP Bruce called me up and said, ‘I see you’re really going well in F3, would you like to come to Goodwood for an F1 test?’ He’d forgiven me for leaving the team and he’d helped me all this way, not in big chunks, but it little ways.
So I did a test with the M7C that Denny Hulme had won Mexico with, and Reine Wisell was there too. A couple of days later Bruce said, ‘I’m going to retire from driving at the end of the 1970 season, at least from F1, and I want you to take my place. We’ll run you in the last couple of F1 races, and in the meantime I want you to do a season of F5000.’
I said, ‘Bruce, I don’t have any money.’ He said, ‘No, this will be a works car, you just drive it. I’ll find the running money.’ Which he did, he got his friend Barry Newman to pay for it – they used to travel around together in Barry’s Rolls. And it went from there. Meanwhile Bruce told me to sell the M4C – so I never actually raced that car.
Memories at Goodwood
We used to test at Goodwood all the time, that was McLaren’s favourite circuit, and that’s where we did all the F5000 testing. One day I was there with the F5000 car, and Denny was there with the Can-Am car, and they needed someone to go in the passenger seat and take the readings on a manometer or something they had in there. And nobody wanted to get in! Bruce asked me to do it. That was pretty entertaining, Denny right on the limit with me taking the readings. It was fantastic for me, because I totally trusted Denny. I also did a little bit of Can-Am testing in the M8.
Meanwhile I’d been doing some F3 testing for March. When Robin Herd finished their new 701 F1 car early in 1970 he called me up and said, ‘We want to have a private test day with our first car before the launch, could you come and drive the car?’ I said, ‘I’d love to, but I’ve got to ask Bruce.’ Bruce simply said, ‘Absolutely, you’ve got to go and do it – but I want a full report when you come back!’
The F5000 season was going well with the M10B. Then at one point we had a delay getting the engines back – we had two engines, and they were both away being rebuilt. So we had to scrub going down to test at Goodwood on June 2nd – luckily, in hindsight.
People say you remember what you were doing or where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot, well I have the same thing, I remember what I was doing when Bruce McLaren was killed. Like yesterday.
I was sitting in the office and just after midday the phone rang. It was Barry Newman, Bruce’s mate. He was all incoherent, and I was thinking, ‘What is he talking about?’ I eventually got him calmed down, and he said, ‘Bruce has been killed.’ I thought, ‘Not Bruce, he couldn’t be killed, it’s impossible.’
Then Barry described the accident to me. ‘He was still alive when we got there. We got him out of the car, he was like a rag doll, and he died in my arms.’ It was very emotional for Barry because he was so close to Bruce, and terrible for me and for everybody, particularly all the guys on the car.
One thing I was nervous about was that they wondered if the gearbox had seized. My company used to service their gearboxes. What would happen if it was our job that killed him? They told me to come and pick the gearbox out of the car, and they wanted it completely stripped and looked at.
It had hit the bank so hard that it had broken off the oil pipe and squeezed earth down the gearbox and onto the crown wheel and pinion. It was packed with mud between the gears. As soon as we pulled the side off and washed the mud away, it turned over.
I finished second to Peter Gethin in the F5000 championship that year – I was disappointed, because I thought I was going to win it. After Bruce was killed my F1 drive there went down the drain. His words were, ‘You are my protege,’ and I wasn’t anyone else’s protege.
However, somehow the message had gone from Bruce to Big Lou Stanley that he had this young protege, so I finished up at BRM in 1971. I think in the end going to BRM wasn’t such a bad thing. The M14 wasn’t that good, and it cost Peter Gethin his drive.
How would I sum up Bruce? He was the greatest leader of men I’ve ever met in my life. I’m getting pretty old, I’ve met a lot of people, but none of them of Bruce’s calibre. But at the same time, he was one of the nicest people, always happy and smiling, even in adversity, cheery, friendly. And he had that amazing ‘can do, will do,’ attitude, and that was a great lesson for me.
If you look back, BRM was notorious – if we can’t get the car ready in time, we won’t go to the race. There was none of that in Bruce McLaren. If you were out in the field, racing in Timbuktu or somewhere, if you had an accident and a wishbone had broken, there would have been a building with a downpipe on it. And that would have been ripped off the building, chopped up, everyone would have worked all night, bodged the thing together, and you would have been on the grid. That was one of his great characteristics, and it was a lesson in business for me – you get it done, no matter what.
I’ve said for many years, if Bruce had lived, he would have built an empire. In 1970 he had the M6GT, which he used as his daily driver. When they moved up to 17 David Road in Colnbrook, they kept number 5, because that was going to be the road car factory. When he was killed they were right on the cusp of doing it. There were so many other things he would have done, because he was so innovative, constantly thinking, ‘We can do this, we can do that,’
He loved new projects, and he loved really advanced engineering. If you look at the first F1 car in 1966 it had that Mallite monocoque, long before anyone else was using honeycomb, and the thing had a stiffness way above everybody else’s, and was really light. If only it had an engine…
He was always one for cleanliness and tidiness. If you went home and you left your job scattered over your workbench, bits of tube here and there and filings and everything, when you came in the next morning he would have been round with a broom and dustbin and swept it all away. It taught you to leave everything tidy when you went home!
The great thing about the new McLaren movie is that it reminds all the people who may have forgotten, and certainly tells all the people who never knew, that there was a guy called Bruce McLaren, who created that empire, and his legacy lives on. It’s not a made-up name from a PR agency – there was a Bruce McLaren, who was right at the core of that whole thing.