HOW ARTIST MICHAEL TURNER CREATED McLAREN'S FIRST LOGO

How different the grand prix paddock must have been back in the 1960s. The racing was hard and perilous, but it was also free from the relentless commercial pressures and incessant clamoring of the media. It was a place where true friendships could be forged among drivers, their families, and the regulars who became part of this tight-knit community’s inner circle. 

One such confidante was the up-and-coming motor sport artist Michael Turner. For Turner, the far-flung race paddocks and circuits of the Formula 1 World Championship were the vibrant backdrops of his oil paintings. With an obsessive eye for detail and an innate feel for the drama of racing cars, Turner spent the races photographing the cars at point blank range (at no small risk to himself). One look at Turner’s work told the drivers that he inhabited their world, and they respected him for that. 

 

He was a popular figure and was regularly commissioned by teams and drivers to produce paintings for commercial use by the team, or as personal mementos of great races. One such driver was the young Bruce McLaren. He and Turner quickly built up a rapport in the early days, shortly after McLaren had arrived in Europe from his native New Zealand to drive for Cooper Cars. When McLaren left Cooper to form his own race team, he asked his friend Turner to design a logo for the new concern. Commissioned late in 1963, the logo would start appearing on McLaren cars and transporters the following season.

Half a century later, Turner remains one of the world’s pre-eminent motorsport (and aviation) artists. His studio is a treasure trove of memorabilia, his archive an extraordinary record of Formula 1’s glorious past. Leaf through the first accounts ledger for his company Studio 88 and you’re immediately transported back in time – names such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill and, yes, Bruce McLaren, leap from the pages like a motor-racing roll of honour. 

 

Other folders contain assorted artwork: rough pencil sketches of ideas and scenes that would become some of Turner’s memorable canvasses. And there, amongst the sketches is a small, unassuming disc of tracing paper. On it is the unmistakable silhouette of a kiwi, set against a splash of vibrant colour and a chequered background. It’s not the final design, but that makes it all the more special, for this is the genesis of the first McLaren logo, the germ of an idea. To some it might appear a worthless doodle, but to others – to us – it’s priceless.

Join us, as we meet Turner in his studio, and he takes us back 50 years to the moment Bruce McLaren entrusted him with the identity of his fledgling team, and an iconic design was created.

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