THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

Motorsport technology underpins every road-going McLaren, from the new Sports Series to the McLaren P1™, and this has been
the case ever since Bruce McLaren built his first road car in 1969: the mighty McLaren M6GT.

 

 

Although it played a seminal role in the history of the supercar, the 1993 McLaren F1 was not, in fact, our first road car. That honour goes to the hugely important but far less well-known M6GT – the brainchild of our founder, Bruce McLaren, built almost a quarter of a century earlier.

As with every McLaren, the story starts on the circuit. By the end of the 1960s, McLaren had decimated the opposition in the no-holds-barred Can-Am racing series, winning five of the six rounds in 1967, dominating the championship the following year, and taking the chequered flag in every one of 1969’s 11 rounds.

So when Bruce McLaren decided to move into Group 4 endurance racing to compete against the likes of Porsche and Ferrari, the tough, versatile M6A racer responsible for garnering much of that Can-Am silverware was an ideal base.

‘Bruce’s plan was to fit a coupé body to the M6A chassis and then compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans,’ explains McLaren’s Global Heritage Operations Manager, Keith Holland. ‘He had already won Le Mans in 1966 with Ford, and was very keen to push McLaren into that category of racing.’

 

Like its Can-Am cousin, the M6GT is built around an aluminium monocoque chassis with steel bulkheads – albeit with a passenger seat squeezed into the cabin. The odometer, reading a little over 2000 miles, hints at the original condition of McLaren’s first road car.

Unfortunately, a last-minute rule change requiring manufacturers to produce 50 cars to homologate their entries effectively ruled McLaren out of Group 4 competition – the team simply didn’t have time to build the cars. But rather than shelve the project altogether, Bruce McLaren changed tack. Instead of a homologated racing car, the M6GT could be a pure road car – the fastest road car in the world. It would have the proper motorsport pedigree that contemporary road-going supercars lacked, yet its off-the-shelf American V8 promised huge power without any Continental-style histrionics.

Drive a modern McLaren like the Sports Series or Super Series and you feel the trickle-down effect of racing technology, from the strong, light and stiff carbon fibre chassis (pioneered by McLaren in Formula 1™ racing) to the incredible outright performance and pinpoint accuracy of the handling. In the case of the M6GT, McLaren was effectively intending to offer for the road a rebodied version of the very car it had used to win the Can-Am championship just a couple of years earlier. Like its competition M6A cousin, the M6GT’s chassis was an aluminium-sheet monocoque with steel bulkheads, but clothed in a unique polyester resin closed-roof body with its highest point just 990mm (39 inches) from the ground. The M6GT may lack the refinment and usability that today's McLaren road cars offer but it was the first step in Bruce's plans to offer a range of road cars. 

 

The M6GT was an intoxicating prospect: a genuinely street-legal road car based on a championship-winning Can-Am race car. Company founder Bruce McLaren used the M6GT prototype for his daily commute to the office.

A kerb weight of 725kg (1600lb) combined with 375PS (370bhp) from the 5.7-litre V8 made for spectacular performance. Estimates put the top speed at 265kph (165mph), and the 0-160kph (0-100mph) time at a mere eight seconds – impressive numbers for a supercar, even 46 years on.

Sadly, the M6GT programme would be unfulfilled. Following Bruce's untimely death while testing the M8D racer at Goodwood in 1970, development on the road car project stopped. ‘When Bruce was killed, his team focused on Can-Am and Formula 1™, and the idea of a road car programme was put on hold,’ explains Keith. ‘Nevertheless, the M6GT is a testament to Bruce’s vision for the future of McLaren, as a racing team and manufacturer of high-performance road cars with motorsport technology.’

Just three M6GTs were built, and of those, the car pictured here is by far the most significant. The only example to have been constructed in McLaren’s own workshop, rather than contracted out to build partner Trojan, it was Bruce’s personal car – both his daily driver and a test bed for the whole programme, racking up hundreds of development road miles.

After Bruce’s death the car was shipped out to New Zealand,’ reveals Keith. ‘More recently it was bought by the Mathews Collection, and kept in Denver, Colorado, before it found its current owner.’

 

The pop-up headlights on the M6GT prototype are manually operated, and this mighty road car also features an early version of the McLaren signature dihedral doors.

Perfectly preserved, wearing its original tyres, sporting fledgling versions of McLaren’s signature dihedral doors and showing just 2000 miles on the odometer, the M6GT is an incredibly important piece of our heritage. It is the precursor of McLaren as we know it today, with groundbreaking racing technology used to create a cutting-edge high-performance road car. Its thundering return to the Goodwood Motor Circuit in Sussex, England, for the 2015 Goodwood Revival, where it featured in the Bruce McLaren Tribute Parade, was especially poignant, as the car was driven by Bruce’s daughter, Amanda, now Brand Ambassador for McLaren Automotive. 

‘Being somewhat shorter than my father, I was unable to reach the clutch pedal,’ Amanda reveals with a smile. ‘A number of cushions were needed, but nothing could detract from the incredible thrill of driving this car and being a part of the parade. It is the earliest McLaren that I have driven and, of all the cars, the most significant for me because of its connection with my father and his personal vision for McLaren.’

 

Nearly 50 years after it was first conceived by Bruce, the M6GT is still stunning to behold, and its ethos – the use of groundbreaking racing technology to create a cutting-edge high-performance road car – remains at the heart of what we do.

 

 

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