At Cooper he met Teddy Mayer, who had come to Europe to manage the driving career of his brother Timmy. McLaren was just 26, and he decided the right time had come (and the right people had appeared) to form his own racing team. But Timmy was killed in a racing accident in February 1964, and Teddy went back home to become a Philadelphia lawyer. For two months. Then Teddy returned to London, and he and McLaren revived the dream.
McLaren's keenest interest had always been sports cars, and up to 1967 his biggest successes had come in the hefty, lumbering Ford Mark II and Mark IV endurance cars that he and the late Ken Miles tested before Ford's assaults on Le Mans. McLaren and Chris Amon, still another New Zealander, won the 1966 Le Mans in a Mark II and, with Mario Andretti, Bruce took the Sebring 12 Hours the following spring in a Mark IV. He had also chosen to continue in Grand Prix racing, but his effort there was something less than sensational. After leaving Cooper he first came out with a McLaren chassis powered by a cut-down version of the highly successful Ford Indianapolis engine, but the combination simply did not work. Last year he switched to a BRM engine, and that power plant was too sluggish to make him competitive.
Having no incentive to work the clock around on the lagging Grand Prix car, McLaren devoted himself to the Can-Am racers. Hulme had followed McLaren to England a year later on the same Driver to Europe scholarship and, like McLaren, had become involved in Ford's Le Mans effort. In the disputed 1966 Le Mans finish, when McLaren drove across the line abreast of a sister Mark II, the man in the second car was Hulme (who was co-driving with Miles). McLaren grabbed Hulme for his No. 2 Can-Am car. To round out the team, late last year McLaren signed on Phil Kerr—a boyhood friend and former manager of the Brabham team—to coordinate Bruce's Grand Prix program. At about the same time Denny let it be known that he would give up his world champion Brabham car and switch to McLaren for the 1968 Grand Prix season.
The McLaren touch now began to cure the ills of the GP cars. After the 1967 BRM debacle Mayer wheedled London's Cosworth shop, which beefs up English Ford engines for Grand Prix racing and has been eminently successful doing it, into selling McLaren a few. McLaren promptly lucked into victory in the Belgian Grand Prix when Jackie Stewart's Matra ran out of gas at the start of the last lap, and then Hulme won both the Italian and Canadian Grand Prix in the space of 15 days last month. With one race left, in Mexico City on November 3, Hulme trails the leader, Graham Hill, by only six points and has a fair chance of repeating as the champion.
At least in his own world the invisible man had acquired some substance. "The team doesn't mind working hard, because they know Bruce works as hard as any of them," Kerr says. "He runs the team, make no mistake about that, but he's not like a little Caesar. He has set very high personal, moral and ethical standards, and I think everybody respects him for it."
Building a racing car is, like politics, the art of the practical, and McLaren never lets the team forget his guiding mottoes. The first is BE THERE, which means it is no good to be ready to race at 2:05 if the race starts at 2. The second is FINISH, and the third, BE COMPETITIVE. Their order is significant.
"Ferrari [which was supposed to have a 6.2-liter Can-Am car ready a month ago] has probably got the fastest car," says Mayer, "but where is it?"
"When you're building or testing you need answers quickly," McLaren says, "and you don't need a computer to tell you what size nut to use. A good mechanic can do that." Computers and wind tunnels can provide guidelines, but nobody has yet built a device that can measure all the stresses a car's suspension encounters when it hits a bump in the middle of a 120-mph turn anywhere from 50 to 150 times in the space of two hours. A racing car is also a complex bundle of compromises. Beyond a point, if you gain speed reliability suffers; if you make the car stronger inevitably you must add weight and thus lose speed. Considering all the parts in an automobile, the combinations and permutations are endless. Thus radical changes in racing cars in recent years have been few—the great swing from front-to rear-mounted engines, the adoption of monocoque(frameless) chassis, Jim Hall's experiments with an automatic transmission and a wing high above the rear wheels. And the main goal of any racing team has got to be to work within the limits that are imposed by the availability of money (McLaren is bankrolled largely by Goodyear), the availability of engines and, finally, the nature of the chassis.
Jim Hall has said many times, "McLaren builds an unremarkable car very remarkably."
McLaren himself says, "I'm not an innovator, although I'm willing to try things now that I might not have considered three years ago, simply because I have more confidence in myself."