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Conservation Plan

McLaren M8A-2: 1968 Can-Am Car

Background

The M8A-2 McLaren Can-Am sports car was first built in 1968 at the McLaren Factory in England and was the official team car for Denny Hulme to race during the 1968 Can-Am Championship series.  At the end of the 1968 season this car was altered and rebuilt using the original tub and upgraded to the high wing M8B car and became the team’s spare car for the 1969 Can-Am series.  During the 1969 season, Jack Brabham, Chris Amon and the American driver, Dan Gurney, also raced it for the McLaren team.  At the end of the season because of problems with his own car, Bruce McLaren drove this actual car in the final race of the 1969 series and thereby won the coveted Can-Am Championship.The car was then on sold to an American by the name of Lothar Motschenbacher.

Lothar raced the vehicle but shortly thereafter badly crashed it whilst racing. In conjunction with Denny Hulme and Goodyear, Lothar was approached to make up a “Display Car”. Research, photographic evidence and discussion with Lothar confirmed that this was done from a combination of McLaren parts, utilising the tub BM8A/2 and using the body from an M8D car. This vehicle was used as a display extensively in the USA and eventually came to New Zealand and was handed to MOTAT in 1978.

At sometime over the ensuing years, MOTAT “misplaced” the vehicle and it was found on a farm by members of the Northern Sports Car Club in an extremely rough state and ready to be buried by the owner of the property. The Car Club members duly “rescued” the car and became its guardian. Sixteen odd years of ownership dispute then started between MOTAT and the Northern Sports Car Club. In 1995 with the start of the formation of the new Trust, Jan McLaren decided to try and resolve this situation and with the help of others and the official formation of the Trust, after 18 months negotiation, all parties agreed to hand ownership to the new Bruce McLaren Trust. Ownership of the M8A by the Bruce McLaren Trust is now covered by a legal contract dated 18 December 1997.

Significance of M8A-2

The series of McLaren M8 Can-Am vehicles are world renowned and were the vehicles that triumphed and dominated the Canadian American Sports Car Series.  This series in those days had a prize purse higher that the World Formula 1 Driving Championship. A small New Zealand team took on the might of the wealthy Americans, and won with resounding success. They were so successful that the McLaren Team won the Can-Am Championship five years in a row, a feat unequalled in motor racing even today. In current achievements, it has been likened to winning the Americas Cup consecutive times (for NZ).

In the world today there are only a few genuine McLaren team cars left and these are highly sought after. Of the eight M8s of varying models remaining, the car belonging to the Trust is the only M8A that exists, so it is extremely significant that this car belongs to the Bruce McLaren Trust and the people of New Zealand. It will be a magnificent example of the abilities and genius of an extremely talented young New Zealand engineer, designer/driver, Denny Hulme and the entire team of that era.

Materials used in Construction

The main sections of the original car, as constructed for the 1968 race season, consist of an aircraft riveted aluminum tub with a fibreglass body. It has a big block Chevrolet engine and a Hewland LG gearbox.  It had cast magnesium wheels and ran Goodyear tyres.

The chassis of the car is constructed from aircraft quality aluminum riveted and polymer glued over steel bulkheads.  The aluminum is a part of the stressed chassis components and this type of construction is known as a monocoque chassis.  The bulkheads form the basis for the chassis and are the main stressed components that then carry the suspension pick up points, the engine mounting and the stressed aluminum that forms the monocoque chassis.

The engine oil tank and cooler share aluminum construction with the tanks and fittings used throughout the cars cooling and fuel system. The cross flow radiator and its supports and air ducts are aluminum, as is the transaxle oil cooler for the Hewland Gearbox.

Present condition

When the M8A was gifted to the Bruce McLaren Trust it was in a major state of disrepair. As mentioned in its background (Paragraph 1) its reconstruction as a Goodyear show car included many severely damaged and incorrect parts.  Added to this, it had also been fitted with an incorrect fibreglass body and the engine and gearbox were only a “dummy” being made up from a collection of  old/damaged engine and gearbox parts.

During its time in New Zealand it unfortunately suffered extreme deterioration by being left outside underneath trees on a farm for some years.  Whilst under the control of the Northern Sports Car Club it was kept in secure dry garaging but as no work was done on it, due to the ownership dispute, further natural deterioration also occurred. 

Therefore little of the original car is safely salvageable or can be used in the reconstruction.  However, these parts are invaluable for patterns for reconstruction and will also form part of the visual display in there “deteriorated” condition.  The tub section, which forms the integral part of the construction of the car, was visually thought to be able to be reused in part.  However, on further examination, deterioration of the inner strengthening bulkheads proved that the tub was unsafe and a decision was made to totally reconstruct the tub.  The aluminum tub has painstakingly been dismantled by hand grinding out the 1000 odd steel centered rivets and the many pieces will be used in conjunction with the line drawing plans to reconstruct the new tub section.

As the fibreglass body is the incorrect body for the car, a totally new body will be reconstructed from old mould sections and original panels that have been procured by Group 7 Sportscars Ltd.

All wheels, tyres, windscreen, and other components also need to be fully replaced due to deterioration.

N.B. - The safety factor in the case of this project is of enormous priority. As the M8A is an extremely powerful and fast sports car and will be driven by well known personalities and used to take passengers on special occasions, no old parts of the original vehicle can be used where they could compromise strength and safety.

Restoration / Rebuild process

During every step of the restoration process, the project will be under the control of one of our Trustees, Duncan Fox, who is an experienced engineer and owns Group 7 Sportscars Ltd, a company dedicated to restoring McLaren racing cars.

The Trust is able to utilize his skills in conjunction with a set of original McLaren factory drawings to ensure the restoration project is completed to produce a safe and authentic McLaren M8A.  Several engineers and mechanics that worked for McLaren Racing are now resident in New Zealand and have also volunteered their services and knowledge to assist with the rebuilding.

Restoration Process Steps

  • Research – extensive research has taken place over the last eighteen months to evidence the cars history, its pictorial history, procurement of original plans, the availability of components, body moulds and general requirements.
  • Dismantling -the restoration has begun with the complete dis-assembly of the car into its component pieces.  This step is necessary in order to check the physical state of each component for compliance with the drawings and photographic historical record.  Each component has then been checked to ascertain its condition and whether it required replacement or refurbishment.  In most instances, damage and corrosion has necessitated total replacement of most components. 
  • Monocoque - Aluminum to match the original material has been sourced from the USA, original rivets have been sourced from the UK and new steel bulkheads have been rebuilt.  Cutting, bending and reconstruction of the aluminum panels that form the tub will be the next major process.  Now that the monocoque has been reconstructed, a number of mechanical components have been replaced– these include replacement of magnesium suspension uprights, wheel rims, etc.  These require replacement because the magnesium alloy has a finite working life and then becomes prone to stress failure.  Moulds have been reproduced using the original pieces and these components have been manufactured. 
  • Rolling chassis – Following the assembly of the suspension uprights and the refurbishment of the springs, dampers and pivot joints, the car has been mounted on new alloy wheels and tyres and represented a stage known as a rolling chassis.  
  • Chassis components/Cockpit – Following the completion of the rolling chassis a number of reconstructed and refurbished components were added to the vehicle.  The majority of these have needed complete replacement due to age and not being the original units.  In order to complete the chassis, magnesium steering components were replaced along with a refurbished steering wheel.  To complete the cockpit a new seat and driving instruments have been fitted and connected to a new electrical wiring harness.  Finally the perished rubber fuel cells have been replaced inside the chassis and the new fibreglass body components fitted together with the engine and gearbox assembly.

Fibreglass body- This was remanufactured from patterns and factory drawings in order to preserve the original look of the car and to restore it to a genuine M8A.  The existing body is from an M8D and was fitted to the car when it was used as the static display car. Therefore this bodywork cannot be utilised in the rebuild and this original body in its damaged condition will be used for historical display purposed only.  Original moulds for later cars have been tracked down in the UK in addition to an original rear panel from the USA, and were able to re create the original bodywork in conjunction with the plans and photographic evidence. The fibreglass components have the gel coat coloured to match the original McLaren orange livery complete with sponsorship decals as used during the 1968 racing season.

Engine & Gearbox - The engine and gearbox required complete replacement as the “dummy” gearbox and engine in the display car was just a grenaded (blown) engine block and empty transaxle.   A number of vital small missing components will also need to be manufactured from original factory drawings. We have the option of installing an aluminium or cast iron 427cid Chevrolet engine of approx 600 bhp.  The cast iron option has been chosen as it would be a much more “user friendly” engine in terms of reliability. The original aluminium engines were built for lightweight performance, but not a long life!   The gearbox is a Hewland LG500.

Future maintenance – a full plan for ongoing maintenance and running costs has not been completed to date in detail.  However, it has been addressed and its regime will be developed in conjunction with the restoring engineers and several ex McLaren Racing personnel.  Volunteers will support all maintenance and ongoing fundraising will cover any costs required.  Our Trustee Duncan Fox, the controller for this project, currently runs the maintenance program for his own McLaren cars that are used for the Trusts benefit and the M8A will simply fall into this current routine maintenance program as is normal for any classic race car.

Insurance - An insurance policy is in place on the vehicle in its current state and amounts will be adjusted as the value of the car increases with the rebuild.  Insurance costs have not been noted anywhere within the project costings or budget.  These are however, being totally funded by one of our members.

Overall value of project

The total overall value of the project is calculated to be approximately $1,750,000

Provisional costs prorata be incurred in the rebuild 1,370,000
Value of car and tag as gifted to us 250,000
Donnated use of workshop and machinery 50,000
Voluntary labour 100,000
Donated transporter and trailer 80,000
Display & research material 10,000
Production of historical/educational booklet 5,000

Market Value of M8 when completed – vicinity of  $1.5 million on the European or American market.

Funds raised by the Trust will also be used for ongoing maintenance, display, running costs and the like.

 

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