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Autobiography - Bruce Leslie McLaren

Bruce Leslie McLaren: 1937 - 1970

  •     Can-Am Champion: 1967 & 1969
  •     Winner: First United States Grand Prix (Sebring, 1959)
  •     Winner: 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours (with Amon)
  •     Winner: 1967 Sebring 12 Hours (with Andretti)

Born to Les & Ruth on 30th August 1937 at Auckland, New Zealand, I was the second child in the family. Dad had invested in a service station in Remuera late 1936, after driving petrol tankers for the Texaco/Caltex Oil Co. My younger years were spent learning to broadside around shop corners on two wheels of my tricycle becoming a pest, borrowing mechanics spanners, etc. just when they needed them to repair my "racing machine".

We moved to 8 Upland Road approximately 1946 and it was there that we found that, owing to a fall, I had developed Perthes Disease (a hip joint problem), so I left Meadowbank School and spent the next two years in the Wilson Home in Takapuna on a Bradford Frame - had many unofficial races there (see "From The Cockpit"). My family came across on the Vehicular Ferry every weekend from the city. Dad used to say "I have just about brought this Ferry boat" then at the end of 1949 I was allowed to go home on crutches. It was nice to be there with Mum and Dad, my older sister Pat and younger sister Jan. I started correspondence school with a tutor and then in 1951 had my first year at Seddon Technical Memorial College doing an engineering course. By now I had discarded my walking sticks for good.

Motor racing was in my blood - my father had always shown great achievements in his motor cycle racing days and now was becoming very interested in motor car racing. Eventually a truck full of boxes of spare parts towing the Austin Ulster arrived at 8 Upland Road. My motor racing career had started. How Mum put up with Dad and me with her kitchen table covered in bits and pieces of the engine during meals I will never know. She used to say "If I gave them dry bread and water they wouldn't have noticed".

 

As soon as the Austin was driveable I carved out a figure 8 around the fruit trees in the back of our section. When I turned 15 and was able to obtain a driving licence my early and wonderful days of local hill climbs, gymkhanas, sprint meetings etc. began. My lucky break came when I was allowed to race Dadís Austin Healey at Ardmore then I graduated to a Bob Tail Cooper. Then my "god father" Jack Brabham came onto the scene. I was selected as "Driver to Europe" by NZIGP Association and my next two years at University studies were put on hold and a new life had started for me. I left New Zealand on March 15th 1958 for England with my good friend and mechanic Colin Beanland and my first year driving for John Cooper of Cooper Cars as his "new boy", (see "From The Cockpit"). I returned to Auckland for Xmas and motor racing as No. 2 for Coopers, then back to England and Europe coming home again late 1959 for another season of motor racing and catching up with family members. At this stage I was beginning to feel that our family members might increase as I was becoming very interested in a Timaru girl, Patricia Broad whom I had met at my sisterís and then again at a dance and to whom I became engaged and married on December 9th 1961.

By now motor racing had become my life with all its potentials which I would explore and also be aware of its constant dangers. I returned to NZ as often as I could to catch up with Mum and Dad, Pat and her husband John Hunter and their five children. Pat lived in the South Island so it was a good stopover point. I managed to squeeze in some wallaby hunting, water skiing (one ski only owing to earlier hip problem), and some rowing. My younger sister Jan was still at home with Mum & Dad in these years.

In 1965 I decided to invest in a service station - just like Dad - so purchased one at Te Atatu, a western suburb of Auckland and called it Bruce McLaren Motors. Pat and John returned from down South in 1967 and managed this for me.

Wonderful news - my daughter Amanda was born on November 20th 1965 - so we now required a bigger house. Patty and I found just what we needed - bought same then called it "Muriwai" in memory of my happy days as a child, watching Dad race his cars on the black sands of the beach at low tide and my own early days of doing the hill climbs in the Austin Ulster on the Quarry Road, where my motor racing days started. One day I had hoped to return home and have my own beach house there.

My last trip to Auckland, New Zealand was the 1968 season. My parents had moved to Te Atatu South - so Dad could keep an eye on my business - and be nearer to his fishing grounds - he was an expert surf caster for beach fishing.

My last race in New Zealand was at the Teretonga circuit (South Island) on 28th January 1968 where I came 1st driving a V12 B.R.M, finishing just ahead of Jimmy Clark.

Mid-1969 Dad "Pop" and Mum returned for another visit to England and America - the last time they were with me here in England and the Continent was in 1959. I was able to make this trip very special to repay them for all they had done in the early days.

Bruce Leslie McLaren died 2nd June 1970 while testing a Can-Am Car at Goodwood.

In Auckland, New Zealand the following are named after Bruce:

  •     Bruce McLaren Intermediate School
  •     Bruce McLaren Park
  •     McLaren Industrial Park
  •     Bruce McLaren Road
  •     Bruce McLaren Hall at Meadowbank School

Bruce was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall Of Fame in 1991 and the New Zealand Hall of Fame.

Apartment blocks at local racing circuit Hampton Downs were named after famous NZ drivers and the Bruce McLaren apartments were among the first to be named.

 

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