Formula One – hard and unforgiving
It was a great raucous lump of a power unit, topped by Hilborn fuel injection intake trumpets which would do credit to the ventilators on an ocean liner, and tailed by high-level ‘snake-pit’ exhausts straight from a Royal Artillery arsenal.
The McLaren marque made its Formula One debut on May 22, 1966, in the Monaco Grand Prix, Bruce McLaren lined up his little team’s ‘Mallite" monocoque car – M2B chassis ‘2’ – on tenth fastest spot on the starting grid. This chunky Robin Herd-designed challenger packed a hefty engine in its rear bay, an Indy Ford 4-cam V8 reduced from its Speedway-standard 4.2 litres capacity to the contemporary Formula One limit of 3-litres. It was a great raucous lump of a power unit, topped by Hilborn fuel injection intake trumpets which would do credit to the ventilators on an ocean liner, and tailed by high-level ‘snake-pit’ exhausts straight from a Royal Artillery arsenal…
Bruce admitted that the engine’s greatest success was in being by far the noisiest thing running round Monte Carlo, and the raucous echoes it set up between the cake-icing buildings of the old town threatened not only the occupants’ eardrums but their window panes.
Unfortunately this maiden McLaren Formula One race ended not in success but after nine slowish laps with an oil leak into the cockpit and onto the road. The little McLaren Team – headed by Bruce himself, Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander – realised that their modified Ford engine was over-ported, delivering barely 300 horsepower across a painfully narrow rev band, to which its four-speed GT40-type ZF gearbox was poorly suited. Bruce admitted immediately: "We’re going to have to make some fairly drastic moves in the engine room…"
He found a stand-in power unit in the neat shape of Count Volpi’s new Serenissima V8, made in Italy to a design by Ing. Alberto Massimino whose previous credits included the Lancia-Ferraris of 1956-57 and the front engined classic Maserati 250F GP cars. Serenissima had just launched this carburetted V8 as a sports car engine, but Count Volpi now fancied F1 exposure. McLaren just needed a workable engine. The race M2B chassis’ rear engine-bay horns were modified to accommodate this Italian unit’s low-level side exhausts in contrast to the centre-exhaust Ford for which it had been tailor-made, and with little more than 260 horsepower Bruce took the reassembled machine to the Belgian GP, at Spa. Formula One racing was as hard and unforgiving then as it is now. After refusing for hours to start and run cleanly during practice, the new V8 finally ran its bearings after its first exploratory half lap. With no spare there was no alternative but to non-start.
Bruce and his young intended team-mate Chris Amon then had the joy of victory for Ford at Le Mans, but an F1 entry in the French GP at Rheims was scratched before the lone M2B-Serenissima reappeared in the British event at Brands Hatch. This time the Italian V8 proved reliable. The race started on a damp track and Bruce – on wet weather tyres – made a superb start and ran briefly in the top six on merit. As the road dried he dropped back, but then profited from retirements to inherit sixth place at the finish – scoring his new McLaren marque’s first World Championship point.
At Zandvoort the following weekend for the Dutch GP the Serenissima engine failed, causing another non-start, and thereafter the F1 programme was set aside pending adequate development of the 3-litre Indy Ford V8 engine. It re-emerged in the test-prototype M2B – chassis ‘1’ – in the lucrative United States GP at Watkins Glen, and there Bruce finished fifth by surviving another rate of attrition – McLaren Motor Racing’s second two points were in the bag. But mechanical disaster then followed in the season-ending Mexican GP, as the engine disintegrated after 40 race laps …