The Bruce McLaren Origin Story: How A Brilliant Visionary Still Inspires the Auto World

Orig Published on: Dec 30, 2013 @ 10:50

Really understanding McLaren today requires more information on the firm’s dynamic founding individual: Bruce.

A face to go with the myth is helpful, but just a face is no justice to the legacy of Bruce McLaren.

Bruce McLaren’s influence continues today, with those who knew him able to recall this man as all things to all men: engineer, a racing driver, a great friend and teacher, businessman, and, ultimately, hero.

From his arrival in Europe in 1958:

  • The Auckland-born Bruce McLaren’s skilled feet, eyes and arms took the racing world by storm.

  • Off the track: his handshake, smile, brain and business acumen took England by the heart, and has never let go.

Learning about Bruce McLaren, for me, is quite important on a number of levels.

Most urgently: how did this man go from a small-town life in New Zealand, to racing his first German Grand Prix at 18, and ultimately back to dust by his death at 32 years old in 1970.

To me, what is most incredible about Bruce McLaren is how much his engineering brilliance, driving skill and business resourcefulness inspired a generation of racing engineers.

This guy had it all – making his tragically short tenure as lead visionary a sad, sad point in automotive history.

I become immediately shakey and pretty upset when learning about how my heroes have passed away. It is like that first step in reading a really terrific book: you must be knocked on your back first to really appreciate the details of the clouds.

But let us not get confused by emotion and reverence for his achievements, and focus on respecting his legacy as the origin of McLaren 50 years ago.

At the time of Bruce McLaren’s death while testing the M8D spider prototype around the Goodwood GP circuit, the racing business walls were closing around Bruce.

He faced these challenges, among others:

– delegating racing driver duties to a protege

– vastly underfunded research and development in time of huge FIA rule changes

– a desire to make road cars using his racing technology, but again, lack of invest-able funds making it a fledgling effort versus the Bertone’s and Ferrari’s of the auto world at the time.

But could capital alone have saved Bruce McLaren’s life? Perhaps.

Perhaps not. This was a visionary man, who walked with a slight limp since age of eight years, but still flew to the upper echelon’s of racing and automotive society in his brief flight.

Video with Bruce’s chums and the M8D GT prototype he was testing at the time of his fatal accident.

It goes without saying: the achievements Bruce McLaren inspired are astounding.


Recreate Bruce’s effortless style with these McLaren 50th Anniversary goodies.


Bruce McLaren – The Man

McLaren 50th Anniversary by the Numbers – Infographic

Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.

He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.

Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)

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