Can-Am McLaren M8B – The Perfect Race Car
Story and Photos by Pete LyonsSome race cars come off the shop floor ready to win their very first race. One beauty famous for doing so was 1967’s F1 Lotus 49.
More rarely, a new car will win its first couple of times out. That same year, Ford’s GT40 Mark IV scored at Sebring and then Le Mans. Because those were its only two races, technically the Mk IV was a perfect racecar.
So what do we say about a car that so dominated an 11-round season that it finished first all 11 times?
That remarkable record of perfection is emblazoned on the memory of McLaren’s M8B, a yellow-orange, winged wedge with a rev-happy aluminum Big Block Chevrolet. Powerful, well sorted and reliable, it totally dominated the longest-ever season of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup series for “unlimited” sports racing cars.
Not only did team principle Bruce McLaren and teammate Denny Hulme win all those Can-Ams, they started from all 11 poles, and ten times it was an all-M8B front row. In ten races the M8Bs set fastest lap, and eight times the second car followed its leader home in second place.
Out of 24 total starts (a third car ran twice, with guest drivers Dan Gurney and Chris Amon) there were only four DNFs.
What made the B so good? Frankly, it wasn’t so much the car itself as the team behind it. New Zealander Bruce McLaren, not only a race-winning F1 and sports car driver but also a sound engineer, built a tight, efficient, ambitious little team that brought F1 expertise and intensity to North American sports car racing. A few rivals built cars nearly as fast as McLaren’s (in ’69 these included Ferrari and Holman Moody) but none could keep them running fast to the ends of the races.
But even Bruce McLaren had to work to succeed. When the Can-Am began in 1966, McLaren’s team couldn’t finish better than second. Stung, he came back in 1967 with an all-new car that won five out of that year’s six races and made “Boss Bruce” the Can-Am champion. The next year, it was four team wins out of six races and fellow Kiwi Denny “The Bear” Hulme was Can-Am king. People started muttering about “The Bruce and Denny Show.”
Still, people loved these big, loud, wild-looking cars driven by the best talent on the planet, and for 1969 officials expanded the series to 11 rounds. Just possibly, they were thinking to give someone else more of a chance to beat McLaren.
Scroll back up to the race results to see how that turned out!
For the first time in the Can-Am’s four years, in 1969 McLaren did not field an all-new car. As the “B” implies, the M8B was no more than a development of the previous season’s M8A design. In fact, that spare B was actually built out of a 1968 A. In the season finale, McLaren used it to secure his second championship.
Most noticeable change on the B was McLaren’s adoption of a rear wing. That half-copied a 1966 innovation by Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2E, which carried its wing high up in clean airflow atop two tall struts that fed the downforce, not into the sprung chassis, but directly into the rear wheel hubs.
There was much more to Chaparral’s novel aero package, but McLaren took only the basic wing idea, leaving out the driver-controllable pivoting feature whereby the Chaparral could be trimmed on the fly for both high downforce in turns and low drag on straights. Mclaren drivers had to leave it to their pit crews to set wing angles to a single compromise position.
Clearly, that was good enough. Perfect, actually.
Can-Am McLaren M8B – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)
[Source: Pete Lyons]