A true Leo, Bruce Leslie McLaren, was born to parents Les and Ruth on August 30th 1937, in Auckland, New Zealand.
From the start, driving was in his blood. Pop McLaren drove petrol tankers for a living, before buying a service station in Remuera. The young Bruce soon became a bit of a menace locally as he spun round corners using only two wheels of his tricycle.
Disaster struck when, at the age of nine, Bruce was diagnosed with a hip problem (probably caused by an earlier fall) and spent the next two years at a residential school walking with the aid of a frame.
However, he returned to the family (mum, dad and sisters Pat and Jan) on crutches in 1949, and by 1951 had discarded all walking aids and embarked on an engineering course.
“Motor racing was in my blood,” he said. “My dad had always shown great achievements in his motor cycle racing days and now was becoming very interested in car racing.”
Fuelled by his father’s enthusiasm, the pair spent months reassembling an Austin Ulster, lovingly restoring the engine on the kitchen table, much to his mum’s exasperation. Bruce quoted her as saying: “If I gave them dry bread and water they wouldn’t have noticed”.
At 15 Bruce got his official driving licence and immediately began to enter competitive events like local sprint meetings.
What he described as his “early and wonderful” days took a turn for the better when his dad allowed him to race his Austin Healey before graduating to a Bobtail Cooper.
It was at this crucial point in Bruce’s development as a racing driver that Jack Brabham came on the scene. Bruce later referred to him fondly as his “godfather”. Australian Brabham was already well-known on the track (he was later to become World F1 Drivers’ Champion for 1966) and under his guidance, Bruce shortly found himself on his way to England to drive for John Cooper of Cooper Cars as his “new boy”.
This was in 1958 and by ’59 Bruce was racing as No. 2 in the Cooper team. The only sign of his old hip problem appeared to be his restriction to one ski when water skiing.
And it was not only his career that was taking off. Bruce got engaged to a friend of his sisters, Patricia Broad, whom he married in 1961. Four years later they had a daughter, Amanda.
Meanwhile there was another birth in the family. Bruce McLaren Motors was founded when Bruce decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and buy a service station in Auckland. But Bruce continued in his pursuit of the perfect Formula One car.
By 1966 Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd had fielded its first F1 car at the Monaco Grand Prix. In 1968 Bruce himself drove his Ford McLaren to the team’s first victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. He was 31 years old.
Bruce McLaren never saw 33. He died on June 2,1970, while testing a Can-Am Car at Goodwood in England.
He lives on, however, not only in the cars he lived and died for, but in the school, road and park named in his honour in his native New Zealand. He was, after all, a local hero.
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