You know Goodwood SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard is off to a great start when one of the first sights to stop you in your tracks is a race car that shares somewhat of a special relationship with the Goodwood Motor Circuit.
This McLaren M1A is a 551kg V8 rocket ship
At an event like this, that could mean any number of remarkable machines, but this one in particular stands out. It is a 1964 McLaren-Chevrolet M1A. Considered the first ‘real’ McLaren, the gorgeous looking M1A is a super-light, open-roofed, mid-engined racer, otherwise known as an Elva. It is what has influenced its successor, the recent and road-going McLaren Elva project, a 815PS roadster designed to be the marque's quickest-accelerating and lightest of all their Ultimate Series cars.
When standing over its predecessor, the design cues are instantly recognisable. It’s low, sleek, rounded nose section and flowing wheel arches were clearly adopted by Woking’s design team. Both cars were created to harness raw performance, delivering a free and exhilarating driving experience. We’re confident the 1964 M1A does just that, even before the thing has been turned on. It looks simple, light and menacing. Just as the best racers should.
Weighing only 551kg (1,215lbs) with a tubular steel space frame chassis, McLaren’s first sports-racing car deployed a featherweight platform, propelled by a 5.7-litre Chevrolet engine. Supported by cutting-edge suspension for the era with fully-independent wishbones and adjustable coils Bruce McLaren had developed a highly competitive racing specimen.
The M1A’s capability was proven at the hands of McLaren himself, when he hammered around the Goodwood Circuit recording a lap time of 1 minute 21.6 seconds, a full 3.2 seconds faster than Bruce’s own sports car record set during a TT, and 0.4 seconds faster than the circuit record held by Graham Hill in an F1 BRM. It was this historic performance, that convinced McLaren and the rest of the world, that the M1A was ready to go racing.
As we stand ogling, Mr Andrew Wareing, the owner and driver of this Goodwood weapon happens to introduce himself to pick up where our Elva knowledge starts to run low.
“Bruce McLaren initially made one or two of these in-house and then subbed out the remaining production to Elva Cars. This is an example that was built at Elva. It then went out to the States to compete in a series of races before Can-Am. It was driven by a guy called Charlie Haynes for two years with sponsorship from Nickey who were the Chevrolet distributors in America”.
During this period the M1A in front of us developed a rather strange, NASCAR style rear wing, which Mr Wareing believes was a bit of a bodge by Haynes. “He ran it with this massive spoiler on the back. We’ve done quite a bit of research into the specification that he ran, and that spoiler was his own attempt at a very early aerodynamic aid. Whether it actually works or not, I’m not quite sure”. He says with a cautious grin.
“One thing that is quite unusual is that the very early Chevy engines had a cross-over weber arrangement before switching to a downdraft version. This has the original carburettor settings on it, which probably aren’t as efficient, but it keeps its originality”.
So how does it handle? Incredibly for such a powerful, light and simple race car, the 72-year-old Mr Waring says it is “a very easy car to drive. It has endless torque, which means you’re not changing gear all the time. I’ve driven other short stroke screaming cars, but this thing is a leisurely potter. I’ve enjoyed club racing for 40 years, and this car really is what I’d describe as effortless motoring. When you come out of the chicane it just pulls away like a truck”.
That may say more about Andrew’s skill as a driver than the true characteristics of the M1A, but with speeds approaching 140mph on the Lavant straight, he most certainly will have a handful of race car in his hands when competing in the Whitsun Trophy. A fact that doesn’t seem to worry the charming and relaxed Lancastrian. A man who is happy to be here while keeping everything in perspective.
“I enjoy playing with it. All I want to do is bring it back in one piece. Goodwood is a very unique experience isn’t it? We’re privileged to be part of it, I think, so I’m grateful to be here.”
We couldn’t say fairer than that, other than a word of thanks to Mr Wareing for showcasing an original Elva or ‘Elle Va’ in French, which translates as ‘she goes’. We’ll be keeping an eye on her to see how she goes this weekend.
Photography by James Lynch.
Missing motorsport? Sign up for 2021 event updates
Our email newsletters contain all the latest news, stories, and important event information about our motorsport events