The McLaren movie is an incredible tribute

18th May 2017
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

“Mum wanted Tom Cruise to play dad but when she found out how old he is, and how young dad was…” Amanda McLaren smiles and her voice tails off. We are talking at Hound Lodge, in the grounds of Goodwood, just down the road from the motor circuit where her dad, Bruce McLaren, died during testing at the age of 32, on June 2nd, 1970. 

“I close my eyes when the skid marks come on”, she tells me, referring to the part of the film straight after McLaren’s Can-Am car crashes into an unmanned marshal’s post at the circuit, “but it’s special to be here”.

McLaren”, a new film about the life of the eponymous racing driver, is released in cinemas this week. The filmmakers have done a great job, producing a beautiful tapestry of archived footage, recreated scenes, stills and even splicing it with cartoons and footage from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to illustrate pivotal moments in the tale of this extraordinary racing driver, designer, mechanic, husband, father and motorsport legend. It is as artfully done as Senna, the film of Ayrton Senna’s life.

Audiences would do well to remember, throughout this action-packed film, that most of the story happened before McLaren’s 30th birthday. It provides a thorough anatomy of a racing driver: how a burgeoning kernel of ambition and skill is transformed so quickly into world champion talent; what trials and tribulations can happen along the way, how they can affect a man.

The film follows McLaren from his dad’s garage in New Zealand, via time spent in England, with Cooper Racing, in Surbiton and then Feltham, where the sign on the workshop door said: “Don’t knock, we don’t have that sort of time.”

It looks at his extraordinary ability behind the wheel and under the bonnet: John Cooper told him to build his own racing car. He did, and won.


theThere’s a wonderful moment of schoolboy humour, which reveals much about McLaren’s egalitarian nature, and his hunger to innovate, when he and his engineers start to build McLaren-badged race cars. He hires the designer and engineer Robin Herd, impressed by his work at Concorde, particularly with a lightweight aircraft material called mallite. One morning, Herd goes into his office and shuts the door. The team wheels out a tube of mallite that they have fashioned into a cannon, and proceed to fire a homemade missile at the door. The explosion is more than they bargained for, and the missile flies through the door, leaving a gaping hole. Giggling, the men shove the weapon under the desk before Herd, mystified, emerges, none the wiser.  

This is a team who would go on to build Formula One cars, Can-Am and road cars, so successfully that Bruce McLaren remains the only man, since 1968, to win a grand prix in a car he designed, which bears his name on the nose. And yet they managed to remain a band of giggling brothers, so loyal that every one of them turned up to work the day after Bruce McLaren died, despite being given the day off.

“Bruce was a superstar”, says Jackie Stewart in the film. Homage is also paid by Emerson Fittipaldi, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti, although it is McLaren’s own words of respect, paid to team-mate Timmy Mayer, who predeceased McLaren, and quoted so often, that form the best-fitting tribute: “The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”

McLaren is in cinemas on May 25th and on DVD and digital download on May 29th

Photograph courtesy of LAT Images

  • McLaren

  • bruce_mclaren_memorial_02062017_09.jpg


    Gallery: Race aces honour Bruce McLaren in 1992 Memorial Garden opening

  • mclaren-mp4-13-f1-1998-monaco-mika-hakkinen-mi-goodwood-10072020.jpg

    Formula 1

    Gallery: The incredible McLaren MP4/13

  • 77mm-mclaren-senna-gtr-pete-summers-10041913.jpg

    Formula 1

    Gallery: 77MM – Mega McLaren parade led by Senna GTR world debut