How new is the concept of a McLaren GT? Answer: not as new as you may have imagined…
The first was the M6 GT in 1969, designed and built by Bruce McLaren to be among the fastest road cars in the world, and McLaren’s ticket into road car manufacture. By 1969 McLaren racing cars had already won grands prix and cleaned up in Can-Am racing in the US, and in fast road cars Bruce saw a whole new future for his company. He drove the 165mph M6 GT prototype, registration OBH 500H, whenever he could.
We can speculate that popping down to his local corner shop in East Horsley, Surrey, in the car – and having a photographer on hand to record it – was calculated to show how usable and practical the M6 GT was.
The M6 GT dream died with Bruce McLaren in a race car testing accident at Goodwood in 1970. Just one prototype had been made, now in private ownership in the US, and two replicas, made by Trojan.
Twenty-plus years were to pass Bruce’s road-car dream was realised: first by McLaren Cars whose F1 really was the world’s fastest car, and then by McLaren Automotive whose production road cars have risen to rival those of Ferrari in just nine years.
The range today includes a grand tourer, then as now not the most obvious thing to achieve in a mid-engined two-seater. The 570GT, with its side-opening glass tailgate, was introduced in 2016 as the most refined and practical McLaren ever, while still being able to hit 204mph. To reinforce its heritage and usability it was even photographed outside the same corner shop (now an estate agent) in East Horsley in a uniquely McLaren time-lapse photo moment.
Sitting inside the 570 GT in that picture is Bruce’s daughter, Amanda, a McLaren Automotive ambassador and today someone hankering to drive the next iteration of McLaren GT – a car that promises to add yet more luxury, practicality and refinement to the McLaren GT formula when it is unveiled on 15th May. GRR caught up with Amanda in Woking for a chat…
The M6 GT and the new Grand Tourer – McLaren GTs 50 years apart. What would your father have made of that?
He would have loved it. You can see the same shape, mid-engined layout and design philosophy between the two. Dad’s car had dihedral doors and a lift-up tailgate. McLaren Automotive is doing now exactly what he was doing in exactly the same way, but using today’s materials.
How serious was he about producing road cars?
A GT road car was his next big dream in late ‘69, early 1970 when that picture at the corner shop was taken. That and to win Le Mans in his own car (he had already won at Le Mans with Ford in ’66 – ed).
Did your parents do much road driving in the 1960s?
They used to drive to the races in Europe, with all their luggage and spare engine parts – that’s why a GT needs luggage space. They didn’t have the money back then for air travel and there were none of the private jets the drivers use today. My mother loved driving from race to race, she often told me how much fun they had. She used to do some of the driving; she was a very capable driver, and quick. She drove the M6 GT a couple of times, and loved the car.
Can you picture them now in the new Grand Tourer, grand touring to grands prix in Europe with their luggage in the boot?
I absolutely can. If dad had retired and moved on I would imagine they would be doing exactly that today, just to watch the team taking part at a Grand Prix somewhere.
The last time you drove the M6 GT was at Goodwood wasn’t it?
It was at Revival in 2015, in dad’s original prototype. The car had been kept under wraps but they asked me to drive it round the circuit. It was one of the most precious, powerful and emotional things I have ever done. But it was also terrifying. I couldn’t reach the pedals so they put pillows and cushions on the seat. I was like a little old lady driver with my nose pressed up against the windscreen.
The car was still on its original brakes and tyres, pushing the clutch was like being on a bench-press, and the first time I got to drive it it was on the dummy grid with the media watching. I was terrified of bunny-hopping into the car in front and nearly said I can’t do this. By the end of it I was having so much fun I completely missed the marshal waving me in!
It was one of the most magical experiences of my life driving that car at Goodwood, but also rather poignant coming down the Lavant Straight. I tried not to think about that.
Fifty years on, the new McLaren Grand Tourer promises to be a far easier car to manage.
I am really looking forward to it, I think it is going to be incredible. In terms of comfort and driving ease all the new McLarens are wonderful. My husband likes drifting sideways but I like all the wheels pointing in the right direction. I am a road driver who never wanted to race, so when I drive a McLaren I put it in comfort mode and then it’s easy and comfortable and very enjoyable. It might be a beast at the track but you don’t have to drive it like that to enjoy it.
And it’s a grand tourer, so comfortable with enough room for luggage. The amount of space inside should be incredible, enough even for me to get my horse stuff in. The only thing is I am not sure I will be able to tow a horse box with it…