June 2nd, 1970. The day a racing pioneer lost his life, but not his legacy. Today marks 50 years since the fateful afternoon Bruce was killed while out testing his M8D race car. The death of the company’s leader and namesake could have spelled the end for McLaren. However it was built around the same determination and enthusiasm that made Bruce a legend. Today he is remembered in a beautiful ceremony by his daughter, Amanda. Below is a look back at the man that embodied this legendary quote “life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”
Since he was a child, Bruce always displayed incredible levels of determination. When he was nine-years-old he was diagnosed with a hip condition called Perthes Disease, and he was confined to bed for three years. A devastating experience for an energetic youngster who loved to play sports. However, despite being unable to play with friends and enjoy a normal school environment, he did not allow his situation to hamper his dreams.
During his rehabilitation he worked with a tutor to further his education, and he spent hours studying engineering textbooks and discussing motor racing and his love of cars with his garage-owning father. Even at a young age he knew where his heart and future lay.
It wasn’t until he was 12 before he was finally allowed to walk on his own again. Those early struggles gave him an appreciation of what it took to get on in life. ‘First comes natural ability,’ he wrote. ‘There are hundreds with it, but there must always be the dedication to want to apply it, continue applying it, and keep improving it.’
Bruce was fascinated by all things mechanical – and he always sought ways of improving any machine that he could get his hands on. As a child he stripped any unnecessary weight from his bicycle so he could ride faster. Later he worked on cars, learning for himself how they operated. As a teenager he developed a humble Austin Seven Ulster that he also used to hone his driving skills on a makeshift grass track.
‘One of my first lessons was to tackle one job at a time, do it thoroughly and be satisfied with the result before passing on to the next,’ he wrote. ‘For the first year the car seemed to get progressively worse, but I was learning by my mistakes and soon I felt I had the measure of the car’s shortcomings, and could do something about them.’
That pursuit of perfection stayed with him in later years when he was building his own racing cars. There were always improvements that could make a car faster, handle more responsively, or be safer – it just required his innovative and inquisitive mind to figure out how.
‘No matter how well a car handles, it is never perfect,’ he noted, ‘bearing in mind that the following year’s models will be even faster. So it is best to try changes, then set out to test their worth.’
From a young age Bruce showed that he was a brilliant driver. However, his vision extended far beyond the cockpit. From its early roots as a racing team, McLaren soon became a successful manufacturer of cars for a variety of categories. Having won in F1 and Can-Am, Bruce took on the Indy 500 establishment in oval racing, and he even harboured ambitions to move into road cars, having created the M6GT prototype.
He was never afraid of the unknown, and he showed a determination to push boundaries.
“I often force myself to go to sleep when trying to worry out a problem, or I am stuck with it all night,” he said. “I decided long ago since that solid sleep is one of the first essentials when trying to work hard. It is more a question of attitude of mind than anything else. The people who succeed in racing are those who would do so in any walk of life.”