#F1 History: First McLaren car discovered at the Geelong Revival – The Cooper T70

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Jennie Mowbray

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

~Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar~

The sunshine blazed down on a myriad of shimmering machines, their polished paintwork and chrome reflecting the palm trees lining pit lane. The skyline of Melbourne was visible across the water in the distance. The smell of salt water wafted in on the breeze off Corio Bay. The verdant grass of the hill above the track was dotted with families, prams and dogs. Amid the surrounding calm a screaming engine broke the silence as an antiquated racing vehicle was driven at (relative) speed down the quarter mile stretch of black tarmac mere meters in front of where we were positioned.


Lined up in pit lane were American muscle cars and Australian V8’s which were sitting beside Formula Ford’s from the 70’s and 80’s. Michael Andretti’s 1982 Formula Ford Lola looked spectacular in its gleaming black livery. In a position of honour was a 1926 Talbot Grand Prix car stunningly restored with its lustrous sky blue chassis and immaculate straight 8 supercharged engine. It was then I saw the car that stopped me in my tracks. It was unimaginably small, sitting mere inches off the ground, and was painted dark green with two bright silver stripes. Inscribed on its chassis were two names – each enough on their own to take my breath away. On one side was:  “Bruce McLaren 1964 Tasman Champion” while on the other was: “Phil Hill 1965”.


I was in Melbourne for the weekend to celebrate my birthday and it was fortuitous that the Geelong Revival just happened to be the same weekend. We had been to see Les Misérables where revenge and hatred, devotion and forgiveness, had been played out on stage. Now I was standing before a car that had first raced the year I was born and  had been driven by two of my Formula One heroes. 50 years ago Bruce McLaren won the Tasman championship driving this carLes Misérables was fiction…this was real.

The Cooper T70 was the first car designed and built by Bruce McLaren. He was driving for Cooper but was becoming frustrated as his car was struggling to be competitive against Lotus and the new boys on the block, Brabham. For the Tasman championship he needed something lighter, as the engine capacity was limited to 2.5 litres. In the 1963 season McLaren had finished 6th in the championship, sandwiched between the two Brabham drivers of Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham.  He would need a faster car if he was going to have any hope of success in the 1964 Tasman Series.


McLaren’s race engineer, Wally Willmott remembered that “as the duration of the races were all short Bruce reasoned that we could design a car with a small fuel tank instead of the large panier style that were the norm for F1. A tank fitted around the driver in the form of a seat would be very slim indeed. John Cooper decided that it was not worth doing for a one off car. Bruce McLaren then suggested to John that if he would permit, Bruce would employ me and between us we could build a car using the F1 workshop – as there was nothing happening there at that time of year. John Cooper agreed and we (Bruce and I) started the build.”


With the assistance of engineer Tyler Alexander they built two cars. McLaren’s teammate for the series, Timmy Mayer, shook out the car at Goodwood in November and it was then shipped to New Zealand for the competition. Bruce McLaren drove it to three wins in four races in New Zealand, including a win at Pukekohe, his home Grand Prix, for his first ever win there. He struggled in Australia to beat Jack Brabham and failed to win any races while Brabham won the first three. Tragedy then struck the team at the last race at Longford when his rookie teammate Timmy Mayer was killed during practice. McLaren did not participate in any further practice or qualifying and started the race on Sunday from the last place on the grid. He proceeded to pass everyone else on the track apart from the eventual winner Graham Hill to finish in 2nd place which gave him the title of 1964 Tasman Champion, six points ahead of Jack Brabham who had only competed in two of the four New Zealand races.

Bruce McLaren’s personal secretary, Eoin Young said, “The die was cast. He had proved to himself that he knew enough about racing now to build his own cars and run his own racing team.”


19 responses to “#F1 History: First McLaren car discovered at the Geelong Revival – The Cooper T70

  1. Nice one, Jennie. I love your work 🙂

    What a great find – that’s a land mark piece of machinery for sure. There’s something about the simplicity of the design that floats my boat. It being nearly 100% mechanical warms my cockles as well. It had the bare minimum of sparks and aero – the rest is “what you see if what you get”.

  2. A great article Jennie! These old race cars are alive and have a soul – if only they could talk. I raise a glass to the passion and hard working folk who make revivals like Geelong happen.

  3. Hi Jenny
    Always a pleasure to read your articles and this little gem is a delight.
    At the risk of appearing pedantic I’m not sure I can accept the ‘myth’ that the T70 was “the first car designed and built by McLaren”…
    I feel it was a Cooper, slightly modified by Bruce and Wally, from an original design by Owen Maddock, before he left Cooper – and subsequently worked as a consultant for the McLaren company – amongst others.
    At a guess I would suggest the T70 was based on the T66 or the (lightweight) T67 F.Junior chassis, but it has a long, trailing-arm, upper-link on the rear suspension, a.l.a Ron Tauranac’s design for Brabham. I think this was the first time this feature appeared on a Cooper, instead of an upper wishbone. Whether it was copied by Bruce, Wally or Owen will probably never be known.
    I was a fan of Bruce at that time, and have no desire to upset any Kiwis here, but… “Facts is facts.” Sometimes… 🙂 It is also great that this car still exists in such beautiful condition.
    Keep them coming, Jennie.

    • You’re not being pedantic…my first thought when I saw the claim on a sign by the car was “really?”…and I presumed that the “truth” was probably being “twisted” a bit:)

      I’m sure it was a modified T66…but Cooper wasn’t willing to pay to modify it for the Tasman Championship…and the modifications were McLaren’s and his engineers ideas…so McLaren, Wally Willmott and Tyler Alexander actually built this car…and paid for it…

      It wasn’t until I found the interview with Wally Willmott that I was really sure how this car came to be built…

      Love your comments about the rear suspension though…I suspect that McLaren (and his engineers) had been studying the Brabham…as he wanted to beat him…and copied this feature into their car…very interesting:)

      I hadn’t come across Owen Maddock in my reserach and I agree he probably also had a major role in designing this car as he was very involved in the first McLaren sports car in 1964.

      Loved hearing your thoughts – it was fun trying to track down the background to this car but it’s so easy to miss things. The car was absolutely beautiful though! I was born in NZ in 1964 so seeing this car was very exciting…a car that won in NZ in 1964:)

    • One last comment:) It was the fact that Bruce McLaren formed Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd when he built this car as he had financed it himself that I decided that it was the “first” McLaren…

      • Jennie, did he not form his company when he built the Zerex Special, 1963 that would be.

        • I got my information from the book “To Finish First” by Phil Kerr (pg 122)…he said that Bruce McLaren Motor Racing was formed when they made the T70 which they called the Tasman Cooper…which was in 1963…

          Wasn’t the Zerex Special built in 1962?

  4. BlackJackFan is correct in that the 1st car that was a solely Bruce McLaren project was the “Jolly Green Giant/Zerex Special/Cooper-Oldsmobile”, but there is NO WAY it can be described as “slightly modified”. The front and rear were removed and a whole new, Bruce designed, tub was put in. The 2-litre Climax engine came out to be replaced by an Oldsmobile V8. Not slight changes in my opinion. And I was lucky enough to see it race. The T70 was built by Bruce and his friends, John Cooper allowed it to happen, whereas his dad, Charles Cooper, would have stopped it dead in the water. It was a neat, tidy little machine, you can certainly see where Bruce designed his M4B from.
    Thanks for a great article and a wonderful film as well. I will have to find copyright on that as it will be great to run in my 1:43rd Bruce McLaren Tribute Museum. this will comprise as many of the cars he drove in his fantastic career. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.
    Thanks again.

  5. Thanks so much…I actually hadn’t heard of the Zerex Special…and loved hearing what changes were made to the original T53! And it was raced by Roger Penske…

    So Bruce McLaren built it…but he didn’t own it. He purchased it in 1964 which would have been after he formed Bruce McLaren Motor Racing…then again, that is just from Wiki which can’t really be considered a primary source 😉

    Glad you enjoyed the film too…it’s so amazing what old footage is available online. Where is your Bruce McLaren Tribute Museum?

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