The 1969 M6GT was Bruce McLaren’s pioneering, lightweight, mid-engined V8 supercar. Dan Read tracks it down to Chicago, and takes it for a drive
It’s impossible to top the events of 1969. Concorde and the jumbo jet first flew, two distant computers connected remotely for the first time, the Beatles released Abbey Road and Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.
Back on earth, 1969 was also a huge year for Bruce McLaren. At the peak of his powers in the Can-Am series, he trained his sights on the arena of endurance racing, hoping to enter the World Sportscar Championship in a coupe version of the thunderous M6B Can-Am roadster. As required by the rules, there would also be a street legal model – something Bruce had always dreamed of. But the FIA upped the number of road-going examples required, from 25 to 50.
Knowing he couldn’t build that many in time, Bruce parked the project. But he continued with the road car. His new M6GT would be light, low and unbelievably quick – the quickest accelerating road car in the world, he vowed. He built a prototype, one of just three ever made. Chassis number one, registration OBH 500H, became Bruce McLaren’s personal car, in which he commuted to work.
Believe it or not, it’s that very car you see here, rolling through city streets. These days it lives in the United States, and is looked after by a team at McLaren Chicago. In its entire life it has covered just 2094 miles. It still has its original tyres. And we’ve been given special permission to drive it. Deep breath…
Really, you need a very deep breath before squeezing yourself in. It’s a long way down – the roof is at hip height – and a long way over the sills, which are actually carpet-wrapped fuel tanks. It’s like posting your legs through a letterbox. Once inside I reattach the quick-release steering wheel and recline in the chaise-longue driver’s seat.
The windscreen is so close it wraps around your head like a visor. Turn the tiny metal key and the small-block V8 ignites behind you, all 400bhp and 5.7 litres of it. Back in the day, top speed was 165mph and 0-100mph took eight seconds, when many sports cars would struggle to hit 60 in that time.
I let out the weighty clutch and ease forward. There’s a dogleg gearbox, the pedals are tightly bunched and offset to the left, and the wing mirrors give a great view… of the bonnet. Aside from that it’s surprisingly driveable.
We don’t have long. It’s already 30 degrees outside, and more like 50 degrees in the cockpit, with only a thin slit in each window for ventilation. After a few glorious, ground-skimming laps of downtown, V8 echoing off stone facades and the ironwork of the overhead tracks, we park up in a quiet alleyway to cool off.
A man emerges from a metal door into the blazing sunshine, rubbing his eyes before stopping dead at the sight of the candy-red bodywork. ‘Is that… an M6?’ he asks. ‘Not only that,’ I say, ‘it’s Bruce McLaren’s M6’. For a good 30 seconds, he is completely unable to speak.
The M6GT was ahead of its time – a lightweight mid-engined V8 supercar 50 years before all McLarens followed that template. Fifty years on, it remains as enigmatic as it is unforgettable.