The 1964 Bruce McLaren Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile has been found. It was the first car with the McLaren name.
The automobile is somewhat of a myth, a sort of motorsports Holy Grail that has somehow survived for so long. Its historical significance and recent return to the UK stem from the fact that it was the first vehicle to bear Bruce McLaren’s name. Bruce was born in New Zealand.
The car was shown off at the Bonhams Festival of Speed sale at Goodwood. It will now be sold at auction during the next Revival weekend.
The vehicle, which was extremely successful with three elite drivers, is the foundation of the McLaren racing team. Along with Roger Penske, Walt Hansgen, and Bruce McLaren himself,
Along with having three highly acclaimed owners, the Copper-Zerex-Oldsmobile raced in a variety of body styles. The vehicle underwent constant modification throughout its racing career, changing from a single-seater Formula 1 car to a sports car. There were even three different variations of those.
The vehicle, known as “The Great Transformer,” was built between 1962 and 1964 to comply with various racing requirements. The car’s chassis had been modified and painted a shade of “garden gate” green when Bruce McLaren got his hands on it. Evidently, when a hasty re-completion was underway, this was the only color available. Due to its color, the automobile received yet another moniker, but its track prowess won over many admirers.
The vehicle then disappeared in the late 1960s and was discovered over 50 years later, disassembled and stashed away in some South American storage.
The Jolly Green Giant returned to the UK this year after a six-week journey around the USA and Europe, and it was brought to Goodwood for its first public appearance in more than 50 years.
The Great Transformer
The Coventry Climax engine-powered 1/12 liter Formula 1 Cooper that the Jolly Green Giant was originally built as. Briggs Cunningham, a millionaire, entered the car in the 1961 USGP at Watkins Glen, and Walt Hangsen was the driver.
Cunningham sold the vehicle after Hangsen’s crash for $1,250 to teenage driver Roger Penske, who later rose to become the billionaire CEO of the global Penske Corporation.
Penske turned the Formula 1 car into a lightweight Grand Prix car that looked like a sports car, because he was pretty forward-thinking.
Penske made the decision to maintain the central driving position and give the vehicle a sleek, streamlined shape. This car was dubbed the “Zerex Special” after its anti-freeze sponsor. Penske then dominated the most significant and lucrative sports car competitions in America. He won the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, the 1962 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside Raceway, and the Puerto Rican Grand Prix at Caguas.
Before Penske sold the vehicle to Texas resident John Mecom Jr., regulation revisions resulted in the adoption of an offset driving position to suit the sports car form. The Texan’s car was driven by Penske, who won both the important international Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch in England and the 1963 Marlboro and Cumberland races in the United States.
The Jolly Green Giant and Bruce McLaren
The car had been successful, but it wasn’t until Bruce McLaren owned it that it really started to gain notoriety. Bruce, who was in charge of the Cooper Car Company Works Formula 1 team at the time and had long admired the vehicle, purchased it in 1964.
In between Cooper’s Formula 1 appearances, Bruce would take the car to sports car competitions and race it under the banner of his new personal squad, the McLaren Motor Racing Team.
McLaren drove the car to victory in the British international sports car races at both Aintree and Silverstone using a 2.7-liter Climax engine, which was comparable to the one used by Roger Penske. As a result, he had the car modified to use a 3.5-liter Traco modified Oldsmobile V8.
The modified chassis was hastily painted in a shade of green that was only available on Sundays, the same color that was used to paint a garden gate that went by the moniker “The Jolly Green Giant.”
Bruce achieved many more victories in the Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile, the 1964 international Guards Trophy race at Brands Hatch with a modified 3.9-liter Oldsmobile v8, and the international Player’s 200 race at Mosport Park in Toronto. This is the car’s second straight victory after Roger Penske won it the year before.
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Bruce had his last outing in the Cooper at Goodwood, where he won the 1964 RAC Tourist Trophy after starting first overall, beating Jim Clark and Graham Hill in their rival Lotus and Ferrari race cars. He had the fastest lap time until his clutch broke and he had to give up racing.
In September 1964, the Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile was superseded by the McLaren-built M1 sports vehicle prototype. After going through three more owners, the father of the present owner purchased the M1 in South America.
Finding The Missing McLaren
Aside from the body panels, the car has been stored for a very long time in a disassembled state and has essentially survived intact. It is still pretty unique, though.
Howdey Ganley, the sole surviving member of the Bruce McLaren squad and a former Le Mans and CanAm racer, Doug Nye, Cooper Cars author and Bonhams competition car consultant, and Allen Brown, editor of Oldracingcars.com, greeted the car when it returned to the UK.
When the team had the chance to look inside the shipment crate and verify its contents, the authenticity of the car was confirmed.
According to Howden Ganley, “I have always felt honored to have been Bruce McLaren’s third shop floor employee. 58 years have passed since I assisted teammates Tyler Alexander and Wal Willmott with the Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile. In my opinion, this is unquestionably the real automobile after simply looking at this chassis frame upon its return to England.
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When the car arrived back on English soil, Doug Nye continued, “It was incredibly memorable to open the crate and discover this legendary piece of motor racing heritage within. I first saw Bruce McLaren’s stunning Goodwood TT run in it in 1964, and here I am in 2022, managing such a magnificent piece of motor racing history. I find it to be magical! “
Allen Brown said, “To actually see it was just fantastic. I’ve known about this car for a long time. It’s fantastic to see cars before they are restored, and the fact that this particular car was in such good shape caught us off guard. If the metal had been stored in this nation, it would have corroded, so South America must have a hospitable environment.
Both the appearance of the car and the location of the pieces were just as we had anticipated. It’s perfect.
Its multi-tiered motor racing significance is so tremendous, Mark Osborne, Bonhams Global Director of Motorsport, said: “The uncovering of this automotive treasure from halfway across the world is our version of Indiana Jones discovering the Arc of the Covenant.”
Of all its attention-grabbing qualities, its career as pushed by two of the sport’s most illustrious and well-respected titans, Roger Penske and Bruce McLaren, screams perhaps the loudest. Of course, it was also the first McLaren sports car to have Michael Turner’s famous Kiwi symbol.
“We have every right to be proud of the car’s public display at The Goodwood Festival of Speed, 58 years after Bruce drove it to fame in the 1964 Goodwood TT race. There could not be a more suitable location to commemorate its return.
Bruce McLaren gave the 1964 Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile the nickname “Jolly Green Giant.” It is on display at Bonhams in Goodwood House, Chichester, until September 17, 2022, when it will be sold at the Goodwood Revival Sale at the Goodwood Motor Circuit.
Images Source : Bonhams