Although McLaren history is largely remembered as starting with the M2B, the team’s first Formula 1 race car which made its debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix, McLaren was already established as a racing outfit three years prior, competing with cars from other constructors.

Over the weekend, a car billed as the first race car to be fielded by McLaren went under the hammer at a Bonhams auction coinciding with 2022 Goodwood Revival in the U.K., and the sale price ended up at 911,000 British pounds (approximately $1.03 million).

The car was recently discovered in storage in South America, with all that remained basically being a rusted chassis, a few body panels, and the last engine it ran, an Oldsmobile 3.9-liter V-8. It started out life in 1961 as a Cooper T35P F1 car powered by a Climax engine and was modified six times before reaching its current form. It was sold to McLaren in 1964, which was operating as the Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Team at the time. The car had already been modified twice when McLaren got a hold of it. McLaren fielded the car at various events that year, with founder Bruce McLaren taking home wins at the Aintree and Silverstone circuits.

1961-1964 Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile once owned and raced by McLaren - Photo credit: Bonhams1961-1964 Cooper-Zerex-Oldsmobile once owned and raced by McLaren – Photo credit: Bonhams

Even without McLaren’s connection, the car’s pedigree is special. In its first F1 season in 1961, fielded as a Cooper, it was crashed by Walt Hansgen at the United States Grand Prix, held at Watkins Glen.

It was sold to Roger Penske the following year who had it rebuilt with a more powerful engine, at which point the car became known as the Zerex Special. Penske took it to wins at Riverside and Laguna Seca in the U.S. and at Brands Hatch in the U.K. It was then sold to McLaren in the early part of 1964.

McLaren would continue to modify the car and score wins until the team sold the car in 1965 to Texan amateur racer Dave Morgan. He then sold it to a Venezuelan amateur racer in 1967, at which point it went off the radar. Given the amount spent on the car by its current owner, we suspect a full restoration, likely to the condition the car was in when raced by McLaren, will soon be in order.

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