One of McLaren’s Early Race Cars Was Also a Film Star

Jay Leno's Garage

The first of anything often carries a certain cachet. Good, bad, or otherwise, first impressions are something that people only get one shot at. Bruce McLaren seemed to understand that truth, because this M1A race car made sure it was going to be remembered … only to have its connection to a rock and roll star be the thing for which most people outside the racing community remember it.

This gold over white livery car was built by Elva as the first production M1A, and the mid-engine design was still quite experimental in 1963 and keeping the side profile ultra-low required some interesting design choices: The fuel cell is split into four separate tanks held outboard of the driver’s compartment, and the spare tire is stored on the dashboard. (Is that considered an airbag?)

Jay Leno's Garage

The small-block behind the driver’s compartment of the car you see here does not appear to be the original Oldsmobile V-8 that powered the car from new. Later iterations of the M1A featured even more power from big-block engines, but we can’t help but think that kind of power would be overkill in a car that weighs less than 1800 pounds. Don’t take our word, though; watch Jay Leno take one for a spin down the airport service road next to his collection:

The drive is at the end of the video, but the story that precedes it is pretty fascinating. The striking gold-and-white color combination was not Bruce’s original vision for this M1A. The car was originally white with a green stripe down the center, but when it was cast in a movie alongside Elvis, the gold hue was sprayed on and the look seems to have stuck. The movie, Spinout, debuted in 1966 and featured a whole host of awesome iron alongside the superstar lead actor.

McLaren M1A Jay Leno's Garage engine
Jay Leno's Garage

“This car is a great example of how sought after early cars are by collectors and enthusiasts,” says Greg Ingold, Hagerty Price Guide editor. “While the luster of the Elvis connection is undoubtedly a plus, it is likely more of an interesting footnote compared to the racing and development history of the M1A.”

Regardless of what makes this McLaren cool to you, we can all agree it is cool. How could a race car designed by Bruce and powered by a small-block inhaling through quad Weber carbs not be cool?


Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: F1 Star’s Stolen Ferrari Found After Almost 30 Years


    Saw this the other day. It is amazing this car remains so close to original as it has. So many were crashe, sold or just altered and tossed away.

    I think today Bruce would be proud his name is still relevant and his cars survive.

    Unfortunately your information is incorrect. This car was manufactured by Elva, not Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd (BMMR Ltd). The 1st McLaren built car was raced by Bruce in 1964 (BMMR Ltd Mk1, Chassis 1-64), then at the end of the season Bruce needed money to build and develop a car with a stiffer chassis, so the original car was sold to Dan Gurney (of All American Racers-AAR in California). Since Dan was under contract with the Ford Motor Company, he couldn’t drive a race car with an engine other than a Ford, so Dan sent a new GT40 engine to BMMR Ltd in the UK where it was installed in the first BMMR Ltd chassis, coupled with a Hewland LG Transaxle and delivered to Dan at Brands Hatch in 1965, where he drove it for the first time. After Brands Hatch, Dan had this car shipped to California at All American Racers in preparation for the Riverside Times Grand Prix. Once the Ford Engine installation was completed, a new VIN Tag (2-64) was created for the now Ford powered McLaren Mk1. Dan entered this race car a few more times, but due to his busy race schedule with Shelby American, Inc. and the Ford Motor Company, plus trying to get his own race cars off the drawing boards and on the racetracks, he did not have any additional success with the McLaren Mk1, Chassis 2-64.

    The previous post is correct. This article and the Jay Leno garage video is fraught with misinformation. These internet writers simply copy/paste and don’t do research. This car in question was not built until early 1965. Obviously, never raced in ’65 and obviously “Jenks” never road in this car as the owner contends! Hagerty is a well respect organization and I would have expected better from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *