McLaren’s First Car Pays a Visit to Jay Leno’s Garage

McLaren may be most famous for its F1 supercar launched in the 1990s, but the company was building cars, specifically race cars, since the 1960s.

McLaren was founded as a racing team by Bruce McLaren in 1963, and initially competed with cars from Cooper, the team which Bruce McLaren previously worked for as a racing driver.

The first race car to be fielded by his newly founded endeavor was a modified Cooper known as the Cooper-Zerex, which was acquired from Roger Penske in early 1964. It was sold at auction in 2022 for about $1 million.

Shortly after McLaren acquired the Cooper-Zerex, the team would take lessons from that car to develop its own race car designed to meet Group 7 racing regulations. The result was the Mark 1, or M1 for short. There were three versions, starting with the M1A and followed up with the M1B and M1C.

Around 50 of the cars were built and raced by McLaren and its customer teams, and the first example, which remarkably has never been in a serious crash, recently paid a visit to Jay Leno’s Garage.

The car is owned by Austrian collector Egon Zweimüller, who has a penchant for automotive royalty and Elvis Presley, and it just so happens that the first M1A combines both of his loves, as it has a connection with The King. The car was driven by Presley in the 1966 movie “Spinout.”

The first M1A made its motorsports debut at the 1964 Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, with Bruce McLaren behind the wheel. It proved to be one of the fastest on the track but some pit lane issues meant it only finished in third place. Wins would soon follow, though. According to Zweimüller, McLaren’s first 12 race wins are courtesy of this car.

In its original configuration, the car ran a tuned version of an Oldsmobile V-8 developed by California’s Traco Engineering. The engine displacement was increased from 3.5 to 4.5 liters, and a set of four Weber carburetors were installed to help boost output to around 310 hp. Later performance upgrades would include swapping the Oldsmobile V8 in the late ’60s for a Corvette V8 of the period.

This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com