The Colours of McLaren
McLaren cars raced under a variety of colour schemes while Bruce was at the helm, including the famous ‘McLaren orange’. Below you will find some of the more notable paint jobs.
The Jolly Green Giant
Technically, the Jolly Green Giant wasn’t a McLaren car as it raced under the Cooper name. However, it was designed and constructed by Bruce and his team and so was, to all intents and purposes, the first McLaren. In 1963, Bruce purchased a Cooper-Zerex and the team began the task of heavily modifying the car, including a major rebuild of the chassis and an entirely new engine.
The car was completed in only three weeks, thanks to some extremely long hours. Having finished the car, it required a paint job – however, it was a Sunday and in 1963 very few shops were open. The only store that sold paint that could be found was a gardening store, and the only tin of paint it had was for garden fences. The paint was a bright green and thus, The Jolly Green Giant was born.
Black and Silver
One of the early colour schemes adopted by the McLaren team was black and silver. The colours were made famous when Bruce McLaren drove the Ford GT40 Mk2 across the Le Mans finish line in first place. Ford voluntarily adopted the colour scheme in an effort to welcome the Kiwi duo of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon into the team. For good measure, a silver fern was added to each side of the car.
The colour scheme was very popular for its sleek, elegant look, but it was eventually abandoned for two reasons. First, the drivers disliked the fact that a black car could be difficult to see screaming up in the rear-view mirror of a slower car. The second reason was more commercially driven: a brighter car attracted more attention – especially if it was orange – and that helped to attract sponsors for the team.
The Green and Silver that almost was
The 1966 Monaco Grand Prix was to be the very first Formula One race for a McLaren car. Bruce McLaren asked top motor racing artist Michael Turner to create a colour scheme based on the New Zealand racing colours, with a green top decking and silver lower sides divided by a band of yellow. But upon arrival at the track, Turner was disappointed to discover the new McLaren car decked out in white with a green stripe.
John Frankenheimer was making his film Grand Prix that year, which would incorporate authentic race footage, and the McLaren team had been paid a lot of money to change the colours of the car to those of a fictitious Japanese team featured in the film. It was a decision not taken lightly by Bruce, but money was very tight for the McLaren team, especially in the early years.
By far the most well known McLaren colour from Bruce’s era is the bright orange that adorned the Can Am, Formula One and Indy cars, a paint job that was both easy for other drivers to see and that caught the eye of potential sponsors.
The formula to create the distinctive orange colour didn’t always get followed absolutely accurately over the years. This is why there are slight differences that show up in good quality colour photos featured in numerous magazines and books.
The colour lives on today, for whenever the McLaren team unveil their new car, they revert to the original orange until sponsorship is announced.