Driving through the New Zealand countryside, Amanda McLaren, the sole scion of Formula One racing icon Bruce McLaren, speaks with Elite Traveler’s Alexandra Cheney (as she pilots a McLaren GT) about the generational power of her surname, sculpting her identity, and a long-awaited homecoming.
Gazing out the window of a storm grey McLaren GT en route to Pukekohe Park Raceway, where her father Bruce McLaren won his first and only New Zealand grand prix in January 1964, Amanda McLaren muses: “Dad did some amazing things: He ran a business; he drew, designed, tested and built the cars. He was an engineer and inventor. He motor-raced and won.”
The race car driver perished in a crash driving his Can-Am car on the Lavant Straight near Woodcote Corner at England’s Goodwood Circuit at 32. Just two months earlier, his progeny celebrated her fourth birthday. “For a daughter to hear… that her father was so loved and adored — so much so that when June 2, 1970 comes up in conversation, grown men cry and tell me how Dad meant that much to them — that’s powerful.”
It’s also an impetus for McLaren’s latest project. The Bruce McLaren Trust launched 25 years ago, “… in response to repeated demands to commemorate Bruce McLaren’s achievements and honour him as one of New Zealand’s international heroes,” according to the Trust’s mission statement.
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After some familial divergences, McLaren regained control as one of four trustees (along with her Kiwi husband Stephen Donnell and colleagues Warwick Mortimer and Michael Clarke) in April. “I want to open Dad’s story up to a new generation. Dad is welcomed as a part of racing and automotive history but it’s not widely known that his heritage, his racing story, begins in New Zealand.”
Much like her dad, McLaren has bounced between the UK and New Zealand, and relocated to the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island last November. “In many ways it’s like I’m coming home again, and I’m definitely bringing Dad home,” the 56-year-old retired nurse explained. In addition to reconstructing the Bruce McLaren Trust, she and her husband are building a house and had her horse, Beau, transported from the UK.
She’s also partnered with Nigel McKenna, CEO and founder of Templeton Group, one of New Zealand’s largest property development firms, to revive her father’s birthplace, which was also his garage. McKenna purchased the building, which currently houses a school uniform shop with an apartment above it — a birthday present to himself and a “passion project,” he said.
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“This building has a story to tell,” McKenna told Elite Traveler as he pointed at a large hatch door in the middle of the floor of what is now the second story’s kitchen. He added, “This connected to the garage. There was a law back then prohibiting shops from being open after a certain time. So Bruce would open the hatch, pull the engine up, and work on it after hours right here.”
While McLaren and McKenna wait for the uniform shop’s lease to expire, plans for the building, to be called McLaren’s, have already been drawn. The ground floor will be the Bruce McLaren Trust headquarters as well as a museum with memorabilia and a space for a rotating series of cars both past and present. Historic gas pumps will decorate the front of the building, and McKenna plans to restore the second story to its original layout.
“You can’t go and meet Enzo Ferrari’s daughter, but you can have that experience with me here”Amanda McLaren
“We have no idea what we’ll find when we start scraping paint off,” he noted. McLaren admits there are many moving parts to both her story and that of her father. But only recently has she learned how to balance the two. Traces of auburn mix with her coiffed salt-and-pepper hair. She touched it almost reflexively as she said, “I’m Amanda, but I’m also the only child of Bruce McLaren.”
Born and raised in the UK, McLaren dreamt of being a competitive equestrian, and said, “I wasn’t good enough. But I loved horses. I wanted to be paid to ride horses every day.” She then decided she wanted to become a mounted police officer, but she’s 5’4″ and in those days, she explained, shrugging, there was a 5’6″ height requirement. A Type 1 diabetic, she spent a lot of time in hospitals and was “a little fascinated” by how the machines worked: “I would have been an engineer. I love putting things together with my hands.”
Instead, her high school adviser suggested nursing school. It’s easy to see how her soft but commanding demeanor would translate into nursing, but she gravitated throughout her career toward the “science of nursing versus the art of nursing, looking after the machines and ventilators.” It seems tinkering runs in the family. McLaren gained her master’s degree in 2004, officially retiring after a rather fortuitous conversation in 2013.
At a Goodwood meetup that year, the then CEO of McLaren Automotive, Mike Flewitt, asked for a meeting. “It was like he had taken the lid off Pandora’s box. He asked Stephen and I to come work for McLaren Automotive as ambassadors.” Prior to that, she was never directly involved with her father’s company.
“My mother was advised to sell her shares in the company in the mid-1970s, and while we did go to places like Goodwood and Silverstone, that was pretty much my relationship with McLaren [the company]. But Mike wanted that connection.” While her husband had to interview for his role, she did not, McLaren noted with a grin. Both McLaren Racing and McLaren Automotive officially endorse the Trust, and while McLaren and Donnell no longer work as employees for the company, they maintain their honorary brand ambassador titles.
“I’ve chosen to do this project for Dad but also for me,” she explained. McLaren doesn’t own a car that bears her surname, though; the license plate (a gift from an old boyfriend that has become a badge she now wears with honor) on her husband’s Toyota RAV4 reads AMCLRN. While gazing at the trap door in the future McLaren’s, she said quietly, “I know there’s a lot I can do because I’m Bruce’s daughter. You can’t go and meet Enzo Ferrari’s daughter, but you can have that experience with me here.”
This article appears in the 05 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Fall 2022