History in the Making

One of just three McLaren M8B race cars in existence, Denny Hulme's car from the 1969 CanAm series has just concluded a 20-year restoration.

Apr 19, 2023

Duncan Fox has an eye for detail and an eye for used McLaren parts. Rebuilding heritage McLaren race cars is his life’s work. This just-completed M8B – driven by Denny Hulme in the 1969 CanAm series – has been a 20-year process. Sometimes even the fastest things can’t be rushed.

“I look at 1969 in a lot of ways; rock music, Woodstock was in ‘69. We went to the moon in '69. It was a fabulous year. Yeah, that's how I look at 1969.”

The Pukekohe pit lane clatter and commotion can’t steal a magical moment of reflection from Duncan Fox; he’s elsewhere, if just for a second.

“And there was Can Am and the Bruce and Denny show,” he adds.

And in that moment, in that knowing smile, Duncan’s commitment to this monumental undertaking makes perfect sense. He’s been living a dream.

Duncan has spent the last 20 years painstakingly rebuilding Denny Hulme’s 1969 McLaren M8B Can Am car, and today it will once again be reunited with the rubbered tarmac of a race circuit.

“We started about 20 years ago and have been actively at it for 15. The first five years were collecting pieces, basically. I never thought I was not going to get there,” he says.

“The problem is that you are scurrying around looking in everybody's garage, everybody that had anything to do with Can-Am or old race cars. You're looking for pieces, and you need to know what you're looking for.”

Duncan, along with the small team he’s worked with on this project, certainly knows what he’s looking for. He’s one of the world’s most accomplished restorers of McLaren race cars. Working with the McLaren Trust, Duncan has already rebuilt the 1968 M8A (1968 M8A cars were refreshed and revised to create the M8B cars of 1969) that Bruce won his last race in before he died.

Duncan has made it his life’s work to complete the three M8B cars in existence.

“As we stand now, I've done two of them, and I've been involved in the third one to a point where it will be up and running and hopefully sitting next to this car in California at the end of the year.”

Three M8B cars were built; one was Bruce’s, one was Denny’s, one was a spare. All are incredibly significant to McLaren, but also to motorsport in general. They were a turning point in aerodynamics, evident by the high wings that replaced the predecessor M8A.

Compared with the lower wing of the M8A, there's more finesse, says Duncan.

“Denny said this was the best McLaren ever built, and I'm inclined to agree with that. Once Bruce had got his head around high wings and what they did to the chassis and handling, they were unstoppable, as you saw in 1969.

“I mean, they won every race and achieved one-two finishes in six of them. It was phenomenal. The cars are actually pretty simple, but they're so well-built, well-engineered, and well-designed.”

Given the time when they were developed and the insights they gave, there’s significance for unfortunate reasons also.

“Unfortunately, in 1970, my personal view is that they just took on too much and things didn't quite go the way they should have done. But that's history.”

Using his encyclopaedic knowledge of McLaren engineering and the blueprints for the M8B, the rebuilt vehicle is as faithful as possible. Around 80% of the car is original and period-correct, with nominal newly fabricated parts. The engine has been rebuilt, and some braking and safety components are required to be renewed with modern equipment for track use. Otherwise, Duncan has collated and refreshed original parts from the most unlikely of places.

“There's a specific set of stone shields on the inlet trumpets; these were the only McLarens to have those. Two sets were made: one for Bruce's car, one for Denny's car. I was halfway through making a set of reproduction ones and – I kid you not – I found a complete set of eight of them in Tokyo. Now, how do you think they got to Tokyo? That's a whole other story. When we were working, at times we'd just look up and say, “Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, Denny”.”

Originality is very important to Duncan. He says it starts with the soul of the car, its chassis, and its original build tag.

"Every racing car built creates a hole in the atmosphere, and the hole in the atmosphere is identified by the tag. And so, when it came to our situation with that, we had the tag. We had the I.D and the right to that hole in the atmosphere. And then it's just a case of gathering up as many parts that fill that original hole in the atmosphere as possible.”

While undeniably a long time to devote to a single build, the result is simply flawless.

As Bruce himself said, "Life is measured in achievement, not years alone." Duncan Fox's commitment to preserving Bruce McLaren’s legacy is a testament to that.