Jay Leno Drives the 1964 McLaren M1A, the Company's First-Ever Sports Prototype

Jay Leno drives the 1964 McLaren M1A 10 photos
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage/YouTube
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McLaren didn't release its first production road car until 1992 (the F1), but its legacy goes back to 1963. That's when Bruce McLaren founded his racing outfit. The New Zealander started building his own race cars the following year.
McLaren is best known as a Formula One constructor. As of 2024, it's the second oldest active and the third most successful team after Ferrari and Williams. McLaren joined Formula One in 1966 and came close to winning its first championship only two years later.

Bruce's team scored its first manufacturers' trophy in 1974 and became dominant in the second half of the 1980s. Overall, McLaren won eight constructors' championships and 12 drivers' trophies. But Formula One wasn't McLaren's first successful venture. Long before it won its first F1 championship, the British-based outfit dominated the Can-Am series.

Launched in 1966, the series was run under Group 7 regulations and had minimum restrictions. Bruce McLaren took advantage of this and created highly powerful and aerodynamic race cars that won five championships in a row (1967-1971). McLaren won the series with various iterations of the M6 and M8, but it all actually started with the M1, the company's very first sports prototype racer.

Bruce began working on the M1 series in 1963. The highly aerodynamic rig made its racing debut the following year and entered the Can-Am series in 1966. Production lasted through 1968 and spawned three main interations: the M1A, M1B, and M1C (total production reached 49 units).

Although it's not the most iconic McLaren ever built, the M1 is a desirable item among classic race car collectors. The M1A you see here is particularly sought-after for several reasons. For starters, it's the first-ever McLaren sports prototype ever built. It's also the car that scored the first 12 wins in the brand's history. Moreover, it was featured in the 1966 musical "Spinout," which starred the one and only Elvis Presley.

A stunning survivor that's mostly untouched since it was repainted gold for the said film, this 1964 M1A came out of its heated garage to pay Jay Leno a visit.

Originally finished in white with a green stripe, the M1A now flaunts the white-striped gold livery it got in 1966. The race car has Elvis Presley's name on the tiny doors, which is why its current Austrian owner bought it in the first place.

Aside from the paint, the McLaren also features a replacement engine. The car was initially powered by a 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) Oldsmobile V8, but the mill was worn out after the movie. It was eventually replaced with a 330-cubic-inch (5.4-liter) Chevy block, and the original Weber carburetors were retained.

This M1A is also one of the luckiest McLaren race cars out there. That's mainly because it wasn't involved in a serious crash. In short, the frame, the aluminum body, and the magnesium wheels are original to the car. That's something you don't see every day on a rig that tackled the world's greatest race tracks some 60 years ago.

It's automotive royalty at its finest and a racer that put a big smile on Jay Leno's face. You can learn more about that in the video below.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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