The 1968 McLaren M8A
The Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or Can-Am, began in 1966 as a race series jointly organised by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the Canadian Auto Sports Club (CASC) for group 7 sports racers with very few technical regulations and an unrestricted engine capacity. Short of meeting a set of rules that mandated a car with two seats, bodywork enclosing the wheels, and very basic safety requirements it was as close as any major international racing series ever got to have an "anything goes" policy. This eventually led to truly outrageous cars with well over 1,000 bph, for example the Penske run Porsche 917/30 produced in excess of 1500 bhp in qualifying trim by 1973 and topped out at 260 mph in a test at Ontario Motor speedway. To put this into perspective these were power figures that Formula one cars would not reach until a decade or so later.
The car that dominated the Can-Am series though, was the McLaren M8 in all it’s guises. Its gestation began with the M1B that was entered fort the initial Can-Am series in 1966 but failed to win a race in the face of serious competition between Lola and Chaparral. Bruce McLaren’s answer for the 1967 season was the M6A which featured McLaren’s first monocoque chassis and the basic body shape that would continue through the M8 series of cars. Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme dominated the 1967 series winning the first five (of the six round season) between them and finishing 1-2 in the championship. Thus the “Bruce and Denny show” was born.
McLaren upped the ante in 1968 with the M8A, an evolution of the M6 but now with an all-aluminium seven-litre Chevrolet big-block V8 as a semi-stressed part of the chassis. Again Bruce and Denny dominated the season but with Hulme becoming champion ahead of McLaren, the pair winning four of the six rounds. The other two rounds were also won by McLaren drivers, Mark Donohue in a Penske run M6B and John Cannon in an M1B. If the M8A was the class of the field in 1968, the high winged M8B utterly crushed the opposition in 1969 winning all eleven rounds. Bruce was eventually champion for the second time with six wins, just five points ahead of Denny with 5 wins. In those eleven rounds Bruce and Denny finished 1-2 eight times.
Tragedy then struck just twelve days before the start of the 1970 Can-Am series when Bruce died at the wheel of the new M8D he was testing at Goodwood. The rear bodywork came adrift depriving the car of downforce and Bruce spun into a concrete marshalling post, killing him instantly. American legend Dan Gurney stepped into the breach for the first three rounds, winning the first two before being replaced by Brit, Peter Gethin who would win at Road America. Hulme took six wins to secure his second title so the M8D ended the year winning nine of the ten races. 1971 was the final season for a “works” M8 with Peter Revson taking five wins to claim the title with Hulme scoring three to again be the runner-up. The interloper this time was Jackie Stewart winning twice in a Carl Haas run Lola.
Although for 1972 the works team had moved on to the new M20 it was not the end of the run of success for the M8 series as Francois Cevert took a M8F to victory at the Donnybrook round for Young American Racing. By now though the Can-Am version of the Porsche 917 had arrived and the days of non-manufacturer supported teams had ceased and the McLaren works squad quit the series to concentrate on F1 and Indycar racing. In total, between 1968 and 1972, the McLaren M8 series of cars had won 33 of 46 races. While in use by the works squad the M8s won 32 of the 37 races they contested. It was truly the king of Can-Am.
Back in 1969 Tamiya released their 1/18 scale kit of the M8A which has been mildly revised on two occasions, in 1974 and 2010. As you would expect, being almost 50 years old now the kit has both good and not so good points. The god points well outweigh the negatives though, with the best being the usual superb Tamiya mouldings and build quality. Everything from the body-work to the exhaust pipes fitted together beautifully with no modification or effort. The colour of the body-work provided is so exact to the Papaya Orange used on the original car that there is no need for any painting of the exterior of the car short of giving it a quick coat of gloss varnish.
The engine and gearbox detail, while minimal in parts is excellent for a kit of this type and age. Don’t forget, this kit was produced to be motorised. The same can be said for the engine bay ancillary and cockpit detail. Unfortunately that does not apply to either the front or rear suspension. The front suspension/steering resembles something you would expect in a $2 toy from K-Mart not a Tamiya offering but at least it is hidden by the superb body-work, although that does also hide the rather nicely moulded front monocoque detail. The rear is almost non-existent, with no suspension arms, up-rights or even brake discs so the appeal of the kit with the rear body removed does decrease.
The only other blemishes are that the rather muscular moulding of the driver figure more closely resembles Bruce Banner (The incredible Hulk) than the fairly slim Bruce McLaren and the air inlet trumpets on the engine are not produced in chrome (while some parts are that didn’t need to be) so the use of good shiny chrome paint is needed to give the right effect. I used a Molotow Liquid Chrome marker for these and the front wheel rims.
All in all, this is a simple, quick, fun kit to build with the usual superb Tamiya decals and is good for both beginners to build the kit as is, or for more advanced modellers to apply upgraded detail modifications as required. And at 1/18 scale it measures about 22 cm in length so it is visually impressive when on display.