After several years dominating the Can Am series with a series of Schoolbus Yellow racers, McLaren Cars stood up to the developing Porsche challenge with the brand new 1972 M20. Designers by Gordon Coppuck and Tyler Alexander departed from standard McLaren practice in the M20 by removing the radiator from the front of the car and replacing it with two side-mounted units. This allowed improved cooling, relief from cockpit heat for drivers Denis Hulme and Peter Revson and the opportunity for improved front end aerodynamics. The latter was achieved by opening the space between the front fenders and installing an adjustable wing for improved downforce.

      Unfortunately for McLaren, Porsche countered the normally-aspirated 509/750 HP M20 with the twin-turbo 917, which churned out an astounding 1,200 horses. This McLaren M20 is chassis number 01, the first of three built. Records show it was tested by Denis Hulme and Jackie Stewart, who was slated to join the team for the 1972 season. When Stewart was sidelined by ill health, Peter Revson took his place and raced the car for the entire season. Hulme won the first two races at Mosport and Road Atlanta, while Revson took M20-01 to a third at Mosport and second place at Watkins Glen. Revson finished second again in the last round at Riverside, after which McLaren Racing withdrew from the Can Am and left the field to Porsche.

      M20-01 was raced by David Hobbs and Derek Bell in 1973 in Carling colors, promoting the brewery’s Black Label beer brand. Hobbs finished a respectable fourth at Road Atlanta, improved to second place at Watkins Glen and finished fourth again at Edmonton. In 1974 Scooter Patrick drove the car to victory and into history in the last official Can-Am race at Road America. The car went on to the short-lived US Racing series in 1975 and 1976 with Milt Minter and then George Follmer at the wheel.

      M20-01 is the only one of the three M20 McLarens still retaining its original tub and bodywork; remarkably, it also has its original Reynolds Aluminum engine, one of the few still running without steel cylinder liners. With one owner from 1987 to the present, it has been raced in vintage events and shown at various Concours events. It was restored in 2005 and 2006 in preparation for the 40th Anniversary Can Am Reunion at Road America, where it ran the three-lap exhibition run. It was invited to the Special Display at the McLaren 40th Anniversary and at Meadowbrook in 2009, when it also won the Can Am Thunder Class at the Masterpiece Concours in Milwaukee. In 2010 it won the Geneva Concours and in 2014 scored Best McLaren in Class at the Amelia Island 50th Anniversary Invitational.

      From the very start in 1966 until the final race in 1974, McLaren was always at the forefront of the most free-wheeling, hotly contested road racing series in the history of motorsports in America. Glowing in its classic Orange livery and still capable of prodigious detonations of raw horsepower, this final generation of McLaren’s thundering Can Am racers still captivates automotive enthusiasts of every stripe.