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Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon

Motorsport is at the leading edge of innovation, where cutting-edge technology, advanced materials and human capabilities are pushed to their absolute limits. There was a time in the 1960s when three exceptional New Zealanders simultaneously reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Bernard Cahier / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, and Chris Amon went on to dominate not just Formula One, but other top-tier motorsport competitions including Indianapolis, Le Mans and the Can-Am series.

“Life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”

Bruce McLaren

Born in Auckland in 1937, Bruce McLaren dreamed of becoming an All Black. This was dashed when he developed a rare hip condition, Perthes disease, at the age of nine, which had him confined to a bed for two years. He shifted his focus towards a new passion: motorsport.

The 1950s saw the New Zealand Grand Prix established, capitalising on the offseason of European motorsport. It quickly gained popularity and provided an opportunity for New Zealanders to witness the latest racing cars and compete with the world’s best drivers.

Captivated by the sights and sounds of Grand Prix, Bruce taught himself to drive in his family’s backyard and began racing competitively soon after turning 15 and gaining his driver’s licence. He finished fifth in his first New Zealand Grand Prix in 1957 and was awarded the first Driver to Europe scholarship in 1958 which took him overseas as the number two driver at the Cooper Car Company with Jack Brabham, and provided introductions to other racing teams.

Bruce surprised even himself when he took out the chequered flag, winning the United States Grand Prix in Florida in 1959, becoming the youngest driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix. He won four Grand Prix in total.

Denny Hulme, OBE

Denis ‘Denny’ Hulme was born in Nelson in 1936 and grew up in Pongakawa in the Bay of Plenty. He learned to drive a truck by sitting on his father’s lap and was able to drive solo by the age of eight.

Denny left school aged 16 and worked as a mechanic in Pongakawa, and regularly drove trucks for his father’s trucking business. In 1955, bought a red 1955 MG TF from the UK, which Denny used to compete in local car club events with his sister Anita. He was well known for his preference for bare feet, especially while racing so he could better feel the pedals.

Denny’s driving ability saw him chosen for the Driver to Europe scholarship in 1960. He became a protégé of Australian driver Jack Brabham in 1962 and won Formula Junior races seven times, ultimately joining Brabham’s Formula One team in 1965.

After an exceptional year of racing in 1967, Denny became the first – and only – New Zealander to win the Formula One World Championship. Over the course of his 10-season career in Formula One, Denny secured eight victories and stood on the podium 33 times. He also won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1967 after finishing fourth. In 1968, Denny moved to Bruce McLaren’s new Grand Prix team full time.  

The Canadian American (Can-Am) Challenge Cup became known as the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’ because it was dominated by McLaren cars for five consecutive years from 1967. Between them, Bruce and Denny won every race in the 1969 season.

Denny was awarded an OBE in 1992, collected posthumously, for services to motorsport.

Chris Amon

Chris Amon was born in Palmerston North in 1943 and grew up on the family farm in Bulls. He learned to drive at the age of six and began racing aged 16 after persuading his father to buy him a race car.

Chris launched his international career at 19 after he was spotted racing in New Zealand by Reg Parnell, an English racing driver.

He raced as part of the Parnell team until 1965 when he was recruited by Bruce. He later received an opportunity to race for Ferrari and established himself as the team’s top driver from 1967 to 1969 – the only New Zealander to do so.

While Chris was considered an exceptional natural talent for driving at speed, his Formula One races were marred with bad luck and unreliable engines. Many motorsport enthusiasts consider him to be one of the greatest drivers never to have won a championship Grand Prix. American driver Mario Andretti, a Formula One champion and Indy 500 winner, once joked:

“If Chris Amon was an undertaker, no one would die.”

He was awarded an MBE in 1993 for services to motorsport.

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Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.

Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.

Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.