We get up close and personal with James Hunt’s 1977 McLaren M26 Formula 1 car at the Dubai Autodrome.
Earlier this month, James Hunt‘s final race-winning car – a 1977 McLaren M26 – was sold at auction in Abu Dhabi for $1.2 million. But before it winged its way to its lucky new owner, we were privileged enough to spend some quality time alone with it at the Dubai Autodrome.
Sadly, we weren’t allowed to drive it. Or even get in it. But thanks to our ace photographer Arun M Nair, we have prepared, for your delectation, some detailed shots of a genuine piece of motor racing history. And we hope you enjoy them.
Watching the car being removed from the trailer is quite an experience. Fresh from watching the excellent F1 movie Rush, we’re suffering from full-on Hunt fever and the anticipation for today has been high. Late, after being delayed at customs, the trailer arrives at the Dubai Autodrome and the cover is removed. And there it is, surprisingly tiny at just 876mm high and 4368mm long, and surprisingly orange compared to the red and white paint we’d come to expect from pictures. Compared to modern F1 cars, it looks like a deathtrap. There’s scant attention to safety save for the silver roll hoop, and the pedals sit between the front wheels. Have a front end accident in this, and your ankles will be mush.
Almost immediately, Autodrome staff seem to emerge from doors we didn’t know existed. There is considerable interest in this car from anyone with even the vaguest interest in racing. They, like me, crowd around, taking in the details that you only see up close. For example, the sponsor logos aren’t stickers, they’re painted on. The steering wheel isn’t quite central in the cockpit – it’s slightly offset to the left to accommodate the gear shifter. The car has raced for a number of years in historic motorsport, so some bits aren’t original, but enough of it is to know that one of Formula 1’s most flamboyant racers has experienced this machine.
The M26, designed by Gordon Coppuck, was introduced mid-way through the 1977 season, McLaren having started the season using the M23 that had won Hunt the title the year before. Although the M26 had made a brief debut in the ’76 Dutch Grand Prix, it was still under development at the start of ’77 and testing hadn’t gone well. A run at the Spanish Grand Prix left Hunt unimpressed, and he went back to the M23. Not until Zolder in June did it reappear in a modified form, and even then Hunt’s team mate Jochen Mass, running the M23, out-qualified the Englishman.
Things did get better though. At the French Grand Prix Hunt put the M26 on the front row in qualifying and finished third, and he scored a pole position at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone before scoring the car’s first victory.
This particular car is chassis three, originally driven by Mass but taken over by Hunt mid-way through the season. The Brit drove it at Fuji for the Japanese Grand Prix, and from second on the grid he took the lead at the start of the race. He went on to lead every single lap of the race to score what would be his final victory.
The M26 continued to be used in 1978 but couldn’t compete with the ground effect cars of Lotus, and was replaced by the M28 in 1979. Nevertheless, it continues to live on with its new owner. And of course, in our pictures.
*ORIGINAL POST DATE: October 2013
Big thanks to RKM Auctions for letting us spend some time with this monster, and to William Taylor’s excellent book McLaren – The Cars 1964-2011 for the historical information.
|Engine:||Ford Cosworth DFV V8, 2993cc|
|Carburation:||Lucas fuel injection|
|Chassis:||Double skinned aluminium and Nomex monocoque|
|Body:||Monocoque lower, GRP nose, cockpit and engine cover|
|Front suspension:||Upper rocker arm, operating inboard coil spring/damper, lower wishbone, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension:||Adjustable top link, parallel lower links, twin radius rods, coil spring/damper, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes:||Ventilated discs, outboard front, inboard rear|
|Wheels:||13 x 10in front, 13 x 18in rear|
|Tyres:||Goodyear (in period), Avon (now)|