Words: Allan DICK | Photo: TERRY MARSHALL
We are born. We live. We die. What we do with the years between is our choice. Some waste their years. Others achieve greatness. Graham McRae achieved greatness.
Wellington-born, he became a highly talented engineer and motor racing enthusiast, building his own cars – the earliest being the Maserarri, a sports car that achieved most success with an Austin A70 engine. Levin was his stomping ground and he became a master of the demanding little track. The Maserarri was followed by another sports car based on the British U2.
Both cars were noted for a remarkably high build quality – the U2 still exists and is a regular competitor in classic racing.
But, at 27 years of age, McRae set his sights higher – he bought a Brabham single-seater with a mildly interesting history, having been once owned by Roy James, one of the Great Train Robbers.
It was the oldest Brabham still competing, and McRae’s name was not well-known outside the immediate Wellington area.
But that was to change.
He didn’t win races but his aggressive and precise style of driving placed the Brabham higher than it deserved to be, and people noticed.
Over the winter of 1968, in Miramar, he built his own car using the engine, transmission and some suspension parts from the old Brabham. However, it was smaller, narrower and lighter than the old car and was clothed in a pretty body that, with its swept-up scuttle, had hints of the Ferrari that Chris Amon had campaigned in the Tasman Series earlier that year.
This was the car that rocketed McRae to stardom. It was obvious the car was fast, handled beautifully and was driven superbly, and within two meetings McRae was knocking off established stars like Ken Smith and David Oxton with ease.
However, it was the 1969 Tasman Series round at Levin where he put on a master class, getting among the international drivers to finish a stunning sixth.
His performance over that 1968–1969 season, and particularly at Levin, prompted motorsports administrators to revive the lapsed ‘Driver to Europe’ scheme that had earlier launched the careers of Bruce McLaren and Denis Hulme.
Continue this story in our September-October issue (page 31)