Shelby had its hands full in 1966-’67, helping to deliver back-to-back wins for Ford in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Additionally, Shelby was competing in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC), but still found time to run a few Can-Am events during the 1967 season. For 1968, the Shelby Racing Company returned to Can-Am, this time with a Ford-funded effort that paid for a pair of McLaren M6Bs and the driving services of Peter Revson. On August 16, the 1968 McLaren M6B raced for the bulk of the ’68 season heads to auction, part of the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale.
The Canadian-American Challenge Cup–shortened to Can-Am–began in 1966 but traced its roots back to 1962, when the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) debuted the USRRC, its first professional racing series. Building on the lessons learned from this, the SCCA partnered with the Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs to found the Can-Am series for FIA Group 7 cars. Though incorrect to state, “there were no rules,” regulations were kept to a minimum, with no caps on engine displacement, forced induction, or (initially) aerodynamic devices.
Shelby driver Ken Miles had all but convinced Carroll Shelby to join the Can-Am series in 1966, but any such plans ended with Miles’ untimely death in an August 1966 testing accident with the Ford GT40 J-car. For 1967, driver Jerry Titus ran a few Can-Am races in the newly developed Shelby King Cobra, but with dismal results. The King Cobra was supposed to make its competition debut at Laguna Seca, the fourth race of a six-race season, but a testing crash kept the car off the grid. At Riverside, the season’s penultimate race, Titus qualified 13th but retired just four laps into the race with a failed fuel pump. His luck didn’t improve in Las Vegas, the final Can-Am event of the ’67 season, where a suspension failure and subsequent accident kept him off the starting grid.
Things would be different for 1968, in part because Ford was willing to pay the Shelby Racing Company $354,574 to contest the Can-Am series on its behalf. After testing Lola T70s in the USRRC series, Shelby opted to procure a pair of Trojan-built McLaren M6Bs, including a primary car and a back-up car, for driver Peter Revson to run in Can-Am.
The M6B chassis was a continuation of the McLaren team’s M6A, a car that dominated the 1967 season by winning five of six events in the series. Sensing the opportunity to sell the M6A to privateer teams (sans engine), McLaren enlisted the help of partner firm Trojan to build the M6B chassis, and 26 were sold in total.
The M6B chassis consisted of an aluminum alloy monocoque with steel bulkheads for added strength and rigidity, while the upper body was crafted from fiberglass-reinforced plastic. The front suspension used a single top link and radius arm with a lower wishbone and coilover dampers, plus an anti-roll bar. The rear suspension used a single top link with a reverse lower wishbone and twin radius arms, also with coilover dampers and an anti-roll bar. Girling disc brakes completed the package, with 12-inch ventilated discs used at all four corners.
While many in the Can-Am series relied upon Chevrolet engines for power, Ford supplied Shelby with lightweight aluminum 427-cu.in. V-8s, fed by mechanical fuel injection and rated at roughly 540 horsepower. Given the race-proven nature of the 427 and McLaren chassis, Ford had reasonable expectations of success, but racing is a fickle game, even for those who come to the grid well-prepared.
The 1968 season began on September 1 at Road America, where Revson delivered a solid fourth-place finish for Shelby. The McLaren team had moved on from the M6A, debuting the M8A for ‘68, a car that proved over a second per lap quicker than the competition. With McLaren drivers Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren team taking first and second (respectively), the final spot on the podium went to Mark Donohue , driving a Chevy-powered M6B for Penske Racing.
For Revson and the Shelby Racing Company, Road America would prove to be the highlight of the regular Can-Am season. At Bridgehampton, he suffered a broken rear suspension and retired on lap 49, while at Edmonton, it was a main bearing failure that prompted a retirement on lap 57. Things improved slightly at Laguna Seca, where Revson finished 12th, four laps down, but at Riverside, the fifth of six points-paying rounds, the Shelby team driver suffered a fuel pressure problem and retired on lap two.
Another rear suspension failure ended Revson’s day on lap 56 of the season’s final race in Las Vegas, but redemption was (literally) just over the horizon. To promote the Can-Am series before an international audience, a “World Challenge Cup” race was held in Japan on November 23, two weeks after Las Vegas. There, Revson delivered a decisive win, finishing four laps up on the second-place Lola of Sam Posey and seven laps ahead of Jo Bonnier, who finished third in a Chevy-powered M6B.
Following the 1968 season, Ford lost interest in road racing, choosing instead to focus its sponsorship dollars on NASCAR. Shelby Racing sold M6B chassis 50-12, the car on offer in California, to Stan Szarkowicz, who installed a Chevy V-8 and raced the car occasionally over the next several years. In 1972, the McLaren suffered an engine fire and was later sold to John Collins, who rebuilt the car to its original specifications. It sold to the consignor in 2000, and was restored again in recent years.
Though ultimately chassis 50-12 won just a single race in-period, it was a Shelby team car driven by Revson in five of the six ’68 Can-Am events (plus Japan), which makes it a notable piece of racing history. As such, Bonhams predicts a selling price between $450,000 – $500,000 when the McLaren crosses the block in California.
For more on the Quail Lodge sale, visit Bonhams.com.