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The Car in the Lobby: McLaren M23

Monday 18 July 2022

At Motorsport UK’s Bicester headquarters in the heart of ‘Motorsport Valley’, a regular cycle of cars, kindly offered by their owners, are proudly displayed in the lobby.

Every car displayed has its own unique story and, through this new content series, we will profile the cars that pass through our lobby on our website and dedicated Instagram account – http://www.instagram.com/carinthelobby/. If you’re visiting Motorsport UK, get involved on social media using the hashtag #carinthelobby. 

In this edition, we take a closer look at one of McLaren’s iconic FIA Formula 1 World Championship challengers, the McLaren M23. 

Early beginnings 

In order to keep pace with the latest generation of Formula 1 cars, and with the previous M19c model having reached a natural plateau in its development cycle, McLaren looked to designer Gordon Coppuck ahead of the 1973 season. 

The result was the M23, an evolution of the team’s M16 chassis which had enjoyed success stateside in the Indianapolis 500 but featuring the M19’s rear suspension designs. 

After a steady run of points finishes, the new car was given its first Grand Prix victory in Sweden by Denny Hulme, capitalising on a late gearbox failure for Emerson Fittipaldi, then heavy tyre wear for home hero Ronnie Peterson to put the M23 in the winner’s circle.  

Victory on home soil 

The M23’s second race victory, claimed by American racer Peter Revson at the 1973 British Grand Prix, would prove to be equally chaotic. A first-lap incident caused by Jody Scheckter in one of the sister M23’s claimed ten of the 29 starters, the South African spinning into the pit wall before coming back across the track, colliding with, or forcing several cars into avoidance.  

At the restart, a fast-starting Sir Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda were among those to relegate Revson down the order, but he rallied and, along with rising star James Hunt, clawed his way back through the pack. 

A spin for Stewart with an underlying gearbox problem and a driveshaft failure for second-placed Fittipaldi ensured that, once again, it would Peterson with his mirrors full of an M23 in the battle for the lead. 

The Swede had enjoyed a steady run up front but was dispatched by Revson with a little under 20 laps to go at the Northamptonshire circuit, and an opportunity to re-claim top spot never materialised as the latter stormed clear. It would be the first of two career wins for Revson, the other in Canada later in 1973, before he was tragically killed during a test session at Kyalami, South Africa in March 1974. 

Glory years 

In total, the M23 claimed 16 Grands Prix victories from 83 starts and carried Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt to the 1974 and 1976 World Championship titles respectively, the latter of which has passed into legend for the Brit’s famous rivalry with Niki Lauda. It also delivered McLaren the 1974 Constructors’ title ahead of Ferrari. 

Later engineering innovations included the introduction of a 6-speed gearbox, considered unusual for Formula 1 cars of the mid-seventies. The side mounted skirts also sealed the underside of the car to the track and is considered a forerunner of the ground-effect technology seen in later times. 

Such was the cars’ reliability that, even after the new M26 model was introduced to Grand Prix racing in 1977, its teething issues led Hunt and team-mate Jochen Rindt to revert back to the M23 temporarily, and despite its age relative to the competition, it remained competitive, earning pole positions and podium finishes. 

It remains one of the British manufacturer’s most iconic Formula 1 cars. 

Specifications 

Chassis: M23-4 

Year: 1975 

Engine: Ford Cosworth DFV 3 Litre V8 

Transmission: 5 Speed Manual  

Weight: 575 Kg 

Maximum Power: 465 Bhp @ 10000 RPM 

Maximum Torque: 339 Nm @ 8500 RPM