SCX 62050 McLaren M9A Vintage. Why?

In 1961, Ferguson (yes the tractor people!), built a Formula 1 car - the P99. It holds the dubious distinction of being the last front engined car to enter a Grand Prix, the British race at Aintree, where Stirling Moss took it over from Jack Fairman after the brakes failed on his own Lotus. He spun and was disqualified after a push start. Later that year Stirling drove it to victory in the non-championship International Gold Cup at Oulton Park. Apart from another outing in the Tasman series, that was the sum total of its participation in F1 racing, although it has run several times at the Goodwood Revival.

So what has this got to do with the SCX Vintage release of the McLaren M9A? Simple - the P99 had four wheel drive and it remains the only such vehicle ever to win an F1 race. The M9A also had 4WD so let’s fast forward to 1969.

Four Wheel Drive

Rules were a lot less restrictive during the heyday of the Cosworth DFV - the teams were given an engine size, overall dimensions, a minimum weight and not much else to worry about. This led to all sorts of weird and wonderful machines and probably reached the height of lunacy during that hippie summer of 1969. It is very tempting to believe that the designers of the day were indulging in the same mind expanding drugs as the rest of their generation - why else would they have built cars with extremely tall aerofoils mounted directly on the rear suspension which inevitably put too much load on it with resultant breakages and accidents? There was also a mass outbreak of 4WD machines; Cosworth, Lotus, Matra and McLaren all built them.

So why did the 4WD concept return during 1969? Quite simply, it was for the same reason wings were tested, the quest for better grip. In the late sixties the magical 150bhp/litre performance barrier looked set to be broken and teams started to worry about transferring all that power onto the road. Traction control hadn’t yet crossed their minds but several other interesting ideas cropped up. Four wheel drive ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’. By more evenly distributing torque over all four wheels there was potentially much less wheel spin, thus allowing for better traction in cornering. The car could also use equal sized tyres, reducing drag and allowing for a more uninterrupted air flow across the car.

The Real Thing

The reality was somewhat different though; reliability was a constant problem (the more complicated the solution, the easier it breaks) and the weather wasn’t very helpful as there weren't any wet races in 1969 for the 4WD cars to show their advantages. The tyres, effectively four fronts, weren't up to it and, in their embryonic stage, the systems gave the cars too much extra ballast (in the case of the Matra MS80 over 60kgs) in places where they didn't want it. Gradually, over the season, more power was transferred to the rear wheels (especially by Lotus and, in Matra’s case, completely) but, although this led to better balanced cars, they were still overweight by a large margin and the potential advantage of four-wheel-drive was nullified. By the end of the year the system had been completely abandoned. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone that year represented the high point of 4WD in F1 with no less than five examples entered for the race although only three actually raced. The Cosworth wasn't ready in time and Graham Hill refused to drive the second Lotus 63.

One of them is the subject of this thread (yes we have finally got there) - the McLaren M9A driven by Derek Bell. He qualified 15th and retired after five laps with suspension failure. His fastest lap was 1min 27.3 seconds, some six seconds off the pace of the winner. The car was quietly wheeled away and never appeared again. It later took up residence in the Donington collection.

The Model

During the following year Exin-Scalextric produced just one F1 slot car. Was it Jackie Stewart’s championship winning Matra? The Lotus 49B perhaps? Err....no. They brought out the McLaren M9A, a car with a racing pedigree of approximately seven minutes! You have to wonder what slot car manufacturers base their production decisions on sometimes. They also released it in the usual colours of the time - red, blue, green and yellow - pity the real car was painted orange.

In 2006 SCX-Tecnitoys decided that this model was a suitable subject for a ‘Vintage’ release so they retrieved the moulds from the vaults and sent them off to China for an updated paint and tampo job. The original 1970 version wasn’t entirely accurate (quite apart from the colour scheme), but that is to be expected by the standards of the time. Its main fault was the use of different size front and rear wheels, although the somewhat strange rear wing is almost prototypically correct. The other main fault was the complete lack of the very prominent mirrors - perhaps they figured that they were of little use if you retired before being lapped! Other discrepancies should be self evident from the pictures above but it wasn't that far out all things considered.

The modern version was greatly improved by the addition of the correct decals but, sadly, the re-release was ultimately a disappointment as SCX didn't quite manage to get the colour right - it still erred too much on the yellow side of orange although the photos hide this to a degree. It wasn't one of their greatest sellers and can still be picked up relatively cheaply. Needless to say, it came in the obligatory 'fancy box' and, if you want to add the McLaren M9A to your collection of historic F1 cars, then you haven’t exactly got much choice. No other manufacturer in their right mind is going to produce one!