The Kiwi legend who founded one of history’s most successful Formula One teams is the subject of a very cool new documentary.

Roger Donaldson must be New Zealand’s greatest director of films that appeal to car enthusiasts. Years before he directed Sir Anthony Hopkins as Kiwi speed freak Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian, he set his cameras down in the melancholy environs of Horopito Motors, a vast wrecking yard near Ohakune, for his moody, man-alone drama Smash Palace. When he wanted to create a pressure cooker of a situation, he made Robin Williams a used car salesman who has to sell 12 cars in one day in Cadillac Man. And for big-screen sizzle, he put Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin together in a tropical yellow 89 Ford Mustang GT in The Getaway. 

Most recently, Donaldson has turned his attention to Bruce McLaren, a motor racing legend whose legacy has far outlasted his short life. McLaren, which features appearances from legendary former drivers like Brazilian F1 and Indy 500 champ Emerson Fittipaldi, the late Chris Amon, Mario Andretti and Sir Jackie Stewart, and heartstopping archival footage of the man himself, will hit cinemas in June and the trailer, released last week, looks mean.

“Ever since seeing Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham race each other in the Tasman series years ago I’ve been a McLaren fan,” Donaldson says. “Few people know just how extraordinary his journey was and how much he accomplished in his short life.” 

Born and raised in Auckland, McLaren spent two of his boyhood years at what was then known as the Wilson Home for Crippled Children, overcoming a childhood hip disease. His performance at the New Zealand grand prix attracted the attention of world champ F1 driver Sir Jack Brabham, and he became Brabham’s protege, taking his first Formula One title at 22, and becoming the world’s youngest Formula One winner. 

Having won grand prix in baller destinations like Argentina, Monaco, Belgium and Le Mans — often while looking notably cool in polo shirts under bomber jackets, double-breasted suits and 60s eyewear — McLaren launched his own team, which continues to dominate Formula One racing — and began designing cars for the Canadian-American Cup.

McLaren might have turned 80 this year, had he not died in England while testing one of his CanAm cars. Aged just 32, he was survived by a wife and daughter, and by the team he created, which, although now British-owned, still cherishes McLaren’s value and legacy. 
Earlier this month, when the team unveiled their latest car, the MCL32, they’d gone back to the classic “McLaren orange” livery of the 1960s and 70s.