The McLaren Formula 1 team will always hold a special place in the minds and hearts of Kiwi motorsport fans.
After all, the team was founded by the legendary New Zealand driver and engineer Bruce McLaren. That is despite the outfit now being primarily British.
Now, in a world of what-ifs, imagine two iconic Kiwi names battling it out on the world’s fastest stage.
Unfortunately, the small Chris Amon Racing Team couldn’t go up against the Goliaths of the 1970s. And on this day, September 8, in 1974, the team made its last Grand Prix appearance.
Amon never won a Grand Prix as a driver. Much is documented about ‘the greatest driver to have never won a race’.
But alongside his racing career, Amon also experimented briefly with running his own F1 team.
Chris Amon Racing made a sole appearance at the 1966 Italian Grand Prix as a privateer team.
Driving a somewhat competitive Brabham BT11, Amon failed to qualify for the race.
He had missed out on a spot on the 20-car grid by a measly one second.
The Chris Amon Racing moniker then disappeared from the sport until 1974. But this time, the team was back as its own constructor.
Amon’s team was funded by British businessman John Dalton, and he hired Gordon Fowell to design him a brand-new car.
It was a basic team. Just the way Amon liked.
“I want to keep my team as simple as possible,” he said.
“I don’t want to get too caught up in the organizational side of things. I just want to drive.”
Dubbed the Amon AF101, the team’s first and only car was a disaster.
The car had some innovative features, including a single fuel tank positioned between the driver and the engine.
Fowell’s idea was to have the weight of the fuel as low as possible, while its centre position would create a balanced drive.
The AF101 also experimented with titanium torsion bars instead of coil springs and a unique nose shape that contoured ever so slightly.
Yet ultimately, the car was a flop.
It crashed and suffered constant problems during testing before eventually making it to the Spanish Grand Prix, four rounds into the 1974 F1 season.
The car did qualify for the race, and Amon lined up 23rd.
Kiwi compatriot Denny Hulme was starting up in eighth in his McLaren-Ford.
The AF101 survived 22 laps before the brake shaft broke and Amon was forced to retire.
Amon and Australian racer Larry Perkins then failed to qualify in the car’s next attempt at the Nürburgring, and soon it was clear that the money to fund the team was drying up.
The team’s last opportunity to qualify for a Grand Prix was that year’s race at Monza in Italy.
Amon was by himself this time, but he still couldn’t proceed to qualify for the race.
Only 25 cars would start the race, with Amon posting the 30th fastest time in qualifying.
That day also marked the end of Chris Amon Racing.
There was simply no more money and the team folded at the end of the race.
He joined BRM for the final two races of the 1974 season, finishing ninth at Watkins Glen.
Amon retired from F1 two years later.
In his final Grand Prix, driving for the Wolf-Williams team, Amon was involved in a hefty crash during qualifying, and he didn’t make it to the starting line.
As for the AF101, the car has been spotted at historic races and meetings around the world, including at the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing.
It is a simple reminder of what could have been for one of New Zealand’s greatest drivers.