The ex-Ralph Salyer 'Cro-Sal' Special
1965 McLaren-Elva M1A Chevrolet Sports Racer
Chassis no. 20-06
The influence of money in road racing began to have a notable effect in the early 60s. Racing was becoming a booming business and drivers and teams could actually make a reasonable living driving in series throughout the world.
This began to percolate down to the constructors and teams. Some races were lucrative enough paying travel, starting, lap and prize money to make it profitable not only to travel long distances to participate but also to build specialized vehicles specifically for regional race series. What had long been accepted practice at singularly important and very lucrative races like the Indianapolis 500 began to be prevalent in Australia and New Zealand and particularly in the United States.
For the 1964 Tasman series Bruce McLaren asked his team at Cooper Cars to build and prepare two special cars specifically to compete in the rich series of races that were home to him. Cooper felt it was too much work, so Bruce and the Mayer brothers, Timmy the driver and Teddy the manager, set up Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd to built the cars and race them. Bruce McLaren drove the cars created in his shop to his first victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix and the series championship.
The next step was acquisition of Roger Penskes Zerex Special, an F1 Cooper modified to the letter, if not the spirit, of the FIA Appendix C sports car regulations. Raced first with a 2.7 liter Climax four, a 215 cubic inch Traco-modified Oldsmobile aluminum block V8 was inserted in the middle of the English sports car season.
The lure was an increasingly rich series of races in North America which were attracting the best drivers and cars from throughout the world. The newly modified car, called the Cooper-Oldsmobile to keep the Coopers, still Bruces employers in F1 happy, made its debut at Mosport in Canada in the Players 200 in June. It won both heats and continued to be successful back in the UK.
Meanwhile, the first McLaren was under construction in the teams new shops in Feltham. The Mk 1 was finished in time for the late season North American races. Still powered by a Traco Olds, now opened up to displace 4.5 liters. Running against the best European and North American drivers and teams McLaren encountered a throttle linkage problem but rallied to finish third overall and established the lap record. The West Coast rounds at Riverside and Laguna Seca were spoiled by cooling hose issues.
The season had however clearly demonstrated that the McLaren M1 was fast and capable. Even giving away a liter or more in displacement it was instantly competitive with the likes of Jim Halls Chaparral team. Teddy Mayers carefully honed commercial sense alerted him to the possibility of customer car sales but also warned him that manufacturing in any reasonable quantity would over tax the Feltham McLaren shop. They struck a deal with Frank Nichols who had joined Peter Aggs Trojan Group to re-establish Elva cars. Elva would build customer cars for McLaren which were designated McLaren-Elvas to trade on the recognition of both brands.
The Elva-built McLarens, called Mk 1A to distinguish them from the original McLaren prototype, were campaigned by some of the most famous and successful drivers and teams with a variety of powerplants. Their characteristics reflect the McLaren teams emphasis on simple, straightforward design and rugged construction, traits which had been inculcated into them from years with Cooper. The frame was based on three main tubes incorporating a multi-tubular space frame structure and stressed sheet floor and bulkhead panels. The suspension was independent all around with very widely spaced pickups for the front upper wishbones, the rear element running almost to the cowl. The rear had reversed lower wishbones, single upper links and parallel radius rods. Springing was by coil springs and tubular shocks.
The body was designed by Tony Hilder with a pointed nose split into two nostrils to take in air for the radiator which exhausted out the top of the nose directly in front of the very long, but shallow, complexly curved windscreen. The nose also had air intakes to cool the front brakes. Intakes in the front of each rear fender did the same for the rear brakes.
The McLaren-Elva Mk 1A was designed to accept a variety of powerplants although the Traco-Oldsmobile was the preferred source of motive power. A Hewland transaxle was used. In all, it is believed that 24 McLaren-Elva Mk 1As were built.
One of them, the beautifully and freshly restored example offered here, went to Hammond, Indiana driver Ralph Salyer. It was maintained for him by his longtime mechanic, Gene Crowe. Continuing a now established tradition, Salyer named his new McLaren the Cro-Sal Special.
Salyer had been working his way steadily up through the ranks of SCCA sports car racers, culminating in winning the 1962 Central Division B Production championship in a Corvette. In 1963 he updated into a new Corvette Sting Ray coupe, winning the 1963 Central Division A Production title with it and also taking part in the 1963 Sebring 12 Hours.
In 1964 Salyer yet again moved to more powerful machinery: one of Bill Thomass legendary Cheetahs. This car became particularly well known when Crowe, to try to keep Salyer from being roasted in the tight confines of the Cheetah coupes cockpit cut off the roof, creating the only Cheetah Roadster in the process. No record of racing success has been noted for the Cheetah, however.
In 1965 the Cro-Sal team took delivery of this McLaren-Elva, chassis number 20-06. At Road America in September he was third on the Grid for the intensely competitive Road America 500 co-driving with Bill Mitchell and finished fifth overall. The Cro-Sal McLaren-Elva was campaigned sufficiently successfully during 1965 that they were invited to the American Road Race of Champions at the Daytona Motor Speedway, the predecessor to the SCCA National Championship runoffs. Among the very best and best funded amateurs in America Ralph Salyer set the fastest qualifying time on the Daytona road course, setting a course record and besting his next closest competitor by almost three seconds. His performance is a tribute to his and Gene Crowes skills as there were two other competitors behind the wheels of McLaren-Elvas in the 1965 ARRC. Unfortunately in the feature race of the meeting Salyer and the Cro-Sal went out after only eight laps.
The following year the Cro-Sal Special appears in the entry list for the early season races in the new U.S. Road Racing Championship (USRRC) series before being replaced by a McKee-Chevy at Mid-Ohio. The season ended successfully for Salyer, at least in part behind the wheel of the McLaren-Elva, because he was the 1966 SCCA C Modified National Champion.
The Cro-Sal Special has just completed a complete restoration to return it to the livery and presentation it enjoyed when Ralph Salyer drove it and Gene Crowe wrenched on it. Painted Midnight Blue with Red driving seat upholstery, it is powered by a 358 cubic inch GM small block V8 and is in fresh, sharp condition ready to be historic raced or shown with pride. Its period race history and accomplishments as well as the recognition which attaches to it as one of the Cro-Sal Specials make it especially welcomed at many desirable historic race venues where cars of this era are avidly sought for special classes.
It is, in fact, an entry ticket to very selective events.
- Subsequent to the catalog publication the following additional information has been learned. An addendum to the catalog in narrative form is available from Bonhams auction office.
The Cro-Sal Special McLaren M1A raced with Oldsmobile power in 1965 and with Chevrolet power in 1966;
The Cro-Sal Specials SCCA and USRRC history ended with a mis-season crash at Riverside in May it was so spectacular that newsreel footage was later used in the movie biography of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton (Scarab builder Lance Reventlows mother) Poor Little Rich Girl;
The crash shredded the fiberglass body but only bent the frame;
Salyer chose to replace the McLaren M1A with a McKee which was immediately available, storing the bent but complete McLaren frame in his shop;
The Cro-Sal Special was chosen by Monogram Models along with Jim Halls Chaparral 2A to be a 1:24 scale display and slot car model;
Ownership history is continuous, Ralph Salyer-Brian McDonald-Mike Sopinka-Clink Teffler-Jimmy Dale-Mike McComas-current owner;
Restored by Steve Krinsky with chassis and frame work by Mike Dopudja to historic race-ready condition;
Curtis Farley Racing Engines built the 482bhp 358 cubic inch Chevrolet engine with Weber carburetors, dry sump, thermostatic oil temperature regulation;
Hewland LG500 transaxle built by Mark Wehrmann Engineering;
Restoration and history details have been confirmed by the current owner with Ralph Salyers son;
Installation laps only since restoration.