The McLaren Ford M23 was designed months prior to the 1973 season. John Barnard, Ray Stokoe and Gordon Coppuck were the designers, and the McLaren team built the car itself. It was a development of the McLaren Indianapolis 500 car, and the engine used was originally from a Ford Cosworth DFV. With the help of specialist tuning company Nicholson-McLaren Engines, the DFV’s horsepower output was eventually capable of reaching 490 bhp.
Thirteen chassis were built, numbered one to twelve, and the final one being numbered fourteen. This was because naming a chassis ‘Number 13’ was deemed to be unlucky.
In 1974, Emerson Fittipaldi joined McLaren from Lotus. His knowledge of Lotus’ 72 actually aided McLaren in further developing and refining the M23, and that same season, Fittipaldi went on to beat Ferrari, Tyrell, and his previous employers at Lotus to hand McLaren their first ever Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championship.
What makes the M23 so special is that, prior to the 1973 season, McClaren had won only five grand prix. They had been erratic and disorganised for quite a while, and whilst they had challenged, and had even reached the top, they were far from the consistent machine carved in the image of Ron Dennis that they are today.
The cars that McLaren had churned out prior to the M23 were good, but just that. Solid, but perhaps not reliable. Pretty, but not fast enough. And then came the M23; a perfect amalgamation of elegance, prowess and beauty. It paved the way for other dominant Formula One cars produced in the following years, and even had a hand in the ever-dominant MP4/4 many years later – arguably the most dominant and simply greatest car in the history of F1. It all stems from the rarity that is the M23.