This Was McLaren’s Last Indy 500 Racer From 38 Years Ago

The big news in the ramp-up to this year’s Indianapolis 500 is undoubtedly Fernando Alonso’s debut in the great American motor race. But while it’ll be Alonso’s first time competing, it won’t be McLaren’s.

Suffice it to say, though, that it’s been a while for the British outfit. In fact the last time it competed at Indy was 38 years ago, with the car you see here. And now it’s going up for auction.

What you’re looking at is the 1979 McLaren M24B that Johnny Rutherford – who’d already won the race twice with the team – drove in the 63rd running of the legendary race. It wasn’t Rutherford’s (or McLaren’s) best season, finishing the Indy 500 way down in eighteenth place – but winning both rounds of the double-header Twin Dixie 125 in Atlanta just before. This after winning at the Brickyard together in 1974 and ’76.

McLaren would withdraw from American open-wheel racing at the end of that season, leaving Rutherford to win his third Indy 500 (and the IndyCar Series title) the next year.

Built at a time (unlike now) when teams could build their own cars, the M24B was powered by a Ford Cosworth DFX V8 engine – a 2.65-liter version of the DFV that McLaren (among others) was running in Formula One and had already propelled it to two drivers’ championships (with Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt) and a constructors’ title.

Still bearing the #4 Budweiser livery that Rutherford ran at Indy in ’79, the M24B is set to hit the auction block at RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale this August. It’s listed without reserve and with no pre-sale estimate, but something tells us that if Alonso does well at the Brickyard this month, it could drive a bidding war for this historic racer as well.

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