Tyler Alexander – 1941-2016

Quite simply Tyler lived and breathed McLaren. He was one of the first pillars of our company, working alongside Bruce from the very earliest days. He was the finest of the old school, hardy, humble and wise, a man who would never let you down.” There have been many tributes to Tyler Alexander, who died aged 75 on January 7, and those above are from McLaren CEO Ron Dennis. 

Tyler Alexander hailed from Massachusetts, and in the early days at Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, working on the Zerex-based sports car in a rented shed at New Malden, he and Teddy Mayer added an American twist to a mostly Kiwi cocktail. He’d been with Bruce’s new team right from the start, in the autumn of 1963, working as a mechanic on the sports car and the first Grand Prix cars, swiftly becoming chief mechanic, chief engineer and ultimately a director of the company. 

One of his key achievements was the development of the Can-Am racers that dominated the American sports car series in an unprecedented manner, winning five successive titles from 1967 to ’71. Week in, week out, they’d test the cars at Goodwood, and this is where I first came to know the man. I’d been warned that he didn’t suffer fools and never wasted a moment, but I found him to be refreshingly open and helpful when badgered with a teenage fan’s questions. When Bruce was killed testing an M8D at Goodwood in the summer of 1970, Tyler played a vital role, with Denny Hulme, Dan Gurney and Alastair Caldwell, in keeping the team together.

“He was a great teacher and mentor,” says Caldwell, “Tyler was the boss when I turned up as a cleaner in 1967 and he got me working as a mechanic after just one day. His determination, humour and modesty, along with his strong relationship with Bruce, formed the bedrock on which the success of McLaren was built and that DNA runs deep in the company today.”

Alexander was a key figure in McLaren’s activities in the USA when the team became involved in USAC, winning the Indy 500 twice with Johnny Rutherford and Tom Sneva in 1974 and ’76. Returning to Europe he worked as engineering director on the F1 team but in 1982 he left the new McLaren International outfit and started an Indycar team with Teddy Mayer, moved on to the new Beatrice F1 project and came back to McLaren in 1989 as special projects manager, playing a crucial role in the team’s world championship successes, working with Senna, Häkkinen and Hamilton until his retirement at the end of 2008. 

With Ron Dennis, Neil Trundle ran the Project 4 team that merged with McLaren in 1980 and worked closely with Alexander. “He could design and make race parts, machine and weld them, and he made the transition from being a mechanic to understanding and using computers to manage the car. He was soft at times, grumpy at others, short on patience, funny as hell and he devoted his whole life to motor racing from the first time he met Bruce. Tyler was unique.”

Away from the day job in motor racing Alexander had a passion for photography. His talent behind the camera is reflected in his book McLaren from the Inside, a superb collection of photographs published in 2013. Last year his long-awaited Tyler Alexander: A Life and Times with McLaren was published, telling the story of his 50 years in the sport.

He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Rob Widdows