Genius – it’s a term that is used all too glibly, and has become very much devalued. But true genius is very rare. I never met Einstein or Mozart, but I do know Gordon Murray, and you only have to talk to him for a few minutes to realise that his brain goes in a completely different direction to yours and mine.
Then you look at what he has created. A string of Formula One cars that won World Championships, and introduced brilliant ideas that became the F1 norm in their day: carbon brakes, air jacks, refuelling stops (subsequently banned), tyre heaters and the sensational fan car (banned after its first race, which it won). After that the Mclaren F1 road car, with its central driving position, carbon construction and active aero, which will for ever be one of the all-time greats. Plus its racing derivative, which won Le Mans.
Then, in a complete change of direction, the Murray mind switched to city cars, electric cars and a 4wd truck for third-world countries that packed flat like a piece of Ikea furniture. Now comes the creation that Gordon believes will be, of all his ideas, the most important and the most beneficial to the world: istream.
It’s a radical rethink of the way road cars should be built, using a light, stiff framework clad with bonded honeycomb panels. Gordon says it will need a fraction of a manufacturer’s usual investment for a new model, yet it takes less energy to build. An istream small car will be about 200kg lighter than one with typical unitary construction, so it can have a smaller engine, use less energy, and be cheaper to run. The new TVR is the first production car to use istream in its carbon form. It’s some 200kg lighter than its opposition, and at the same time it sets new standards for torsional rigidity.
The passion driving every one of Gordon’s designs has always been light weight. He believes saving weight is better, and less wasteful, than adding horsepower. The T1 he built in his teens in South Africa won a lot of races simply because it was lighter, and stiffer, than the Lotus Sevens it was up against. When he and his wife Stella arrived in the UK, young and penniless, he built the T2. This bonded and riveted buggy with 850 Mini engine was their sole car for three years. It weighed 530kg.
Later, the tandemseat Rocket road car, with 1000cc Yamaha engine and 10-speed Weismann gearbox, had 165bhp to move just 370kg. Even the Mclaren F1 in longtail GTR form was only 915kg.
To launch his new factory at Dunsfold, Gordon assembled a fascinating exhibition of 38 of his designs from the T1 on. And it’s here that, while Gordon Murray Design is busy developing istream projects for the motor industry, Gordon Murray Automotive will build a lowvolume sports car, called the IGM after his initials.
As well as rock music, eclectic T-shirts, icecream sodas and Bob Dylan, Gordon also likes classic cars. But he doesn’t think of them as classics: just as designs that, whether old or new, are worthy of respect. So he also lined up some of his own collection, and they told you a lot about the man: no flash, weighty, vulgar supercars, just small efficient machines, from the Honda S800 and the little De Tomaso Vallelunga to the Alfa SZ and the Abarth Zagato.
Each had a display card quoting its weight. Did you know that the original Mini 850 – he has a perfectly restored example – weighs 40kg less than the BMW 700 coupé? Or that his Lotus Elite at 563kg is 100kg lighter than his Frogeye Sprite? His Lotus Eleven is 500kg, the same weight as his ’60s Fiat 500, but he also has a Fiat 500 that he built at Mclaren as a test mule. With a single-cylinder Yamaha 350 engine and six- speed sequential ’box, it comes in at just 450kg.
The only car that seemed out of place was a 1955 Ford Thunderbird, in gleaming pink. When I suggested to Gordon that it wasn’t quite his sort of thing, he said: “I love it. It weighs 1380kg – not so bad when you realise that it’s lighter than a BMW 5 Series.”
As for the IGM, here’s Gordon’s philosophy: “Sports cars are getting larger and heavier, and in 2018 we can’t go on burning more and more horsepower. The IGM will turn the clock back and focus on involving the driver again.”
Using the carbon version of istream construction and a tiny three-cylinder turbo engine, the IGM will be the size of a Smart Roadster and do 140mph – a sort of Mclaren F1 in miniature. The queue forms here.
‘Gordon believes that saving weight is better, and less wasteful, than adding horsepower’
Abarth 1000SP, Alfa TZ, Abarth Zagato, Lotus Eleven: Gordon likes light cars. Below: Minibug was his only car for three years