“You can’t beat sitting in the middle. You don’t feel so much roll because you’re sitting on the roll axis”
“so swift it demands a totally different mental approach”, he came away convinced that “even a top-ranking driver could own it for 10 years and still not explore the limits of its astonishing envelope.” Gordon Murray’s first ever supercar upended the establishment. “Forget the XJ220 Jaguar,
EB110 Bugatti, F40 Ferrari,” Robbo wrote, “the McLaren blitzes them all.”
Gordon Murray Automotive’s T.50 cars – one for the road and one for the track – follow a familiar formula. They are very light, very compact, powered by a mid-mounted 12-cylinder engine and have a central driving position. But they are not, Murray insists, simply McLaren F1 tributes, digitally remastered for the 21st century. “I want them to be the ultimate driver’s cars,” he says. That means building on what was good about the F1. And fixing the things that were bad. “There were plenty of those,” says Murray candidly. “The air-con was rubbish, the headlamps were useless, and I was never, ever 100 percent happy with the styling.”
Can lightning strike twice? “I’ve been watching since the F1, and I truly believe no-one’s done a pure, focused driver’s car like that,” he says. Features like the central driving position are simply part of delivering on that proposition: “You can’t beat sitting in the middle. It’s better for placing the car in fast corners. You don’t feel so much roll because you’re sitting on the roll axis, and you can run much softer springs.”
And though old habits die hard – “All the concept drawings were done on a drawing board” – Murray acknowledges the huge advances in computer-aided design processes in the decades since he did the McLaren inevitably mean the T.50 should be a better car. Like the F1, the T.50’s chassis, monocoque and body are all carbonfibre. “But if you add up all those components and put them in a bucket,” he says, “the T.50’s parts are 50kg lighter, with twice the torsional stiffness.”
Murray is also acutely aware those same tools have helped other supercar makers step up their game. “I drive all the current sports cars and there are so many with so much more capability than the F1, both on the track and on the road,” he admits. “If you jump in a 720S McLaren, for example, on the track it virtually drives itself. It’s quicker, it’s easier to drive.”
But there something’s missing, Murray insists. And not just from the 720S, but from all of today’s crop of turbocharged and hybridised supercars: “You don’t get that snap acceleration the F1 gives you. You don’t get the sound. You don’t get the feedback through the controls. You don’t even get the sort of tingly feeling that you want to get back in again.” This from the man who after driving a Bugatti Veyron for the first time declared it unexciting: “Yeah, it’s blindingly quick after about half a second when the turbos spool up – it’s like an express train has hit you in the back – but it doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
Murray believes a supercar should deliver a different sort of sensory overload. There are plenty today that pack more than the 488kW of the GMA T.50 road car and even the
541kW of the T.50s Niki Lauda track car, but that’s not the point, he says. Built by Cosworth, the cars’ light and compact naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V12, which makes its peak power at an almost unbelievable 11,500rpm and peak torque at 9000rpm, has been designed to deliver not just razor-sharp throttle response but also a searing, spine-tingling soundtrack that doesn’t need artificial enhancements.
The inspiration for that soundtrack dates back almost 50 years. “My first recollection of a V12 at 12,000 revs was at Le Mans in 1972,” Murray says. “In those days Mulsanne had no chicane – it was just three and a half miles flat-out – and I remember standing there as the 3.0-litre V12 Matras came past. They revved to 12,000 and I just remember thinking it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.”
The other problem with today’s supercars? They’re all too heavy, says Murray. His obsession with weight is fanatical, as evidenced by his approach to designing the T.50’s suspension: “My only compromise was to go for pushrod suspension front and rear, which adds about 800 grams a corner. But it’s not a
huge compromise because we make much more downforce than the F1.” That’s a whole 3.2kg he agonised over. But it all adds up.
The 488kW T.50 road car weighs just 986kg, 152kg less than the 468kW McLaren F1 and a massive 450kg less than the 530kW McLaren 720S, one of the lightest cars in the segment. In the T.50 every 100kW therefore only has to propel 202kg of car, while in the McLaren 720S every 100kW has to move 271kg. But that simple maths doesn’t tell all the story.
Murray notes that to match the T.50’s power-to-weight ratio the 720S would need a powertrain producing at least 710kW, which would add cost and complexity, and require heavier components such as brakes, driveshafts, suspension and transmission to handle the extra power. Case in point: While the standard brake set-up on the McLaren 720S comprises 391mm front and 381mm rear discs, the GMA T.50 has smaller and lighter 371mm front and 340mm rear Brembo carbon-ceramic rotors.
So forget Bugatti syndrome, which makes pure power the defining metric of a supercar’s worth: For Gordon Murray, it’s a fundamental article of faith that a heavy car can never deliver the dynamic agility and responsiveness of a lighter car, even if it has the same power-to-weight ratio. “You can disguise mass with electric and hydraulic systems,” he says, “but you can’t cheat the laws of physics. You’ll never get a two-tonne car to feel like a one-tonne car in terms of its transient handling, whatever you do. You just can’t.”
Another area where Murray bucks the modern trend is in his use of touchscreens in the T.50. There aren’t any. “I hate them with a vengeance in a high-performance car,” he says, insisting the screens force drivers to look too far away from the road for too long. “When I was designing Formula 1 cars I had a rule that the driver’s eyeline shouldn’t deflect more than three degrees, so they didn’t have to refocus.”
Buttons are another Murray bête noire. “I hate steering wheels with 25 small buttons on them,” he says. “Try and find the right button when you’re driving fast and have to take one hand off the wheel.” All minor controls in the T.50 – lights, wipers and washers, infotainment, aero and engine modes – are controlled via metal rotary switches on pods either side of the instrument panel.
A whole team of engineers and designers at GMA have helped create Gordon Murray’s new supercar. But everything – the carbonfibre tub and body panels, the entire engine, the transmission and the suspension, even the interior switchgear, right down to the all-aluminium analogue tacho in the centre of the dash – has been designed, engineered and manufactured to Murray’s precise specification. As a result, the GMA T.50 and the T.50s Niki Lauda are the result of a uniquely singular vision of the art and science of the supercar, cars more intellectually profound in their detail execution than anything from Horacio Pagani or even Ettore Bugatti. New benchmarks, both.
“You can’t cheat the laws of physics whatever you do. You just can’t”