CARS, THY NAME

Fol­low­ing last month’s an­nounce­ment that Gor­don Murray is to build a new su­per­car, we sit him down to get the full story

Evo India - - CONTENTS - WORDS by ADAM TOWLER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by AN­GUS MURRAY

A glimpse into the mind of the man be­hind ar­guably the best su­per­cars

‘IT’S LIKE A LO­TUS ELISE WITH A 650BHP V12 in the back that revs to 12,000rpm. That’s what it is!’ Gor­don Murray isn’t ac­tu­ally re­body­ing an Elise, ob­vi­ously; he’s sim­ply try­ing to ex­press in lay­man’s terms just how bru­tal and fren­ziedly ex­cit­ing his new T.50 hy­per­car will be from be­hind the wheel, and I’m hear­ing him loud and clear, my heart rate ris­ing just at the thought. The mae­stro is on top form, the ex­cite­ment writ large across his face and clear in his voice. He’s back on the su­per­car trail af­ter 25 years, and thriv­ing on it. Murray, along with a very se­lect band of peo­ple such as Adrian Newey, is one of those in­di­vid­u­als who even if they were to an­nounce a new type of rab­bit hutch you’d still take note. But it was the purist doc­trine that left us lit­er­ally gasp­ing: a hy­per­car that weighed un­der a ton, had a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V12, revved to over 12,000rpm and with a man­ual gear­box? Pass the smelling salts, quick. For Murray, the rea­sons for go­ing ahead with the T.50 are also clear: ‘Firstly, I thought what bet­ter way to cel­e­brate 50 years of car de­sign than by do­ing one more su­per­car – one that ex­or­cises all the stuff I hate about modern su­per­cars. Sec­ond rea­son, no­body else has done it. Why not set out all those tar­gets again that we had with the [McLaren] F1, but now with 30 more years in my tool­box of tech­nol­ogy, ma­te­ri­als – ev­ery­thing has moved on so much in three decades, which is why we get to 980kg. The mass track at the mo­ment is 983kg, with flu­ids and ev­ery­thing but no fuel; we don’t do this dry weight rub­bish. It’s what the car needs to run. What we call real weight.’

A con­ver­sa­tion with Murray about cars is an op­por­tu­nity to cher­ish. He’s highly self-con­fi­dent, yes, but very per­son­able, and his di­a­logue is end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing. He’s dressed with a dap­per flam­boy­ance that matches the deft strokes of his pen across one of his fa­mous sketch­books, and the slicked-back mass of grey hair and fa­mil­iar clipped South African ac­cent could only be Murray to any­one with an ounce of car knowl­edge. His views are forth­right, as al­ways, and he’s jump­ing straight in.

‘I don’t want peo­ple to think that this is in any way retro, be­cause it isn’t,’ he says. ‘It’s just that the prin­ci­ples and tar­gets that were set out for the F1, ex­actly 30 years ago, are still so ap­pli­ca­ble now, and I just thought we should do it be­fore we go to two-ton elec­tric cars, and these com­pli­cated hy­brids that only pro­duce their power when the bat­ter­ies are fully charged and the mo­tors are ready and in their torque band. It re­ally pisses me off to be hon­est when peo­ple put out that “this car has 1200hp and 1085Nm of torque”, but you only have it un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances; it’s just all about head­lines.

‘When I did the F1 I had no per­for­mance tar­gets what­so­ever, I prom­ise. I never once said in the press it’ll do this speed, it’ll do 0-200 in what­ever. It just turned out to be a quick car be­cause it was light and pow­er­ful. And this is the same. I have zero in­ter­est in chas­ing top speed or an ac­cel­er­a­tion time, or a lap time around a circuit. Or even a horse­power fig­ure. I’m do­ing what I think will be once again a reset of the ul­ti­mate driver’s car. The F1 was then, and to some ex­tent still is.’

Murray loves light cars. He likes cars that aren’t over­laden with bull­shit. He’s not ter­ri­bly im­pressed, as you might imag­ine, with

what’s out there at the mo­ment: ‘A month ago I drove all the lat­est su­per­cars – Fer­raris, As­tons; I’ve done that twice now. I’ve lived with a 720S. The 720S McLaren is prob­a­bly the most ca­pa­ble sports car I’ve ever driven, but it doesn’t get the hairs on the back of your neck stand­ing up. You get out of it and think, “My granny could have driven that.” The noise doesn’t get me go­ing. I don’t like the styling – not just a McLaren thing. I don’t like this ex­cuse that the wind tun­nel made it look like that, or be­cause we’re do­ing 418kmph it has to look like this. That’s cob­blers, re­ally.’

And then we’re back to the F1: ‘It reset the stan­dards for pack­ag­ing, the com­plete driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the noise of the engine, the in­ter­ac­tion with the steer­ing wheel, the ped­als and the gearchange, vis­i­bil­ity, plus ev­ery­day use­abil­ity for the first time in a su­per­car – lug­gage space, air con. And that’s what we’re do­ing again. I think it will prob­a­bly be the last great true ana­logue driver’s su­per­car.’

So, I won­der, does he like any modern cars? I know he loves his clas­sics – there was a divine Lo­tus Seven Se­ries 2 parked in the num­ber one spot out­side the front door of his Sur­rey of­fices when I ar­rived, af­ter all. ‘I’ve got a new Alpine A110, which is great fun,’ he says with not a lit­tle amount of pas­sion. ‘Which just shows, once you get light you don’t need the power, or the torque even. It’s plenty quick enough to have fun. It’s not a su­per­car, but it’s a bril­liant lit­tle thing. If it was a lit­tle bit smaller it would be the per­fect mo­tor car, but it’s just 100mm too wide.’ Murray never refers to ‘cars’, it’s al­ways ‘mo­tor cars’.

It rapidly be­comes ap­par­ent that there is a body of high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als who won’t leave him alone when it comes to cre­at­ing ‘a new F1’: ‘I’ve been lob­bied for a few years – “please do an­other one”, “please don’t make it big”, “make it small and use­able, and man­ual gear­box”.’ That last point caught Murray by sur­prise. ‘The one thing I was pre­pared to give up on was the man­ual,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to go to a DSG be­cause that’s a com­plete non-event and it’s a heavy, nasty thing, but we were look­ing at a man­ual se­quen­tial, so you’d still be in­volved, but I got lob­bied say­ing, “Please make it a man­ual”. These peo­ple are telling me they’re now tak­ing out their old 911s and clas­sic cars to get some in­volve­ment again, and I had other peo­ple telling me their su­per­cars are so wide they’re ter­ri­fied to drive them in Bri­tain, even on A-roads. The T.50 is 30mm wider and 80mm longer than an F1, but with more cabin and lug­gage space, and still has a smaller foot­print than a 911.’

To be fair to Murray, he’s not afraid to pick holes in his own work.

‘WHEN I DID THE F1 I HAD NO PER­FOR­MANCE TAR­GETS. IT JUST TURNED OUT TO BE QUICK BE­CAUSE IT WAS LIGHT AND POW­ER­FUL’

‘EVER SINCE WE STARTED THIS I CAN FEEL THIS CAR. IT’LL BE THE BEST DRIV­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE YOU CAN HAVE’

He calls the F1’s head­lamps ‘pa­thetic’, isn’t that com­pli­men­tary about the brakes (‘we tried for 12 months to make car­bon brakes work, but couldn’t’), and tells me the heat­ing and air con set-up was a vic­tim of weight sav­ing (for the sake of 1.4kg) and never did work that well. But what re­ally gets him go­ing, what an­i­mates him, is the T.50’s engine and aero­dy­nam­ics, say­ing, tongue in cheek, ob­vi­ously, that ‘you get the rest of the car for free’.

‘It was never go­ing to be any­thing other than a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V12. I wouldn’t look at any­thing else,’ he in­sists flatly. ‘I went to Cos­worth with a spec. I started by look­ing at a 3.3-litre, but when we did the sums a 3.3 won’t let you get un­der 900kg, so go­ing to a 4-litre and still keep­ing it un­der 1000kg was a bet­ter tor­queto-weight sum from a driv­ing point of view. We ac­tu­ally call it a 3.9 and we make more power than the F1 made from 6.1 litres. We’re do­ing two engine maps: a dis­creet one with all the torque moved down [the rev range] with tim­ing and fu­elling, which you can now do with elec­tron­ics [un­like the ca­ble-throt­tle F1], good for cruis­ing or go­ing to the shops. We call it Fer­rari revs – 9000rpm. And then you go to the 12,400rpm fast map… I can’t wait. Ever since we started this I can feel this car; I can see it in my head. It’ll be the best driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence you can have.

‘Paul Rosche [the BMW engine guru who de­signed the F1’s V12] was a great friend and a genius. I said to him it has to rev higher and have a bet­ter power den­sity than a Fer­rari, and it did. It also had the fastest engine re­sponse – 10,000rpm per sec­ond with its car­bon clutch. F1 own­ers love putting it in neu­tral and giv­ing it a kick, as its like a 1-litre bike engine.’

The T.50’s engine takes things even fur­ther, of course: ‘I said to Cos­worth it must rev to more than 12, and they sucked through their teeth, but they’ve done it. And the engine pick-up speed is 28,000rpm a sec­ond, which even as an en­gi­neer my head just can’t go there. That’s the nee­dle at idle to full revs in 0.3 of a sec­ond. And I’m hav­ing a big, ana­logue flood­light rev counter. Real stuff.’

As for the T.50’s aero, Murray terms it ‘a com­plete restart for road car aero­dy­nam­ics’. De­void of spoil­ers and in­takes to con­tinue the clean aes­thetic of the F1, the T.50 uses a fan in the spirit of his 1978 Brab­ham-Alfa Romeo BT46B ‘fan car’. ‘It’s the first time in my life my brain has gone to over­load. There are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. I’ve told my aero­dy­nam­i­cists they’ve got to shut me down at some point. Un­der brak­ing we can have au­to­matic down­force in­crease, we can shift the cen­tre of pres­sure. We can have a high down­force mode. If we want to lose down­force, thereby not us­ing up sus­pen­sion travel at high speed, the fan works to shed it. We’re al­ready work­ing on a com­bi­na­tion of set­tings for a top speed mode – a vir­tual long-tail car, less drag, less fuel con­sump­tion. I could go on…’

I turn to the T.50’s chas­sis. ‘We’re look­ing at pas­sive and adap­tive dampers, but my gut feel­ing is pas­sive,’ says Murray. ‘It’ll come down to how good we can get it. The Alpine has been a re­ally good les­son to me. It has noth­ing fancy on it at all, but does ev­ery­thing cor­rectly: pure dou­ble wish­bone sus­pen­sion front and rear, just the right amount of compliance bush­ing, still got good cam­ber stiff­ness, mas­sive tor­sional rigid­ity, and it’s light. That’s all you need to do. I’m try­ing to keep this re­ally sim­ple. The only rea­son we’ve gone to pushrod ris­ing rate is to try to man­age the aero loads.’

I can’t help but in­ter­ject and ask about the A110’s steer­ing – for many of us the car’s weak point. ‘The steer­ing is the least at­trac­tive thing about the car. It’s OK. These days as we progress – I sound like an old fart talk­ing – peo­ple for­get what man­ual steer­ing feels like un­less you jump back in an Elan or F40, which are the two best steer­ing sys­tems in the world. We have a brand new sys­tem for the T.50. It’ll give you some as­sis­tance but also the feel. I can’t talk about it as we’re look­ing at a patent. It’s a com­pletely new sys­tem, not hy­draulic. It’ll de­liver proper steer­ing.’ And he then launches into a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pla­na­tion about why modern steer­ing sys­tems are of­ten hor­ri­ble (which you can find at evo.co.uk).

Murray is proud his T.50 is an all-British ef­fort, and wants to get to know all 100 of the cus­tomers, talk­ing through their pur­chase and even al­low­ing them ac­cess to the de­vel­op­ment process. ‘We’ll make more cars af­ter this one, but I’ll never make more than 100 cars a year; I don’t want to be a car com­pany, chal­leng­ing Aston Martin and Fer­rari. We just want to make some fun cars that peo­ple will like.’ ⌧

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