Gordon Murray's Fan Club
By Stewart Longhurst
Not content to sit back and reflect on a stellar design career in Formula One and McLaren Cars, Professor Gordon Murray CBE and his eponymous automotive company GMA have recently premiered their latest project, the T.50. So called because it is the fiftieth distinct design that Murray has produced as well as being a nod to his fifty-year career.
Dubbed the “logical successor to the McLaren F1”, the T.50 certainly resembles its much-lauded predecessor at first glance but, according to Murray, that is more down to the driver-centric packaging than simply being an evolution of the F1’s form.
Murray’s approach to the design was that everything should have a purpose, be as light as possible and be focused on improving the driving experience. Consequently the exterior could be considered rather plain by comparison to some of its low-volume, “Hyper GT” competitors. There are very few unsightly aero elements like flaps or ducts to detract from the purity of the exterior design but the T.50 actually claims the most advanced aerodynamics of any road car.
The secret to the effectiveness of the T.50’s aerodynamics becomes rather obvious when you see the car from the rear. A 400mm diameter centrally-mounted fan, spinning at up to 7,000 rpm, accelerates the air passing under and over the car and forces it through ducting in the diffuser increasing downforce by up to 50% whilst reducing drag by 12.5%. Clearly reminiscent of Murray’s 1978 Brabham BT46B “fan car”, this fan-assisted aero was also surprisingly used on the McLaren F1, although the fans were much smaller and hidden inside the bodywork.
The T.50’s compact size is surprising too. The footprint of the car is just over 4.3m by 1.85m, which is comparable to a Porsche Boxster. Despite this relatively diminutive stature, the T.50 efficiently accommodates the driver centrally with two passengers alongside and slightly behind, fits in a V12 engine with a manual transmission and still finds room for 228 litres of luggage space. If there are only two occupants, a specially shaped suitcase fits into one of the passenger seats giving another 60 litres of storage.
Unlike some of their competitors, Gordon Murray Automotive were looking for optimum performance with the T.50 rather than chasing outright speed and acceleration numbers and so none have yet been published. That said, their fully bespoke Cosworth 3.9-litre naturally-aspirated V12 boasts a healthy 663PS (654bhp) and 467Nm (344lb.ft) of torque and at 178kg is the lightest ever road-going V12.
Combined with the light weight of the car, this gives a power-to-weight ratio of 672PS (663bhp) per tonne rising to over 700PS (690bhp) per tonne when the V-Max Boost aero mode and ram induction are deployed. When compared to a typical supercar which might be around 475PS (469bhp) per tonne, there’s clearly plenty of performance to look forward to.
When Gordon Murray first came to the UK from South Africa, he reportedly wanted to work for Lotus, impressed by Colin Chapman’s approach to engineering and design. Consequently he continues to espouse the mantra of “adding lightness” to every element of his designs and with the T.50 has achieved a total vehicle weight of just 986kg. That’s about the same as a Volkswagen Up! and about a third lighter than the average supercar.
Murray’s experience with composite materials started in Formula One in 1974 and in 1981, with McLaren, he designed the first F1 car with a carbon fibre monocoque, so he knows a lot about the use of carbon fibre and other composites. It’s no surprise then that the T.50’s monocoque tub chassis and body are constructed from high-grade carbon-fibre and the combined shell tips the scales at less than 150kg. Glazing on the car is 28% thinner than typical automotive glass and the wheels are forged aluminium and have hollowed out spokes to further reduce weight.
Inside the T.50 is where you see most evidence of Murray’s driver-centric design philosophy, starting with the centralised seating position made famous by the F1. As a true driver’s car, the gearbox has an H-pattern manual stick-shift and the instruments and other controls are largely analogue in nature - the only LCD screens are those for the “door mirror” cameras. The visibility from the prominent driver’s seat is excellent and the dihedral doors have been designed to make it easier to get to compared to the F1.
There are two different engine modes the driver can choose from, “GT Mode” limits the power to 600PS (592bhp) for everyday driving and touring, and “Power Mode” gives it the full beans and what they are claiming is the “best V12 soundtrack ever”. The aero too is partly driver selectable, with three driving settings - “High Downforce”, “Streamline” and “V-Max Boost” - and a test mode. The basic aero functionality though, including braking assistance, is handled automatically by the car.
Another narrative that GMA are keen to get across is that to as high a degree as possible, the T.50 will be an all-British supercar. The engineering, design and styling is by sister company Gordon Murray Design, the powertrain, body and chassis will all be made in the UK and all the major components will be UK-sourced. This approach is a long way from most of the corporate-owned premium marques who might assemble in the UK but manufacture many of the car’s parts elsewhere.
The strictly limited run of 100 cars will be built at GMA’s facility in Surrey and will cost in the region of £2.36m plus local taxes. Buyers are already engaging directly with Gordon and are joining in the development journey before manufacturing of customer cars begins in January 2022.
It would be great to see a T.50 development prototype on display or racing up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed next year and fingers crossed such events will be able to go ahead as planned.