Gordon Murray holds weekly weight-watchers meetings. He’s not helping people diet, of course. He’s making absolutely certain his new supercar is lighter than his last. Murray takes about six hours every week to meet with his teams and analyze the car’s every component down to the fasteners. “They’re fun,” he says of these sessions. “Well, they’re not fun if you’re one of the designers and your bit’s heavier than the target, but I enjoy them.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Road & Track.
Why so fastidious? Murray’s new car, the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50, is the successor to the sublime McLaren F1. One can’t follow that car without obsessing over every detail.
Even 28 years after its debut, the F1 is still the supercar benchmark. Its driver sits on the centerline of the carbon- fiber monocoque. It weighs only 2500 pounds, yet has a 627-hp V-12. It has no traction control, ABS, or power steering, but it does have an honest six-speed manual gearbox. It’s capable of 243 mph and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans its first time out.
“The McLaren F1 materializes the dream of a single man,” Paul Frère wrote in his November 1994 Road & Track review. “Not just any man, but one of the most imaginative and successful engineers Formula 1 racing has ever seen.” Murray first made his mark on the Formula 1 world in 1978 with the Brabham BT46B, which used a gearbox-driven fan to suck the car to the ground. After winning its first and only race, it was withdrawn from competition to avoid pissing off the F1 establishment.
At Brabham, he equipped Nelson Piquet for his 1981 and ’83 championships with designs that included the innovative dart-shaped BT52. Murray left for McLaren in 1987, where he helped create the MP4/4, arguably the most successful F1 car of all time. His interests extended beyond the sport; he introduced the Rocket, an ultralight, roadgoing single-seater, in 1991. After the F1 road car was finished, he stayed on at McLaren to work on the Mercedes SLR before establishing Gordon Murray Design in 2007.
His first project as his own boss? A forward-thinking concept for a city car, the T.25, produced with a new manufacturing process called iStream, in which a steel tube frame is strengthened with bonded body panels for a stiff, lightweight chassis. Later came the world’s first flat-pack truck, the OX, which has yet to reach production. But over the years, the McLaren F1’s legend has only grown. It never left Murray’s thoughts.
“I had to sit quietly in a room on my own and try to analyze why nobody—nobody—has picked up the formula,” Murray says. That simple question led him to two conclusions: Either people didn’t get the F1 formula, or they did but couldn’t pull it off. Murray is also motivated by new challenges. “I thought, what would it take to do a better car than the F1? People are still telling me it’s the best driver’s car out there and it’s the most iconic car. So, what a challenge to try and beat that?”
Like the F1 before it, the T.50 is a carbon-fiber three-seater, a purist’s machine reflecting the tastes of its creator. “Chasing horsepower figures is something I didn’t do in the F1. Chasing top speed is something I didn’t do. I didn’t even calculate the acceleration figures on an F1. It just happened to be quick,” Murray says. Instead, he chased power-to-weight.
The heart of the F1 is its engine, a 6.1-liter naturally aspirated V-12 designed by BMW Motorsport legend Paul Rosche. Knowing the T.50’s engine had to be spectacular, Murray turned to Cosworth for an all-new V-12. Inspired by classic Ferraris, Murray originally envisioned a high-revving 3.3-liter V-12, but to get the desired power-to-weight ratio, the T.50 would need to come in under 1984 pounds. Many calculations later, Murray and Cosworth determined a 3994-cc V-12 in a 2174-pound car would provide the desired balance without making the T.50 a stripped-out nightmare.
Four liters is still tiny for a modern V-12. That small displacement is a big part of why this engine, the Cosworth GMA, will rev to 12,100 rpm—higher than any other road-car mill. Possibly even more impressive is how quickly it reaches max rpm. Murray challenged Cosworth to beat the F1’s ability to gain 10,000 rpm per second. Cosworth’s engineers got 28,000 rpm per second.
Murray wants to recreate the immediate kick in the back you get in an F1. He also wants an induction note that’s just as enveloping. A ram-air inlet looms just above the driver’s head, feeding four throttle bodies, so the sound should be extraordinary.
In regular operation, the Cosworth GMA produces 654 hp at 11,500 rpm and 344 lb-ft of torque at 9000 rpm. Murray doesn’t consider the T.50 a hybrid, but it does use an integrated starter-generator (ISG) driven by a 48-volt electrical system, replacing the starter and alternator. The T.50 uses an ISG because it saves weight and reduces parasitic losses. Plus, it helps clean up the look under the De Tomaso Mangusta-inspired engine cover. The ISG also ensures that the T.50 will have good air conditioning. Murray says the A/C was a weak point on the F1 because his team couldn’t find a belt-driven compressor that worked with the engine at idle and also at 8000 rpm. With the 48-volt system the A/C isn’t driven by the engine at all. The engine has a 65-degree vee angle, with four gear-driven overhead cams, dry-sump lubrication, and titanium rods and valves to keep weight down and revs high.
The ISG also powers the fan on the back of the car. This isn’t just a nod to the BT46B—this fan is far more sophisticated, with variable speed control. Murray says the T.50 uses the fan for “boundary layer control,” or in simple terms, managing airflow above and below the car.
There are six aero modes that alter the behavior of the fan, the flaps in the diffuser, and twin aerofoils on the rear deck. If you don’t want to think about anything while you pretend Main Street is the Mulsanne, leave it in automatic and the T.50 will make adjustments depending on how you drive. Under hard braking, the aerofoils rise to maximum attack, and the fan spins up to increase downforce. If you find yourself on a track, select High Downforce, and the fan speeds up while flaps open in the diffuser to increase grip. If you find yourself at a drag strip, use Streamline to cut drag and increase speed. Then there’s vMax mode. When selected, the fan is driven by the battery, not the ISG, giving the T.50 an extra 30 horsepower for a short period. Finally, there’s Test mode, where the fan spins to maximum speed and the aerofoils cycle through their full range. It’s mostly for showing off.
The engine is backed up by an Xtrac six-speed manual gearbox. Yes, automated transmissions are now the norm in supercars. Murray’s a purist. For him, shifting gears is essential to the driving experience, and the shift itself should be great. Murray’s benchmark is the Honda S800, which he describes as having the sweetest “rifle-bolt” action of any car he’s ever driven. Xtrac even developed a special prototype transmission that allowed for quick adjustments of the shift action, so Murray gets exactly what he wants before production begins.
Murray says around 50 percent of the 339-pound weight savings over an F1 comes from the drivetrain. The engine weighs less than 400 pounds, the gearbox 177. That’s 132 pounds and 22 pounds lighter, respectively, than the F1’s components. The combined weight of the T.50’s carbon-fiber monocoque and body panels is 331 pounds; the F1’s monocoque weighed nearly 300 pounds on its own. “With the analysis tools we’ve got, we can take weight out of the primary structure, even the secondary structures—the bodywork—in places that I couldn’t even dream of doing 30 years ago,” Murray says.
Murray has been obsessed with weight his entire career, following in the footsteps of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. “There’s two ways of getting a power-to-weight ratio,” he says. “One is through weight, then you need a lot less power, and one is through the power, and then you need a lot more weight.” He posits a hypothetical 4400-pound car with 2000 hp and a 2200-pound car with 1000 hp. The power-to-weight ratio of both cars is the same. “But the way the cars perform on the road and the feedback they give the driver is just two different worlds. That’s where I’ve always come from. It’s not just about power-to-weight, it’s about how you achieve power-to-weight.” Hence, hours of weight-watchers meetings. And a final curb weight of just 2174 pounds without fuel.
Interestingly, the T.50 won’t use carbon-fiber wheels, despite their benefit of reduced unsprung mass. Instead, GMA went with forged aluminum pieces from Italy’s APP. Murray says the weight difference between these and carbon-fiber units is negligible. And alloys are much stronger than carbon-fiber wheels, which run the risk of quick and catastrophic failure. Brakes are Brembos, 14.6-inch carbon-ceramic discs at all four corners clamped by six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers in the rear. Many past supercars used oddly sized bespoke tires, which became nearly impossible to replace as the cars aged. That’s true of the F1, and Murray didn’t want it to be the case for the T.50. So GMA worked with Michelin to develop a Pilot Sport 4S with a T.50-specific compound, using standard moldings to help prevent five-figure tire bills down the road. The fronts measure 235/35R-19; the rears, 295/30R-20. You might expect a car like this to use Michelin’s more aggressive Pilot Sport Cup 2s, but Murray says prospective owners want real daily drivability, and the PS4S is more appropriate in that regard.
With values cresting $20 million, it’s hard to imagine anyone daily driving an F1 today, but that was Murray’s original intent. It’s the same for the T.50; this may be a purist’s car, but it’s hardly spartan. There are compartments for luggage on either side of the engine, and the interior features multiple storage spaces. A screen next to the analog rev counter will mirror information from your smartphone, with infotainment controls on the wheel.
The engineers at GMA pulled apart Murray’s modern Alpine A110 because he believes it sets the benchmark for ride-handling balance. And while suspension technology has moved on significantly since the F1 first emerged, Murray is still sticking with conventional hardware. “You’ll generally find people only have to resort to hydraulics and electrics and compensating systems when their car weighs a lot,” he says. “They’re going to try to disguise the fact that they will fall over in the corners unless you run ridiculously stiff metal frequencies on the springs.”
In pursuit of sports-car purity, the T.50 uses conventional forged-alloy double wishbones at all four corners, with rising-rate pushrod coilovers. Nothing is adaptive—there’s one suspension setup. Murray is particularly proud of the front geometry, which was designed for a power-steering system unlike any other: Beyond 10 mph, the power steering disengages entirely, giving you the purity of a manual rack without the nuisance of huge effort at parking speeds. Carbon-ceramic brakes necessitated power assistance, but GMA is trying to use as little as possible for a purer feel. Modern safety requirements mean there’s ABS, traction control, and stability control as well, but the daring can shut off the TC and ESC entirely. The T.50 will have two engine maps—one for around-town driving that limits revs to 9000 rpm, and a second for when you want to play with the V-12’s full 12,100 rpm.
All of this in the pursuit of involvement, not outright speed. GMA hasn’t revealed acceleration times or a top speed for the T.50. “Chasing,” Murray says, and pauses.
“I just don’t see the point. I didn’t see the point in 1992 and I don’t see the point now. This car is going to feel quicker than anything out there anyway.”
One gets the impression that Murray is the only person willing to build another McLaren F1. Most won’t try because making such an uncompromising car requires a breathtaking amount of money. GMA plans on building 100 examples of the T.50, each selling for around $2.6 million. “The price reflects what it costs to do a car, an engine, a gearbox from scratch,” Murray says. He’s hoping GMA breaks even, and that the halo effect gets the brand name out so it can create an affordable, higher-volume sports car. In any case, Murray has no plans for a follow-up. “After you’ve done a car like this, you can go virtually anywhere you like,” he says. “But there won’t be another.”
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