Lighter, faster, sleeker and equipped with fewer fripperies, South African import, Gordon Murray, flexes his well-groomed F1 muscles in ways that Iain Robertson believes to be standard setting, yet redolent of his largely unfulfilled youth!
Some people have greatness thrust upon them. Others are just great; a classification that Gordon Murray fits like a handmade glove. While ‘adding lightness’ was the perpetual endeavour of Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Sports Cars, he is long-dead and, much like Soichiro Honda, can only ever have a notional hold over the products still carrying the family name. Murray, on the other hand, is celebrating a lively and hyperactive 50 years career, during which he has designed and developed no less than 50 seminal race and road cars. T50 is right, in every respect.
Yet, apart from the unadorned and relative simplicity of the T50, in which it is possible to spot the earlier design influences from the utterly beautiful McLaren F1 sportscar (106 built between 1992-1998), also penned by Murray and which possesses currently a ‘name your price’ valuation many times each of the production examples, there exists an elephant in the room…fan power. Murray was the driving force behind the infamous BT46B Formula One racing fan car that literally sucked the Martini-sponsored machine onto the circuit surface, banned because the F1 administration believed it to possess an unequal advantage. The key difference is the lack of sliding Neoprene skirts, although vertical inlet ducts fitted with filters on the T50 ensure that no road dirt can enter the air tract. T50 might be a dream fulfilled.
Again, like the McLaren F1 road car, Murray employs a central driving position, flanked by two passengers, with an amidships V12 petrol engine positioned directly behind the driver, complete with sonorous feedback to the cockpit. Murray knows his onions in this respect. Each of the intended 100 examples of the £2.36m (pre-taxation) supercar will be bespoke to its primary driver, to ensure a perfect fit, like the finest Savile Row suit. This tailoring extends to the ABS and traction control systems both of which can be switched off completely, to ensure the ultimate, non-nannying driver experience. To be fair, it is a measure that has ‘rewarded’ some high-profile experience seekers with more than a few very costly incidents, including Messrs Bernd Pischetsrieder and national treasure Rowan ‘Mr Bean’ Atkinson. You can ‘google’ their McLaren exploits to your heart’s content.
Every ounce of Murray’s considerable F1 knowledge is exercised to the max in the T50, not least in the carbon-fibre construction technique, which ensures a maximum kerbweight somewhere in the region of 986kgs, which is just two-thirds of the average weight of the rest of the world’s supercars. The body and monocoque tip the scales at just 150kgs…the engine weighs only 178kgs…even the glazing is 28% thinner than usual.
Propelling T50 is a Cosworth GMA V12 engine that displaces 3.9-litres, revs safely to a shrill 12,100rpm, develops an immodest 656bhp and 344lbs ft of torque (at 9,000rpm, although 71% of it weighs in from 2,500rpm) and, at 163bhp/litre, is THE most power dense, naturally-aspirated petrol engine ever produced. What’s more, crack open the T50’s counter-balanced gullwing doors and the power unit is visible and not concealed beneath layers of sound-deadening and plastic mouldings; it is a vital element of the visceral joy intended for the T50.
If the torque figure seems a tad low, boasting an instant response to throttle pedal depression is key to its deployment and the lightweight construction ensures that it hardly matters anyway. If I harbour a slight concern, it lies with the potential integrity of the GMA unit. Cosworth today is not the same as the Cosworth that ruled the F1 roost several decades ago. Yet, Murray is an exacting master of his own destiny. You can rest assured that Cosworth will deliver…or else. Continuing with the lightweight theme, the six-speed XTrac manual gearbox provides an instant and perfect shift link to managing the engine’s potency. Encased in aluminium, it weighs only 80.5kgs.
Although unusual, familiarity soon breeds with the central driving position, a factor that I recall from the privilege of driving a McLaren F1 at Bruntingthorpe in period, where it could be described as being no less than totally immersive and remarkably balanced. The T50 is suspended by forged aluminium double wishbones and coil-over dampers. The wheels are retained by race-car style single nuts and Brembo brake callipers clamp carbon-ceramic discs for the best braking performance. The power of the rack-and-pinion steering only works at low speeds for ease of manoeuvrability. T50 is all about returning the thrill of driving to the driver.
Using minimal switchgear and analogue instrumentation, the cockpit is as uncomplicated as any car has a right to be. There are no touchscreens, or unnecessary stalks. Yet, every element, right down to the titanium foot-pedals, is of the highest merchantable quality and there is space, a rare commodity in any sportscar, that includes up to 288-litres of luggage room. Considering that T50 sits on a similar footprint to that of a Porsche Boxster (4.3m long, 1.85m wide), the greatest surprise lies in its overall compactness, which makes its ease of cabin access and egress even more astonishing.
Incidentally, that fan system rewrites the aerodynamic book. The rear-mounted 400mm fan accelerates air passing under the car rapidly, forcing it through active boundary-layer control ducts that form part of the rear diffuser. Through the application of two automatic and four driver-selected aero modes, the T50 is capable of increasing downforce by 50%, reducing drag by 12.5%, adding around 50bhp to the car’s output, in combination with ram-air induction, while cutting braking distance by 10m from 150mph.
The first examples of the finished T50 road cars, hand-built at Gordon Murray’s Guildford factory, will be delivered to their expectant customers from early-2022. Each will be sold at the hefty price tag, full in the knowledge that each will be worth several times more than the invoice value almost instantly.
Conclusion: Gordon Murray has avoided EV like the plague in his new T50. Both fuss and frippery-free, it is a sportscar that will enter the annals of automotive history as one of the last of an era’s true fire-breathers. It will be 100-off ‘exclusive’ and the rest is just for dreamers.