GMA pulls another ace from its supercar hat in the T.50s Niki Lauda
Like buses, a third may be along soon, as Iain Robertson reveals the details of yet another Gordon Murray creation, which sets the dial to ‘Phenomenal’ and shakes the sportscar scene to the core in its pursuit of ultra-levity by throwing away the rule book.
Despite a perceived requirement to pack a tonne of equipment in every single new car that embodies safety aids, crash survival technology and some creature comforts that we never knew we needed, there has been a smattering of carmakers that have dared to target lightness as a priority. Lotus Sportscars is renowned for it, ever since its founder, Colin Chapman, insisted on ‘adding lightness’. While the Norfolk-based but Chinese-owned specialist manufacturer has just ditched the extruded aluminium substructure that gave its Elise, Exige and Evora turns such quotable purity, its forthcoming new models are unlikely to boast so cleverly.
It is a racecar engineering remit that warrants the removal of excess baggage but it takes judicious re-engineering to ensure that structural integrity is retained, most especially around the drivetrain and occupant cell. If the engine bay and its locating points are flimsy, the motor’s power potential will be severely restricted; the amount of twist energy (torsion) resulting from the drivetrain demands rigid mountings. By the same token, each suspension point must be sturdy enough to provide faithful chassis dynamics, or the sportscar definition will be squandered.
Carbon-Kevlar was developed by the motor racing industry for precisely that purpose. Although it is a closely-woven flexible fabric, once it is laid, like glassfibre mat in differing layer densities, around a ‘former’, with a gel coat and then baked in an autoclave oven, its character alters to that of a bulletproof vest. Super-lightweight and eminently force resistant, with plates and alloy structures added, the rest of the car can be assembled around and upon it.
Of course, there is nothing new in this, as both glass, carbon-fibre and advanced plastics have been exercised extensively in car manufacturing for much of the past fifty years. However, on the production front, Suzuki Cars is notable for reducing significantly the weight of its compact models. The Baleno hatchback, sadly no longer marketed in the UK, created a minor storm at its introduction by tipping the scales at a scarcely believable 890kgs. For a five-seat, five-door family car, it was light and needed only a 1.0-litre, turbo-petrol, 3-cylinder engine to propel it with 1.6-litre verve. It was a fascinating equation. Mazda is another carmaker pursuing a lighter kerbweight formula but it ought not be alone, as lightness also equates to a lesser environmental impact and greater frugality and efficiency.
However, Gordon Murray, a long-time believer in Colin Chapman’s principles, has just unveiled the first spin-off line from his new T.50 model. It commemorates respectfully the relationship Gordon had with Austrian racer, Niki Lauda (who passed away in 2019), from when they both worked for Brabham F1. Take a careful look at every supercar and hypercar. All of them are relative heavyweights and, if a plug-in element features, they become less wieldy, more reliant on chassis ‘electrickery’ and, regardless of impressive 200mph+ top whacks and tarmac-melting accelerative talents, any close relationship with the driver is as good as being binned.
The new track-focused T.50s Niki Lauda tips the scales at 852kgs, which includes the super-light, 725bhp, 3.9-litre, V12 petrol engine capable of revving to 12,100rpm that weighs only 162kgs and the remarkable fan hardware that sucks the car to the road surface. Nothing gets close and the sheer driveability is on another, these days unfamiliar plane. Be aware that only 25 examples, with each chassis named after one of the many GP victories achieved by Murray, will be produced, the first rolling out of the new Dunsfold production facility in January 2023, once the 100-off road-going T.50 models have been supplied to their owners. The Lauda variant will not be ‘cheap’, with each model carrying a price tag of £3.1m (plus taxes).
Gordon is unequivocal about his new supercars; they are intended to be the most rewarding drivers’ cars ever. The strictly-for-circuit-use alternative was developed alongside the ‘regular’ T.50 and, with stoical assurance, Gordon explains his logic: “From the outset, I intended to create the coolest thing to drive on track for an experience like no other car in history. Emphatically, this is not with the aim of achieving the ultimate lap time, or creating an over-tyred and over-downforced spaceship, at the expense of driver involvement, because ultimately you have to possess an F1 driver level of skill and fitness to get the best out of these vehicles.
“Instead, I laid out some parameters to create the ultimate driver’s car: a central driving position, an unsilenced V12 just behind your ears revving to over 12,000rpm, producing over 700 horsepower and with an even faster response time than the T.50, with fan-assisted downforce limited to 1500kg and a weight of under 900kg. Plus the ability to turn up at any track, make a few basic checks and have fun, without the need for an entire support crew. In my view, it doesn’t get better than that and is an example of driving in its purest form. The T.50s Niki Lauda will give a visceral connection between driver, car and track, the likes of which has not been experienced to date.”
If you can just imagine circumnavigating your favourite track, sitting in the middle of the car, with a yowling V12 just behind you, the essence of man and machine in perfect harmony will be something truly rewarding. Possessing a power-to-weight ratio better than that of a naturally aspirated Le Mans racing car, the T.50s Niki Lauda is also going to be searingly quick and, with such a low kerbweight, it will change direction like an F1 car.
Conclusion: With the direction of travel of the automotive industry, it is hard to imagine that there will ever be another car quite like the T.50s. Factor in its central driving position, a high-revving but naturally aspirated V12 engine, enrobed in a lightweight structure and its role as era-defining is understandable.