Car Features

Gordon Murray, designer of the iconic McLaren F1, talks about his new project

Twenty-five years on from the McLaren F1, Gordon Murray has lost none of his fervour for designing light, fast, fun-to-drive cars. We talk to him about his new sports car project

Words by Stuart Gallagher

‘I like sports cars. I couldn’t launch my first car from my own car company and it be a family saloon. I’d jump off the nearest bridge if I had to do that.’ It’s a straightforward answer to a simple question: why launch a car company and a sports car now? But Gordon Murray likes the straightforward approach to doing things. What he doesn’t like is weight, or unnecessary technology, or complicated manufacturing techniques. And if you’re a diesel-powered SUV, good luck with getting his attention.

Murray’s road car CV is diverse and spans from the groundbreaking McLaren F1 through to the revolutionary iStream T.27
city car concept

A quarter of a century on from the launch of Murray’s most famous road car, he wants to bring the world a successor to a similar formula: a compact, lightweight mid-engined car in the spirit of the F1. ‘I think the industry is losing the plot,’ he continues, surrounded by some of the road cars currently in his collection – only one of which weighs more than 1000kg – and a broad selection of the race cars that brought him, Brabham and McLaren so much success in Formula 1 and sports car racing. ‘Sports cars, supercars, hypercars – whatever you want to call them – are becoming more difficult for the driver to enjoy and exploit. I want to design and build a sports car that’s useable and 100 per cent driver-focused. The F1 was all about the driver and them being able to use its performance. Nothing has changed in 25 years to say a sports car today can’t follow that same philosophy.’

Murray isn’t exactly forthcoming with the details when we meet. On the subject of weight he talks of Mazda’s current MX-5 and its circa-1000kg kerb weight: ‘It has to be under a ton.’ When asked about his interpretation of size his reply is quite telling: ‘Once governments have finished with emissions legislation they will move on to a car’s footprint and regulate this, too. We’re running out of space and big cars make no sense. In Tokyo, unless you have off-street parking you can’t own a car longer than 3.4 metres. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, you can’t have one. Is that such a bad thing?

There are race cars aplenty too, of course, including the McLaren MP4/4 that took Ayrton Senna to his 1988 F1 title win

‘Restricting the size of cars doesn’t have to mean micro-cars, but we need a better approach to how we design and build cars. Compact cars are very efficient, save space and resources, raw material and weight. They also provide a great opportunity, especially for those of us who enjoy driving.’

On the subject of powertrains he leaves a bit more meat on the bone: ‘We’ve worked on EV, hybrid and petrol engines for some of our previous projects and existing clients. We’re close to signing an agreement for our first engine. It’s something we could adapt for future models, too. What can I tell you now? It will be exciting, I can guarantee that. It will surprise a few people too, but importantly, and this is key to the whole car, it will be very pure, very driver-orientated in terms of how it delivers its power and torque.’

It’s a similar story with the gearbox. ‘I can tell you we’ve three options for a transmission,’ explains Murray. ‘It won’t be a torque converter or a DSG – they are such a non-event for the driver: the gearchange is quick but in chasing milliseconds we’ve excluded the driver.’

But back to the power source: ‘We’ve been working on an engine programme for the last 18 months. We need a family of engines for the plans we have to build other models.’ You see, Murray wants this first sports car to be a halo project for Gordon Murray Automotive, and for it to be followed by hatchbacks, saloons, trucks, city cars and, yes, if the criteria is correct and it can exist for the right reasons, an SUV. Some will be electric, others petrol and some hybrids. With partners such as Bentley on board and working with Murray’s team on future platform development, could his iStream manufacturing concept finally be ready for mass production?

The T.27 city car concept

How the car will be built is a subject Murray is more than happy to discuss at length. You will have heard of iStream, the manufacturing method that rips weight and inefficiency from the process of building vehicles, and adds efficiency, flexibility and possibility. It’s been around for some time, primarily in potential city car projects, although the process has yet to be taken on and put into series production. This sports car will be built on what GMD calls its iStream Superlight platform.

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