Lamborghini Miura, McLaren F1, GMA T.50. Those are the three points that Gordon Murray reckon mark the beginning, mid-point and end of what he terms the "story of the analogue supercar." If anyone else nominated two of their own designs for such an accolade it would sound as ridiculous as one of the frothier Oscar acceptance speeches. But seeing both the finished T.50 and its mouth-watering spec sheet it actually comes across as a pretty rational, level-headed assessment.
Murray isn't pitching the T.50 as being the best in terms of raw power, top speed or ceiling-sticking quantities of downforce. He acknowledges that other cars already deliver more of those, and that such numbers are likely to grow more outlandish as time goes on. Rather the T.50 is defined by what it doesn't have as well as what it does: there are no turbos, no fighter jet-sized wings and no whizz-bang twin-clutch gearbox. It has also been created with a single-minded minimalism that has shorn every superfluous gram of mass, and is set to weigh an impossible sounding 986kg.
Looking at the final car it's fair to say that the inspiration behind it is very clear. It's not a clone of the McLaren F1, but it definitely comes from the same origin point and has been designed for a similar mission. As Murray is quick to point out, much of that comes from the packaging requirements of a central seating position with passengers set further back on either side. Dimensions are very similar - at 4352mm the T.50 is 65mm longer than the F1, its 2700mm wheelbase just 18mm shorter. The new cars is more spacious inside, Murray having found 25mm more legroom for the driver; being 6' 2" has always informed his view of optimal supercar packaging.
While exterior design is superficially similar, almost every detail is different. There is more shape to what Murray calls the "valley" between the T.50's headlights and a much more aggressive cut into the doors. The spine that flows from the air intake above the cockpit is narrower; Murray says he always hated how wide it was on the F1, and at the back is the obvious difference of the vent for the 400mm diameter 8.5kW 48 Volt fan that powers the car's aerodynamics.
We've already told the tech story of the T.50's active aero system and the car's various modes. Basically it allows the T.50 to run a far more aggressive diffuser shape, with the fan sucking the disrupted 'boundary layer' from this and therefore either increasing or decreasing downforce. Murray insists this secondary ability is every bit as important as the first.
"The big problem with wings is that they are making downforce even when you don't want them to," he explains. "Say that I'm in Germany on the Autobahn and doing 110mph. I don't want downforce to increase with the square of the speed, which the law of physics tell you it's going to, because that will use up all of the suspension travel and make the car uncomfortable as it gets near the bump rubbers and I will be towing around a load of drag, and using engine power to do that... That's why in Streamline mode we don't just kill the downforce, we use the fan to clean up the aerodynamics [by creating a 'virtual longtail behind the car] and get a 12 percent drag reduction. Suddenly downforce isn't a slave to car speed anymore."
It's a hugely clever and highly technical system, but also one designed to work near invisibly. It means the T.50 can run softer springs and passive dampers, and it should be impressively compliant at speed. The whole system only weighs around 10kg, with the use of 48-Volt power - generated by a starter-generator on the engine - also meaning the T.50 can have an electrical air conditioning pump. "The air conditioning on the F1 was pathetic, we might as well not have had it, it had a belt-driven compressor that had to survive at 7800rpm and at low revs it was producing almost nothing," Murray remembers.
Comparison to the F1 is never far away when talking about the T.50, with Murray admitting that he has spent much of three decades since he designed the McLaren brooding over the areas he thinks he could have improved the original car. Even the smallest details matter; he is as happy to discuss switchgear weighting as aero or powertrain. "I've found a company that can build a switch with no spindle play," he says, happily, "with the McLaren F1 we had lovely machined aluminium knobs and buttons but there was still that annoying thing that all modern cars have, spindle movement in the wrong direction - you put your finger on it and sense it move before you want it to. That's something I've always hated and the T.50 doesn't do it."
The cabin features the ultra-rational ergonomics that have come from long thought. The driver faces a conventional rev counter flanked by digital display screens on both sides, with touch controls on the steering wheel. Two binnacles carry rotary controls, on the left for lights, wipers and the fan modes and the one on the right for climate and HVAC. There are two paddles behind the steering wheel, which seems incongruous given the glorious presence of the shifter for the six-speed manual gearbox. They are for the horn and high beam. Usability has been considered; Murray admits the lack of stowage was a constant bugbear in both his own F1 and his Alpine A110 daily - the T.50 has 30 litres of cabin storage space as well as luggage 'panniers' beneath the side panels.
In numerous other areas Murray has explicitly addressed the problems discovered by F1 owners. The T.50 has an aluminium fuel tank in place of the F1's motorsport-grade bag tank - which needs to be replaced every five years. LED headlights have been designed for high speed, "the F1's were dreadful," Murray remembers," the T.50's clutch is much easier to swap and will last longer than the F1's engine-out carbon job and, although a unique compound, the tyres will use existing Michelin moulds rather than bespoke ones. "Last time I checked a batch of F1 tyres had to be worth at least £100,000 before they'd get the moulds out," Murray says. The T.50 also gets low-speed electric power steering, "you needed Gorilla arms to park an F1," he says.
While acknowledging the specialness of the 3.9-litre V12 engine, Murray gives all credit for meeting his near-impossible targets to Cosworth. "I said it would be nice if we could get near the F1's horsepower, although that wasn't essential," he says, "but also that it had to be lighter, to rev higher than the LCC Rocket which could go to 11,500rpm and I also said they had to better the F1's response speed, which was about 10,000 revs a second in neutral."
The Cosworth team came up with a design incorporating gear-driven valvegear and titanium valves and connecting rods, allowing them to reach the weight, power and rev targets. The motor is 60kg less than the BMW S70/2 that powered the McLaren F1, its 650hp output is 32hp higher, and its 12,100rpm redline makes it the highest revving engine ever fitted to a production roadcar. They also managed to blow Murray's desired response rate out of the water, delivering a motor that is capable of adding 28,400 revs a second with no load. "Even after all my years in the industry I struggle to get my head around that one," Murray admits.
And it's not hard to agree with Murray's end-of-era narrative when it comes to the V12 engine. "Cosworth are so far ahead of Ferrari and other people on internal combustion now," he says, "everyone else is concentrating on hybrids and EVs, it's incredibly rare for anyone to do a new engine from a clean sheet of paper these days." Murray hopes that T.50 buyers - all of who are putting down £2.36m before tax - will be prepared to drive their cars often and properly. That's how he used to treat his personal F1, but found it increasingly hard to justify doing so as the value rose.
"When it was worth a million quid the insurance was fine and I used to take people out on a wet Sunday and slide it around in the rain, spin the wheels up in fourth gear, all the usual things you could do with an F1," he remembers, "when it became worth £10m you had to start being a little bit careful, and the insurance premiums got eye-watering. And once a car gets over £20m it's a different story altogether - I was having to look at the insurance premium every three months and every time somebody said take me out for a drive I'd make sure the road was dry. Suddenly I realized I wasn't enjoying it anymore."
If you're lucky enough to have your name down for a T.50 - or rich enough to get onto the rapidly diminishing list of 100 build slots - it is your sacred duty to treat it in the way its creator intends.
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