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Motor Mouth: Can Gordon Murray (once again) design the ultimate supercar?

Motor Mouth: Can Gordon Murray (once again) design the ultimate supercar?
Autos
Numerous are the legends surrounding the F1, McLaren’s original supercar. Built between 1992 and 1998, at the time it was the fastest car in the world (the prototype was timed at 386.4 km/h, according to Guinness World Records). It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995, where it beat purpose-built prototypes to the flag. — calling it “a work of art” and “a really beautiful piece of engineering” — with the $22 million he reportedly netted from selling Zip2. He only got rid of it because “I didn’t want people always writing that I have a high-performance gasoline sports car [while trying to sell EVs], so I decided to sell it.” F1s now command as much as US$20 million, and are so valuable that even Rowan Atkinson’s twice-wrecked 1997 purple beast sold for US$12.2 million (Musk also crashed his F1, but get this — it was uninsured ).

Despite all that acclamation, perhaps the most intriguing part of the F1 fable is the incredible story of a German banker who brought his car in for service, complaining of a misfire at 300 km/h.

“Oh, I think we’ve found the problem,” lore has the service manager reportedly explaining. “There must be something wrong with your ECU. It says your car is hitting more than 320 km/h every time you drive it.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with his black box. He simply lived in Cologne but worked in Frankfurt’s famous financial district and his daily “commute,” as it turns out, was the 190 kilometres of Germany’s famed A3 autobahn that joins the two cities. According to reports attributed to CAR magazine — and this is where mere folklore becomes bona fide legend — he had bought the F1 simply because it allowed him to scrub a full 20 minutes off the one hour, 20-minute door-to-door “slog” he had to endure in his previous car … a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Gordon Murray’s original supercar, the McLaren F1 Handout / McLaren

. Oh, it’s not called the F1 anymore, and McLaren, which has since gone on to become a supercar powerhouse of some repute, doesn’t build it. But the man — the genius — who designed it, Commander of the British Empire Gordon Murray, is back with something he’s calling the T.50 and, like the F1 before, it looks to rattle supercar orthodoxy.

Now, the headlines for this new car will almost certainly focus on the T.50’s engine. A V12 — because, well, nothing less than a V12 will do, right? — its comparatively tiny pistons (the engine displaces just 3.9 litres compared with the original F1’s 6.1L BMW-sourced V12) still manages to pump out a stunning 650 horsepower. What makes that figure more amazing — and what allows Murray to call the T.50 the “last great analogue supercar” — is that there’s nary a turbocharger in sight, the Cosworth-designed engine making its power the old-fashioned way — with sky-high revs.

In fact, the GMRV12 screams to an absolutely incredible 12,100 rpm. Yes, 12,100 revolutions per minute. By comparison, Ferrari’s 458, which sounds like Beethoven conducting an internal combustion symphony , manages but 9,000 rpm. Lamborghini’s similarly V12-powered Aventador? It makes max power at 8,500 rpm. McLaren, Mercedes, and Porsche supercars? Not even close. If you really want something that screams as hardcore as the new T.50, you have to abandon four wheels altogether and head over to the motorcycle world.

But they sport but four pistons. So, if you really want to hear how truly maniacal the T.50 will be, at eight grand and then imagine 4,100 more rpm. According to Car magazine, all this will make the T.50’s engine “the world’s highest-revving, fastest-responding, most power-dense and lightest naturally aspirated road car V12.”

Here’s crazy thing; the engine is the least intriguing aspect of the new T.50. Much more impressive, in fact, is that the whole car weighs just 980 kilograms. For those looking to place that figure in context, know this: The original F1 was the lightest supercar of its era and weighed 1,100 kilos. Nor has Father Time been kind to supercars; turbochargers, electronic controls, and even hybrid electric drive systems have all added to the adiposity of the modern hypercar, Murray estimating the average supercar over the last 15 years is around 1,400 kilograms. Even Alfa Romeo’s tiny little 4C , despite having a carbon-fibre tub similar to the T.50’s (but with only four measly pistons) weighed 1,050 kilograms by the time it got to North American shores.

Respect your elders: McLaren F1 is the car that started it all

It is, says Murray, a matter of focusing on the weight-to-power ratio rather than the more often quoted power-to-weight. The latter, continues Brabham’s former lead designer, determines how fast a car can accelerate and its top speed, both of which he says puts on-paper performance figures ahead of driver engagement.

“I have absolutely no interest in chasing records for top speed or acceleration,” he says, noting that his focus on minimizing weight was the key to “delivering the purest, most rewarding driving experience of any supercar ever built.”

One of the sacrifices to the temple of weight loss is the almost complete absence of electronic safety aids. Oh, anti-lock brakes will be part of the package, and there will be a basic traction control system, but rather than an elaborate electronic stability control system the T.50 has what Murray calls “the most advanced aerodynamics ever seen on a road car.” Indeed, its signature feature — — is something Murray built into his infamous Brabham BT46B F1 race car, which was subsequently banned from Formula One after it won its first and only race. Combined with a low centre of gravity — Murray claims the GMRV12’s crank is only 85 millimetres off the ground, some 40 mm lower than the F1 — the T.50 should prove magic on a race track despite its absence of advanced electronics.

So, to wrap up, what we have is a screaming 650-hp Cosworth V12 in a car that weighs less than a Mazda Miata , with banned Formula One ground effects technology and a good old-fashioned six-speed H-pattern stick shift. If this truly be the zenith of the modern supercar, then hurrah for Gordon Murray.

Oh, one more thing before I sign off this week. That German banker? His name is Thomas Bscher. He would later go on to be the managing director of Bugatti and is the man responsible for the first-generation Veyron . Yes, the 1,001-hp 16.4. It seems he never got over his need for speed.
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