- gordon murray, the designer of the iconic mclaren f1, has revealed the production model of its gordon murray automotive t.50 hypercar.
- the t.50 is powered by a cosworth-built v-12 that makes 654 horsepower and has a redline of 12,100 rpm.
- the car is notable for its light weight—a claimed 2174-pound curb weight—but the company does not name a top speed, saying its engine "is designed to deliver optimum performance, not to hit prescribed power, speed, or acceleration targets."
update, 3/16/21: when car and driver spoke to gordon murray about the niki lauda earlier this year, he told us that the prototype t.50 was being built. now gma has released video of it being driven under its own power for the first time, with murray himself giving the car its debut run on the dunsfold track in the u.k., also used as the location for filming the top gear tv show.
this was a very gentle shakedown rather than a demonstration of the t.50's massive performance. the prototype's naturally aspirated 654-hp cosworth v-12 was limited to just 3000 rpm on the filmed run, far short of the 12,100 limit the production version will have. the first part of this video hides most of the engine noise behind a stirring musical soundtrack, but waiting until the end gives a good idea of what it sounds like under gentle use and the speed at which it adds revs.
during the debrief to his socially distanced and mask-wearing team, murray talks about "chirping the wheels up"; we suspect there will be much more of that in the t.50 prototype’s future.
three-seat hypercars with central driving positions don't come along very often, but the past two years have brought us a pair, both of which share a common inspiration in the mclaren f1. mclaren's own take is the speedtail, a 1035-hp hybrid that is more complicated and heavier than its predecessor but considerably faster. it has already sold out its limited production run of 106 units, despite a price of around $2.1 million each.
this is the other, the gma t.50, seen here in its production form for the first time. it has been created by gordon murray, the man who designed the f1, around a brief of matching the original car's minimalist ethos, but also on beating it on every measurable metric—something that it seems to have entirely delivered. the t.50 is even more expensive than the speedtail at just over $3 million at current exchange rates, but the majority of the total 100 were sold before the car existed in anything other than sketch form.
the list of technical highlights is long. like the mclaren f1, the t.50 has a naturally aspirated v-12 engine mounted behind the cabin, a six-speed manual gearbox, and a central driving position flanked by two passenger seats, reached through gullwing-opening doors. it is set to beat its predecessor on mass, weighing a claimed (and impossible-sounding) 2174 pounds. if that holds true, the t.50 would have a power-to-weight ratio of 3.3 pounds per horsepower, some 13 percent better than a mclaren senna.
the big difference over the f1 is the arrival of active aerodynamics through a 15.7-inch, 11.4-hp, 48-volt electric fan that can spin at up to 7000 rpm to vary levels of downforce by removing the boundary layer from the car’s underbody diffuser, but also can reduce drag by creating a virtual longtail behind the car. (we’ve already done a technical explainer on the system here; it is much more advanced than the vacuum fan of the infamous brabham bt46b formula 1 car designed under murray’s leadership.) this means that the t.50 doesn’t have to carry any large wing elements. murray's claims for the fan's capabilities are impressive: up to a 50 percent increase in downforce, a 12.5 percent reduction in drag, and cutting 33 feet from the braking distance from 150 mph. the fan's substantial vent on the rear of the car is the biggest obvious difference from the proportions of the f1, and it's also pleasingly reminiscent of the "jet car" treatment of harley earl's groundbreaking 1951 general motors le sabre concept.
the greatest engine of all?
murray describes the t.50’s cosworth-built v-12 as "probably the greatest internal-combustion engine ever fitted to a road car." coming from anybody else, that would sound like hyperbole, but looking at the specification sheet, it becomes hard to disagree. "cosworth are so far ahead of ferrari and other people on internal combustion now," murray 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's targets for the powerplant were hugely challenging, especially given the need for the engine to be a structural link, carrying some of the loads between the central carbon-fiber tub and rear suspension.
"back in november 2018 when we started talking, i said it would be nice if we could get near the f1's horsepower," he says—the mclaren’s bmw s70/2 6.0-liter v-12 made 618 horsepower—"but also that it had to be lighter and had to rev higher than the lcc rocket [which murray also designed], which could go to 11,500 rpm. i also said they had to better the f1's response speed, which was about 10,000 revs a second in neutral."
after specifying gear-driven valvegear and titanium valves and connecting rods, cosworth managed to beat the weight, power, and rev targets. the engine weighs a claimed 392 pounds (192 pounds less than the f1's bmw engine), makes 654 horsepower, and has a 12,100-rpm redline. but it completely obliterated murray’s desired response rate. the new v-12 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. yet despite its appetite for revs, the t.50 also promises to be tractable: the engine produces 70 percent of its maximum 344 lb-ft of torque at just 2500 rpm.
a/c and power steering for parking
using a 48-volt starter-generator has also allowed for an electrically driven air-conditioning compressor. "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 7800 rpm, and at low revs it was producing almost nothing," he remembers. other lessons learned include the arrival of power steering, with low-speed electrical assistance to help maneuvering. the f1 had none, meaning, as murray puts it, "you needed gorilla arms for parking." it also gets led headlights that have been benchmarked to deliver the best range and tightest pattern in the segment.
the t.50's basic proportions are very similar to those of the f1, but it has grown slightly. "the car is 30mm [1.2 inches] longer, and we've used that for interior cabin space. i've added another 25mm [1.0 inch] to the driver length," murray says. being 6'4", he has always had a keen appreciation for the difficulties taller drivers often face in getting comfortable in supercars. murray says that three adults can sit in comfort, with a camera-based rearview system solving the f1's main visibility problem. "it had internal mirrors on each side, but if there was anybody in either of the seats, all you could see was their faces."
murray has put a huge amount of thought into the design of the t.50's cabin, especially its ergonomics, with bespoke switchgear that isn't shared with any other automaker. ahead of the driver's seat, a conventional tachometer is flanked by digital display screens with controls for lights, wipers, and the various aerodynamic modes through rotary controls on the left, and those for climate and hvac on the right. the eagle-eyed will spot the presence of two small paddles behind the steering wheel, despite the t.50's manual gearbox; they are for the high-beam flash and horn, respectively.
murray admits to having spent a considerable amount of time in finding switchgear with perfect weighting. "i've finally found a company that can build a switch with no spindle play," he says. "with the mclaren f1, we had lovely machined aluminum 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.' there is also 1.1 cubic feet of interior storage space with five separate compartments; murray says the f1’s lack of stowage was always a bugbear with owners.
and that sound
similar effort has been put into tuning the way the t.50 sounds, something murray says he always loved about the f1. "everyone said the f1 had a fantastic exhaust, but it's not the exhaust at all—it was induction noise," he says. "on cam timing, you've got a period when both inlet and exhaust valve are open together and you get this wonderful pulse resonating back through to the inlet—in the central driving position that's right above the driver's head. in the f1 i tuned the thickness of the panel to resonate from that induction sound, which was beautiful. i'm doing the same here, except this time we’re going to 12,100 rpm."
murray’s hope is that t.50 buyers will be prepared to drive their cars frequently and hard, something that f1 owners have been less prepared to do as values have risen and parts supply has fallen. it's something that murray experienced himself, selling his own f1 several years ago.
"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 says. "when it became worth £10m [about $13 million at current exchange rates], you had to start being a little bit careful, and the insurance premiums got eye-watering. and once a car gets over £20m [about $26 million], 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."
there's no secret that the t.50 draws most of its inspiration from the mclaren f1, but the man who designed both insists the new car will be better in every regard.
"i would say the outcome is about as perfect as it could be in terms of the transition from my brain to the real car," he says. "standing back and looking at it, i don't think there's anything i would change, even if i had more time."
the next question is the one we're really looking forward to answering: how does the t.50 drive when compared to its seminal predecessor?