McLaren pull the covers off their 2013 F1 contender tomorrow as the team bid to capture their first constructors’ championship title in 15 years.
In this extract from Simon Taylor’s new book Motor Sport Greats in Conversation, Murray talks about his time at McLaren and Brabham where he created some of the most successful and radical F1 cars that ever raced.
Gordon Murray: Genius, innovation and hot-bath ideas
A genius, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is someone ?σΤιΌ?τpossessing exceptional intellectual or creative power?σΤιΌ?Ψ. It?σΤιΌΤδσs an overused word, but that definition describes Gordon Murray perfectly. We know him for his achievements in the world of Formula 1, but his brain is equally adroit exploring oenology, or architecture, or rock music. He is at his happiest when he faces an apparently insoluble problem, so he can examine it logically from every angle, and come up with an inventive solution. This constant cranial activity is hidden beneath an extraordinarily calm, laid-back exterior. Gordon talks fluently, but quietly, and his speech is as logical as his thought processes. I have seen some notes he kept of meetings during the early planning of the McLaren F1 road car: they are detailed, ordered, logical and extremely neat. Yet he was scribbling them down during the meeting itself as the ideas emerged, not writing them up afterwards. Confront him with any topic, whether within or outside his personal experience, and he will consider for a moment, and then deliver a view which is often surprising, but always ordered, incisive and intelligent. He really does seem to possess a mind unlike most of the rest of us.
During his 17 seasons as a top Formula 1 designer his cars won 56 Grands Prix, five World Drivers?σΤιΌΤδσ Championships and three Constructors?σΤιΌΤδσ Championships. In 1990 he turned away from F1 without regret, since when a stream of unique automotive designs has flowed from his pencil. Now he heads up his own design company, and is well into the development of a revolutionary city car which, he says, is a complete rethink of every single aspect of the automobile.
We?σΤιΌΤδσre eating in one of Surrey?σΤιΌΤδσs very few Michelin-starred restaurants, Drake?σΤιΌΤδσs in Ripley. Gordon has been there before, when Ron Dennis threw a birthday party for his wife Lisa a year or so back, and chooses scallops and John Dory. He prefers to drink red wine and, after careful discussion with the sommelier, selects a Rioja.
Gordon was born in Durban, South Africa in 1946. His father worked for a Peugeot dealer as a mechanic, and prepared local racers?σΤιΌΤδσ cars in his spare time. ?σΤιΌ?τNobody in South Africa had any money to go racing, so it was a very fertile ground for people with imagination. My dad helped people build up specials out of production car parts, tuning their engines, making their bodies. Every weekend we were off racing somewhere. There was a round-the-houses track in Durban, plus the Roy Hesketh Circuit in Pietermaritzburg, and lots of hillclimbs just on bits of country road. We?σΤιΌΤδσd go to Speedway every week, too. All I ever wanted to do was be a racing driver. I had no interest in car design at all. It was just that I couldn?σΤιΌΤδσt afford to buy a car, so I had to build one.
?σΤιΌ?τBut I was very into engines. I designed a twin-cam racing engine when I was 17. I thought South Africa needed its own Coventry Climax, so I drew one. When I was 19 I did a day-release sandwich course in engineering, and for the thesis we had to design a 3hp stationary engine. I drew a self-igniting rotary with only three moving parts. It would have been no good for a car ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ very high revs, very low torque ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ but it would have been just right for third-world countries to drive their pumps and that sort of stuff. I?σΤιΌΤδσve still got all the drawings. I?σΤιΌΤδσll get around to prototyping it one day.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
Gordon also still has all his student notebooks. In one of them is an inventive sketch of a futuristic rear-engined road car, with a centrally-seated driver and two passengers sitting each side of and slightly behind him. The McLaren F1 road car was still more than 20 years away.
?σΤιΌ?τThe car I built to race was called by my initials, IGM. I bought a crashed Ford Anglia 105E for ?ι?ϊ60 to get the block and the head, but I made my own pistons, camshaft, inlet and exhaust manifolds. I made a gas-flowing device to get the head and the manifolds to breathe, and it gave really good power. I made the chassis ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ it was a cycle-winged sports racer, like a clubmen?σΤιΌΤδσs car. I was quite successful, and was National Champion in my class. One of the best-known South African hillclimbs was Burman Drive, which had been going since pre-war days. I won the last one, so they let me keep the winner?σΤιΌΤδσs trophy, inscribed with all the names of the past winners going back to 1936. I?σΤιΌΤδσve still got that too.
?σΤιΌ?τAfter a couple of seasons winning in South Africa it became a bit unsatisfying, because I was competitive in a rubbish home-made car. I thought I should move to England because it was the centre of the universe for my two loves, racing and music. I?σΤιΌΤδσd been into music since I was 10, when I first heard Little Richard; that day my life changed for ever. I wanted to race, but I had to get a job, so I wrote to Colin Chapman. He not only replied to my letter, he offered me a job. In December 1969 I arrived in England in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, and I hadn?σΤιΌΤδσt even bothered to bring a jumper. I went up to Norwich by coach, and when I got there I found Lotus were laying people off and there was nothing for me. For several months I lived on the floor of a bed-sitter in Hendon, cold and jobless. I didn?σΤιΌΤδσt have the money to live, let alone race.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
Then one day he wandered into the Brabham factory. It was still run by Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac then, and coincidentally Tauranac was interviewing that day for a vacancy in the drawing office. He mistook Gordon for one of the formal applicants, and gave him the job. As well as doing detail work on the F1 car of the day and on the customer F2 and F3 cars, Gordon drew a simple road car in his spare time. This used Mini subframes and a sporty Moke-like body, and four were built in a shed on the edge of Heathrow Airport. One served as Gordon?σΤιΌΤδσs sole road car for two years. Soon a chance meeting with Alain de Cadenet led to Gordon designing the Duckhams Le Mans car. ?σΤιΌ?τIt was the first real racing car I?σΤιΌΤδσd designed, and I did it in four months, during the night. I was doing a 14-hour day at Brabham, finishing work at 10pm, going home and working on the Le Mans car until three in the morning, and then back at work at 8am.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
At the end of 1971 Gordon was about to move on when he heard Brabham was changing hands, so he decided to hang around and see what the new owner was like. This was Bernie Ecclestone, who on his first visit to the New Haw factory found Gordon?σΤιΌΤδσs tall frame squeezed into a corner of the drawing office. Bernie said later: ?σΤιΌ?τTauranac told me I should get rid of him and keep everybody else. So I kept Gordon and got rid of everybody else.?σΤιΌ?Ψ After a difficult season for Brabham in 1972, Gordon was called into his office. ?σΤιΌ?τBernie said, ?σΤιΌ?£I want a completely new Formula 1 car, and you?σΤιΌΤδσre doing it.?σΤιΌΤδσ I had a clean sheet of paper to do what I wanted. Bernie?σΤιΌΤδσs a go-for-it type of guy, and maybe that?σΤιΌΤδσs what he saw in me, I don?σΤιΌΤδσt know. He left me on my own to run things, but he was always totally supportive. When I went out on a limb, like with the fan car or the surface radiators, he actually liked all that.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
That first car, the BT42, with its monocoque triangular in section, was designed and built in four months. It would have won its first Grand Prix, at Barcelona with Carlos Reutemann, but for a split rubber driveshaft boot with seven laps to go. It was smaller and more compact than its rivals, and it looked sharp and elegant at a time when most racing cars were workmanlike but intrinsically ugly. ?σΤιΌ?τI?σΤιΌΤδσm unusual for an engineer in that I went to art school when I was 13. I still do a bit of drawing and painting, and I love styling. I couldn?σΤιΌΤδσt bring myself to make an ugly car. Before wind tunnels, shaping a car was all practical ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ wool tufts and intelligent guesses. Even with basic wind tunnel work there were a lot of areas on the car that made absolutely no difference to performance. The bit leading up to the cockpit could be virtually any shape you liked, as long as the bubble you looked through didn?σΤιΌΤδσt buffet the driver?σΤιΌΤδσs helmet. So why not make it look nice? And it went deeper than that, because you were trying to sell an image to sponsors, an awareness of what they?σΤιΌΤδσd get with Brabham. Most engineers are not sympathetic to artistic stuff at all, they couldn?σΤιΌΤδσt draw something pretty if you put a gun to their head. But I like elegantly simple engineering too. Talk to the mechanics, they?σΤιΌΤδσll tell you my Brabhams and McLarens were always simple cars.?σΤιΌ?Ψ They were also innovative: Brabham were the first to use carbon fibre in their construction, initially to make the cockpit safer, and the first to use carbon brakes.
Until 1972 Gordon had clung to his ambition of racing himself, and he chose the 750 Formula not just because it was cheap, but also because it allowed car designers so much freedom. ?σΤιΌ?τYou had to use two 2-inch tubes as the main chassis members, echoing the old Austin 7 chassis frame, so I designed the IMG T2 as a lay-down aluminium monocoque and just let these two tubes lie there to cover the rule. I came up with pull-rod suspension for it, and I used that on my second F1 car, the BT44. Now everybody?σΤιΌΤδσs got it in F1, of course. I was doing the IMG with a mechanic at Brabham called Ian Hilton, but he was killed in a car smash on a level crossing. A Shadow mechanic wanted to take it on and I gave him all the drawings, but by now I was too busy and it never got built. That was the end of my racing career.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
The BT44 would have won its first race, too, except that a fuelling error in Argentina made Reutemann stutter to a halt two laps from the end. But there were three victories that year, and two more in 1975 with the BT44B. Then, in a major deal by Ecclestone, Cosworth power was replaced by Alfa Romeo?σΤιΌΤδσs flat 12 for 1976. The Italian engines were heavy and thirsty, and the BT45 never won a race, although in BT45B form in 1977 John Watson had several strong drives, culminating in a near win at Dijon. For 1978 the BT46 included another Murray innovation, surface radiators ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ thin panels disposed along the sides of the monocoque to reduce frontal area ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ but these proved unable to cool the engine. Gordon?σΤιΌΤδσs solution to that was sensational: the BT46B fan car.
This had a conventional radiator mounted horizontally over the engine, cooled by a gearbox-driven fan at the back of the car. The engine bay was shrouded and sealed by flexible skirts running on the track, so that not only was the radiator fed with cooling air but also the car was sucked down onto the ground, giving hitherto undreamed-of levels of downforce. Two BT46Bs appeared unannounced for the Swedish GP at Anderstorp in June and, to the consternation of every other team, Niki Lauda ran away with the race.
?σΤιΌ?τThe car was legal as the rules stood then. Article 3.7 said: ?σΤιΌ?£Any device whose primary function is to have an aerodynamic influence on the performance of the car has to be firmly fixed to the sprung part of the car.?σΤιΌΤδσ So I had to ensure that more than half of the air was cooling the radiator. After the race the CSI [Commission Sportive Interntaionale, part of the FIA] sealed the car in the truck at Anderstorp, and then came to the factory with an anemometer . They got us to run the engine, and measured the flow of air through the fan and through the radiator. They found that 60 per cent of the air was for cooling and 40 per cent was for downforce. Not its primary function, you see. So the CSI wrote to us and said, ?σΤιΌ?£The car is legal, but it?σΤιΌΤδσs using a loophole in the regulations. In next year?σΤιΌΤδσs rules we?σΤιΌΤδσll close that loophole, but you can use it for the rest of the season.?σΤιΌΤδσ
?σΤιΌ?τBut Bernie ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ I didn?σΤιΌΤδσt understand this at the time ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ had his eyes on much bigger things. He was working on getting his foothold in the Formula One Constructors?σΤιΌΤδσ Association and launching himself towards what he?σΤιΌΤδσs doing now. He reckoned the uproar was in danger of collapsing FOCA completely. So he asked me ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ to be fair, he didn?σΤιΌΤδσt dictate ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ he asked me to fit normal radiators to the car. I was obviously very pissed off, but I agreed.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
The last Brabham-Alfa was the ground-effect BT48. The team was back with Cosworth engines for the 1980 BT49, which the rapidly maturing Nelson Piquet drove to three victories and second place in the world championship. In 1981, with the BT49C, Piquet was world champion.
?σΤιΌ?τBasically Bernie left me to run things, he trusted me. We employed a fraction of the personnel of the big teams like McLaren and Williams. We were giant-killers. I did the design work, I did the hire and fire, oversaw production, oversaw parts supply, the test programme, the wind tunnel work. I did all the strategy at the races. Stupidly I refused to have a race engineer. Other teams had an engineer per car plus a T-car guy, and a technical director. I did it all myself. God knows how many hours a week I was working. But I only ever need to sleep four hours a night, and I feel good on that.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
In 1982 came Bernie?σΤιΌΤδσs deal with BMW, for which Gordon designed the BT50. Initially there were many reliability problems with the hugely powerful turbocharged four-cylinder, but this became the vehicle for one of the great Murray innovations. Mid-race refuelling stops are so much part of today?σΤιΌΤδσs Formula 1 scene that is hard to remember the intrigue and scepticism surrounding Brabham?σΤιΌΤδσs wheeze to run lighter fuel and softer tyres and set up a refuelling rig in the pits. Making it happen involved a series of strategic and design headaches which were meat and drink to Gordon.
?σΤιΌ?τIt started as a hot bath idea. I used to have a lot of good ideas after a hot bath. Recently a medical guy I met on holiday explained to me that there?σΤιΌΤδσs a physical reason for this, there?σΤιΌΤδσs a channel in your spine that opens up in the heat and increases the blood supply to the brain. I knew how much the tyres used to go off. And I?σΤιΌΤδσd learned from running the cars light in qualifying that the weight of one litre of fuel cost around one hundredth of a second in lap times. So I lay in the bath doing the maths.
?σΤιΌ?τThe clever thing wasn?σΤιΌΤδσt having the idea, it was developing all the stuff that went into it. That?σΤιΌΤδσs the bit I love. Throw me a series of connected problems and I?σΤιΌΤδσve got to find a way to make everything work together. In this case it was how do you change the tyres quickly, how do you put the fuel in quickly, how do you avoid losing pace going back out on cold tyres. We videoed the mechanics changing tyres, analysed it frame by frame, and I redesigned the hubs, bearing carriers, threads, nuts and wheel guns, with a device to retain the nuts. And I put titanium on-board air jacks on the car. Now they can use simple lever jacks because they have so many mechanics on a pitstop, I think it?σΤιΌΤδσs 19 these days, but we only had eight mechanics working on a stop. Tyre warmers didn?σΤιΌΤδσt exist then, so I made an oven, a big thing like the Tardis, with temperature probes and hot air circulating through four tyres. Then we did the fuel kit. Nowadays  it?σΤιΌΤδσs all the same for all the teams, and it all has to be done at atmospheric pressure so it?σΤιΌΤδσs pretty slow. But there were no rules about it then. So I designed a twin-barrel fuel system running at 4 bar. The damper barrel fed the fuel barrel and the fuel barrel fed the car, and we could push in 35 gallons in 3.5 seconds. Which is like an explosion, believe me.
?σΤιΌ?τWith the refuelling we had one guy on one side of the car opening the breather, one on the other putting in the fuel. Big heavy hoses over their shoulders. If the breather?σΤιΌΤδσs not on when the fuel guy opens the pressure, the car disintegrates. Four bar inside a carbon and aluminium monocoque, you wouldn?σΤιΌΤδσt find the pieces. So I designed all sorts of little mechanical interlocks inside the tank and it all got really complicated, castellations and cams and Geneva mechanisms. And I looked at it and thought, on a racing car it?σΤιΌΤδσs going to vibrate, one day it?σΤιΌΤδσs going to fail to work and the car?σΤιΌΤδσs going to explode. No more Brabham, no more pitlane, maybe no more F1. I studied the videos again, and I realised that during a stop the breather guy and the fuel guy would be facing each other each side of the roll hoop with their noses about four inches apart. So I scrapped the interlocks and I got the two of them together and I said to the breather guy, ?σΤιΌ?£When you approach the car with your hose, you?σΤιΌΤδσre looking down to where you?σΤιΌΤδσve got to lock the hose on, so don?σΤιΌΤδσt look up until it?σΤιΌΤδσs on.?σΤιΌΤδσ And I said to the fuel guy, ?σΤιΌ?£Don?σΤιΌΤδσt turn on the fuel until he looks up at you and you see the whites of his eyes four inches away.?σΤιΌΤδσ So that?σΤιΌΤδσs what they did, and it worked.
?σΤιΌ?τThen we found that when the car came in from being on full power and was stationary for eight seconds, the turbo was so hot that its bearings melted, just seized solid. We looked at water jackets, we looked at another radiator, and then I suddenly remembered the air jacks. The jack man plugged in an air line fed by an enormous air bottle, and it only took a bit of that air to jack the car up. So we took a tube off the jack line and made a shroud around the turbo, and when the car was jacked up it blew cold air over the turbo bearings. That fixed it.
?σΤιΌ?τAll this stuff was designed and developed in three months, with a tiny team of people. We hired Donington for a secret test, guards on the fences, and we needed to beat 20 seconds for slowing down, doing the stop, and accelerating away. We did it in 19. Then I worked out a simple mathematical equation for each circuit. You filled in the circuit characteristics and it gave you the optimum moment to stop for fuel.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
Unrelated turbo problems meant that the strategy only really came into play late in the season, with Piquet and Patrese between them winning the last three Grands Prix of the year. ?σΤιΌ?τFor 1983 I was sure that all the other teams would copy us, but we arrived in Brazil for round one and nobody had half-tank cars. Nobody had done the maths. I said to Bernie, ?σΤιΌ?£We?σΤιΌΤδσve got away with it!?σΤιΌΤδσ?σΤιΌ?Ψ Piquet was world champion again that year ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ and then refuelling stops were banned.
Somehow Gordon found time in the 1980s to put together a rock band. ?σΤιΌ?τI play guitar and drums, both very badly. Our lead guitarist was the only one who could sing. One day he said he was just going out to the pub, and he never came back. But we had various people float in and out, sometimes we?σΤιΌΤδσd have a jam session that would last a weekend. Leo Sayer sang with us for a bit, and George Harrison played with us one night. We had a lot of fun.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
In 1986, after 17 years with Brabham, Gordon decided to leave. ?σΤιΌ?τBrabham was sliding downhill. Bernie?σΤιΌΤδσs priorities were more and more with FOCA, and he let Nelson go over what I believe was a small amount of money. It had been a strong relationship with Nelson, he?σΤιΌΤδσd been with us for seven years, won two championships. The tyre contract was running out, the sponsorship deals were running out, the engine contract was running out, and to cap it all we just couldn?σΤιΌΤδσt get the BT55 to work. We couldn?σΤιΌΤδσt get the engine to scavenge.?σΤιΌ?Ψ The BT55 was the revolutionary, ultra-low 1986 car, with the engine lying on its side. ?σΤιΌ?τThen Elio de Angelis was killed in a testing accident at Paul Ricard. I was disenchanted with all the travel, and the general direction that F1 was going in, and I didn?σΤιΌΤδσt see it as an on-going challenge any more. I decided I should try something new.
?σΤιΌ?τThen Ron Dennis came chasing after me, because John Barnard was leaving McLaren. So I said to him, ?σΤιΌ?£I?σΤιΌΤδσll come on board on one condition: three more years of Formula 1, and then that?σΤιΌΤδσs it. That?σΤιΌΤδσll be 20 years in F1, and that?σΤιΌΤδσs enough.?σΤιΌΤδσ And he agreed to that.
?σΤιΌ?τMcLaren was different because so much of what I?σΤιΌΤδσd had to do at Brabham, from talking to sponsors to dealing with staff issues, was taken care of. Which was great, because I could concentrate on structuring the engineering. I made a lot of big changes. When I got to McLaren I found they had no process whatever. I introduced post-race analysis, failure reports, all the stuff they didn?σΤιΌΤδσt have and badly needed. I ran the team technically, did the strategy at races, everything I loved to do. Ron just let me get on with it. When I arrived in October 1986 the 1987 car was already done. I did the 1988 car (MP4/4 with Honda V6 turbo), the 1989 car (MP4/4B* with Honda V12) and the 1990 car (MP4/5 with Honda V12). All of them won the world championship.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
In fact the McLaren domination of Formula 1 during the Murray years was just about total, earning both the drivers?σΤιΌΤδσ and constructors?σΤιΌΤδσ titles three years on the trot. In 1988 the red and white cars of Senna and Prost won 15 of 16 rounds, only missing victory at Monza when Senna was put off the track by a back-marker. But Gordon held Ron to his three-year promise. ?σΤιΌ?τThe days of real technical innovation in F1, with big steps forward overnight, were rapidly disappearing, because of the increasing levels of regulation. Young engineers joining F1 now don?σΤιΌΤδσt know any different, and for them it?σΤιΌΤδσs probably great, but it didn?σΤιΌΤδσt appeal to me as much as the earlier times, when it was more sports and engineering-driven. Now it was just all business.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
So Gordon left F1, but he didn?σΤιΌΤδσt leave McLaren. Since 1988 he?σΤιΌΤδσd been talking to Ron and McLaren directors Creighton Brown and Mansour Ojjeh about taking another clean sheet of paper and building the ultimate road car. McLaren Cars Ltd was formed in early 1989.
?σΤιΌ?τRon had the foresight to realise in the 1980s that McLaren was little more than an F1 team. He was determined to expand it. I?σΤιΌΤδσd wanted to do a road sports car since I was about 15, a proper Ferrari-beater. And there may have been an element of keeping me on board: Ron wouldn?σΤιΌΤδσt have wanted me to go to another F1 team.
?σΤιΌ?τI don?σΤιΌΤδσt think a car like the McLaren F1 will ever happen again, not because the design capabilities aren?σΤιΌΤδσt there, but because the process by which it happened wouldn?σΤιΌΤδσt be allowed again. Very seldom in history has one person been given the responsibility of everything to do with one car ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ laying out the building including the furniture and the carpets, employing every single staff member, designing everything about the car down to the fitted luggage and the hi-fi, developing the car, putting it into production, even writing the owner?σΤιΌΤδσs handbook. The McLaren F1 was able to be one man?σΤιΌΤδσs vision, uncompromised.
?σΤιΌ?τApart from the Mercedes SLR, I can put my hand on my heart and say I?σΤιΌΤδσve designed everything in all my cars. But what I?σΤιΌΤδσm not good at doing, and what we needed a lot of, are those wonderful quick illustrations where chrome looks like chrome and rubber looks like rubber, and there are reflections in the glass. I also needed someone to do the clay models. So I asked Peter Stevens, a top car designer in his own right, if he could recommend an RCA graduate who could do that for us. He wanted to know what I was doing, so I told him. And he said, ?σΤιΌ?£I want that job.?σΤιΌΤδσ I said he?σΤιΌΤδσd have to work for me and he said, ?σΤιΌ?£Fine.?σΤιΌΤδσ He didn?σΤιΌΤδσt impose anything on me at all.
?σΤιΌ?τBecause of F1 commitments, I only really started towards the end of 1989. The whole programme was 43 months. We decided to launch it before we started development testing, because we wanted to get the impact of the three-seat arrangement, the big V12, and the weight ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ this was a car that was 50 per cent lighter than its opposition, the world?σΤιΌΤδσs first carbon-composite production road car. We did the launch at Monaco in 1992. That was fun because I designed the stage, decided on the music, oversaw the brochure and the invitations.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
For many of us the McLaren F1 is simply the finest supercar of all time. But before its development was finished Gordon was already working on McLaren Cars Project 2, a two-plus-two 911-sized mid-engined sports car. It was presented to BMW and they accepted it, but almost simultaneously Ron Dennis concluded a five-year agreement with Mercedes-Benz. ?σΤιΌ?τIt would have been a nice little car, but the Mercedes deal put the kybosh [sic] on that, and we had nothing else to do. So we went racing with the F1.
?σΤιΌ?τI?σΤιΌΤδσd said from day one that we shouldn?σΤιΌΤδσt ever think about the F1 as a racing car because we?σΤιΌΤδσd compromise it. It had to be a road car that you could drive to the South of France with the air-conditioning on, good sound system, comfortable suspension with long wheel travel, no external wings.?σΤιΌ?Ψ But, inevitably, there were customers who wanted to change that, and the GTR was the result. On its first visit to Le Mans in 1995 it won a historic victory.
?σΤιΌ?τI loved that period. It gave me a huge boost. From being disillusioned with Formula 1, it took me back to why I liked racing in the first place. There was enough competition between Porsche, Ferrari and ourselves to make it really nail-biting. But there was interaction between the teams. You could go into the Ferrari pit and watch one of their pit stops. Lovely old-fashioned camaraderie, like F1 in the 1970s. Then Porsche made the GT1, a bit of a homologation special although they did make enough production cars just in time. So we said, if you want to do that we?σΤιΌΤδσll do that, and we made the long-tail. We made five long-tail road cars. And we won the GT category at Le Mans in 1997, and were second overall. But then Mercedes made their car and jumped the rules without making a road car. You were meant to make road cars and sell them, but they came in with all the money and the best drivers, and the whole GT concept went out of the window.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
Project 3 was a city car, which Gordon worked on for a year, but the McLaren board decided not to do it. Project 4 was a two-seater F1 demonstration car, which followed the tandem-seat layout that Gordon had used in the Rocket, the tiny Yamaha-powered fun car he?σΤιΌΤδσd designed in six months of spare time for his friend Chris Craft. Project 5 was a rear-engined V8 supercar. ?σΤιΌ?τWe presented it to Mercedes and they said: ?σΤιΌ?£The good news is you?σΤιΌΤδσve got the job, the bad news is we want one with a front engine.?σΤιΌΤδσ That became the SLR. It wasn?σΤιΌΤδσt really my sort of car, but for the company it was a big prestigious chunk of work. And it?σΤιΌΤδσs still the world?σΤιΌΤδσs only full ground-effect front-engined car, and it?σΤιΌΤδσs probably the safest car of its type on the planet.
?σΤιΌ?τProject 6 was a very radical Le Mans car, underfloor radiators, high nose. Wind tunnel tests showed it would have annihilated everything at the time on downforce, lift over drag. But Ron didn?σΤιΌΤδσt want to get into building customer racing cars for sale. The SLR was Project 7, and Project 8 was the next rear-engined car which was put to Mercedes. It would have been a huge step forward in sports car design ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ just what Ferrari are talking about now, lighter weight, modular construction, better material usage. We could have done that four years ago. Unfortunately that?σΤιΌΤδσs all been canned now.
?σΤιΌ?τAt Brabham, and then to start with at McLaren, I used to go around the company every morning and say hello to every single person. I knew their families, I knew their kids?σΤιΌΤδσ names, where they went on holiday. When we started the F1 project we were 36 people. By the time we started production with the SLR we were 450. I was going down into the workshop and seeing people I didn?σΤιΌΤδσt even know. I don?σΤιΌΤδσt like big companies, I like small teams. So in December 2004 I left to run Gordon Murray Design. Since arriving in England 34 years before I?σΤιΌΤδσd only worked for two companies, and I decided if I was going to start all over again at the age of 58 it would have to be with a team of people I knew. Luckily I?σΤιΌΤδσve got 16 of them, straight out of McLaren, all people I worked with. They were my team, they just moved from Woking to Shelford.
?σΤιΌ?τIt started with a project that Creighton Brown was putting together, a sports car to build in Brazil. Then tragically Creighton died of cancer in 2006. So I took a deep breath and I pulled the environmental car forward. It?σΤιΌΤδσs a complete rethink on the motorcar, every single aspect of it: wheels, tyres, brakes, seating position, luggage, child seats, visibility, wipers, congestion, parking. And life cycle and CO2, that?σΤιΌΤδσs the biggest one, from digging the ore out of the ground to burying the car at the end of its life. I want to see a two-thirds reduction in the CO2 damage we?σΤιΌΤδσre doing now.
?σΤιΌ?τBut it has to have the style, the image. You can?σΤιΌΤδσt sell a small car that?σΤιΌΤδσs not iconic, like the original Mini was. When you see one I don?σΤιΌΤδσt want you to say, ?σΤιΌ?£What the hell?σΤιΌΤδσs that??σΤιΌΤδσ I want you to say, ?σΤιΌ?£I want one of those.?σΤιΌΤδσ We?σΤιΌΤδσve got to make sure that happens.
?σΤιΌ?τWe?σΤιΌΤδσve got 14 variants on the board at the moment: inner-city taxi, delivery van, pick-up, flat-bed, emergency medical supplies, holiday resort buggy, post van. I?σΤιΌΤδσve got a full-time researcher looking at car journeys, occupancy, what we use our car for. You don?σΤιΌΤδσt sit in it like an ordinary car at all. There are six layouts built into the internal architecture, so today I?σΤιΌΤδσm taking the kids to school, flip, flip, tomorrow I?σΤιΌΤδσm taking somebody to the airport with big suitcases, flip, flip, then I?σΤιΌΤδσm on a commuter run with a briefcase and want more room and comfort, flip, flip. Funky ergonomics, high eye-line, good peripheral vision. It won?σΤιΌΤδσt require sophisticated production techniques. The chassis is designed to fold flat, like an Ikea wardrobe, so you can get more in a container. I?σΤιΌΤδσm looking at making the chassis in India.?σΤιΌ?Ψ
When Gordon first came to England his girlfriend Stella followed him a few months later, and they were married in 1970. In 1975 they bought a farmer?σΤιΌΤδσs cottage in Surrey, and they live there still, although Gordon concedes that the house has grown considerably down the years. ?σΤιΌ?τWe?σΤιΌΤδσve now got one bedroom, but the bedroom is bigger. And we?σΤιΌΤδσve got lots of barns and things.?σΤιΌ?Ψ One of these houses a replica of an American drive-in movie theatre, complete with original 1959 Cadillac convertible to watch the film from, and pop-corn machines. They have a dramatic house on the north-west coast of Scotland, and two houses in France: ?σΤιΌ?τthe one we go to 10 miles east of Bergerac, and the ruin that I?σΤιΌΤδσm going to do up one day.?σΤιΌ?Ψ In his garage are a McLaren F1, of course, and an SLR and a Rocket. ?σΤιΌ?τThen I?σΤιΌΤδσve got a 1957 Ford Thunderbird with porthole hardtop, very American Graffiti, and a 1968 Series 3 Lotus Elan, which is a proper car.?σΤιΌ?Ψ His everyday car is a Smart Roadster: ?σΤιΌ?τIt?σΤιΌΤδσs great, does everything I need.?σΤιΌ?Ψ He loves Fiat Cinquecentos, of the original 1960s variety. His current one was built up from scratch around a seam-welded shell with a 650cc engine. He?σΤιΌΤδσs also had a fully-tweaked 695 Abarth, and another to which he fitted a high-revving Yamaha motorcycle engine and six-speed sequential gearbox. He disapproves of Fiat?σΤιΌΤδσs new Cinquecento: ?σΤιΌ?τIt?σΤιΌΤδσs like the new Mini, brilliant marketing but crap packaging, so big and heavy. As a purist I would have liked to see BMW take the icon that the Mini brand stood for and make a real step forward. But I suppose it wouldn?σΤιΌΤδσt have made them the money the new Mini makes.?σΤιΌ?Ψ He also has several motorcycles, including a full-race 996 Ducati and a Honda 1300.
Gordon is 61 now, and his environmental car has got him every bit as fired up and motivated as he was when he first started in Formula 1. ?σΤιΌ?τThree mainstream manufacturers have approached us. I?σΤιΌΤδσm talking to the Americans at the moment, and I?σΤιΌΤδσm flying to Japan next week to talk to a couple there. Our company is all about design, prototyping, development, engineering support. We don?σΤιΌΤδσt do production, but I?σΤιΌΤδσm planning to retain the rights to the design.
?σΤιΌ?τI want to create a new world class of vehicle. We?σΤιΌΤδσre in the best bit now, the problem solving. I just love it.?σΤιΌ?Ψ And once the environmental car is off and running, the Murray brain will no doubt hunt down more stimulating problems: and then come up with more hot-bath ideas to solve them.
*The MP4-4B was McLaren’s test car for 1989. The team raced the MP4-5 that year and the MP4-5B in 1990.
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Motor Sport Greats in Conversation
Motor Sport Greats in Conversation is available from all good bookshops and direct from Haynes at www.haynes.co.uk or by calling 01963 442030, priced ?ι?ϊ19.99.
The book features more interviews with F1 and motor racing personalities including Mario Andretti, Ross Brawn, David Coulthard, Emerson Fittipaldi, Damon Hill, Christian Horner, Alan Jones, Nigel Mansell, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, Sid Watkins and more.
- McLaren’s Alain Prost book reviewed
- “Aussie Grit” by Mark Webber: Read the review and win a signed copy
- First Principles: Keith Duckworth biography reviewed
- F1 2015 by Codemasters reviewed
- Max Mosley: The Autobiography review
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