2150-Pound T.50 Supercar Much Better Than McLaren F1, Says Man Who Designed Both

From Car and Driver

  • Gordon Murray Automotive is delaying the launch of its three-seat supercar, the T.50, because of COVID-19, but will build the first prototype in September, with the first customers getting them in January 2022.
  • The T.50 will have a Cosworth-built naturally aspirated 650-hp 4.0-liter V-12, yet the car will weigh less than a Mazda Miata.
  • Gordon Murray told C/D that 40 percent of the T.50’s buyers so far are people under age 45, who may have had posters of his McLaren F1 on their walls as teens. “This is their F1,” he said.

UPDATE 7/22/20: Gordon Murray Automotive has released a cutaway drawing (pictured below) of the 4.0-liter V-12 that will power the upcoming T.50 supercar.

Photo credit: Gordon Murray Design

A fresh addition to the growing list of things the coronavirus pandemic has denied us: the first look at Gordon Murray’s forthcoming T.50 hypercar. The three-seater was meant to be officially unveiled earlier this month, but the global pandemic has pushed that back until August. But while we will need to wait to see its final form, more details have been released—including confirmation that it will be the lightest supercar of all time, weighing just 980 kg, or 2160 pounds.

Clearly inspired by the McLaren F1—which Murray also designed—the T.50’s specification list is pretty much all highlights. It will have a central driving position, a naturally aspirated V-12, and a manual gearbox, as well as active aerodynamics using a powerful 48-volt electric fan. But when Car and Driver spoke to Murray earlier this week, he said he regards the car’s light weight as the most significant achievement.

“We have spent hours on what we call a ‘mass track’ every week, all the different disciplines of the car—chassis, suspension, body— saving weight wherever we can,” he explained. “We really do track it down to nuts and bolts. The target was to get under 1000 kg, and we’re going to do even better than that.”

The 1000-kg target was also the original one for the McLaren F1, with Murray admitting that plan was stymied by the use of a larger than anticipated 6.1-liter BMW V-12 engine, and also the use of iron brakes after it proved to be impossible to make carbon-ceramic discs work with the available technology. The F1 ended up weighing 2579 pounds, which was remarkably light even by the standards of its time but which Murray says he always regarded as a disappointment.

Weight has been carefully saved almost everywhere, from optimizing the size of individual bolts and fasteners rather than using off-the-shelf items, to larger assemblies. “It’s 31 years since I picked up the pencils to start drawing the F1, and stuff has moved on dramatically,” Murray said. The T.50’s Cosworth-built V-12 is set to be around 154 pounds lighter than the F1’s BMW V-12 and its X-Trac gearbox 21 pounds lighter than the transmission in its illustrious predecessor.

The T.50’s glass is thinner than typical, its central driver’s seat weighs just 15 pounds, and the two flanking passenger seats are under seven pounds each. Murray says his team has been able to trim mass even when he didn’t think they could. “I said to the guys, ‘I designed the pedals on the F1, I did the stress analysis, and you’re not going to get any weight out of that,’ but we had a look at the whole thing again, materials and technology, and we got 300g [0.7 pound] out of it, and 800g [1.8 pounds] out of the gearchange mechanism by using a lot more titanium.”

Despite weighing less than a Miata, the T.50 will be powered by what is set to be one of the most powerful naturally aspirated engines ever fitted to a road car: a Cosworth-developed 4.0-liter V-12 that will make 650 horsepower—a modest increase over the F1’s 618 hp—but it will have a completely different character. The F1’s BMW engine revved to a limiter set at 7500 rpm, whereas the T.50 will soar to a motorcycle-like 12,100 rpm. The T.50’s engine is set to weigh less than 400 pounds, making it the lightest roadgoing V-12 ever made. And while the forthcoming Cosworth-crafted V-12 in the Aston Martin Valkyrie will be a brawnier 6.5-liter 1000-hp unit, it won’t rev as high as the T.50.

Like most race engineers, Murray always prefers to increase performance by losing mass rather than increasing power. The T.50’s active aero system, using a 48-volt electric fan to remove the disrupted boundary layer within the car’s diffusers and therefore dramatically increase their efficiency, is the product of similar thinking. The whole system including fan motor and ducting weighs less than 27 pounds, but it also gives the ability to vary the amount of downforce being generated. That, in turn, saves the weight of adjustable dampers or heave springs to fight against unwanted high-speed aero loads.

Although COVID-19 has delayed the launch of the T.50, Murray says development remains on schedule and the sales process has continued through video conferencing. Around 75 of the full run of 100 cars are now spoken for, and that’s despite the need for buyers to front a deposit of about $738,000, with a final price of about $2.5 million. Murray says he is surprised at the relative youth of many of the buyers, with around 40 percent younger than 45. “They consistently tell me the same thing,” Murray says: “they were teenagers with the F1 on a poster on their bedroom wall but by the time they had a successful business the F1 was $15 million and they couldn’t find one anyway. This is their F1—and they’re getting it at an 85 percent discount, that’s one way of looking at it!”

While he is still justifiably proud of the McLaren F1, Murray is also adamant that the T.50 is going to be superior.

“This car will deliver—and this is a promise—the driving experience of an F1, but better, better in so many ways,” he said. “The F1 is still a great driver’s car, but this thing is going to be on another level altogether with what we’ve done. We’ve fixed the things we knew were wrong with the F1.

“I’d say in some areas the T.50 will be almost as big a leap forward from the F1 as the F1 was from the cars that had gone before it.”

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