The genius of Gordon Murray – in one amazing exhibition
Automotive designer Gordon Murray shows off 50 years of his design work, from specials to Formula 1 to the next generation of road cars
A week-long private exhibition of Gordon Murray's greatest designs in his 50-year automotive design career shows off the sheer variety of vehicles he's been involved with – and kicks off a new stage in his career.
The temporary One Formula exhibition uses the new building of Gordon Murray's latest venture, Gordon Murray Automotive, which launched on 3 November. Within it are a remarkable 74 vehicles from all around the world, many borrowed from private owners, as well as recreations of Gordon's earliest designs.
'I said to the team we'd probably get 12 cars together,' said Gordon at the official opening of the exhibition, 'but everyone around the world has been so generous. When I saw the cars beginning to turn up I was flabbergasted! I actually felt quite tired just looking at them all – I can't imagine how I had the time and the energy to design so many cars.
The exhibition is laid out chronologically, starting with a a recreation of the 1967 IGM Ford Special T.1, a Lotus 7-type machine which was the first car that Gordon designed and built himself. His inspiration had been his father's work on specials and race cars, and the many races and hillclimbs that he'd spectated at as a child.
'I wrote off to England for chassis and engine design books,' explains Gordon, 'and built my own car and engine between 1965 and 1967. I raced in the 1967 and 1968 seasons in South Africa with some success, before selling everything and boarding a converted cargo boat for the UK.'
The whereabouts of the original IGM Ford Special is unknown but the exhibited car was built by Gordon Murray Design staff, faithfully following Gordon's original design sketches. Next to it is another recreation, this one of Gordon's first design office, complete with 1973 Pirelli calendar on the wall alongside engineering drawings of a stillborn project, a mid-engined sports coupé named the IGM Cuneo 1600GT, drawing board and even record player, all saved by Gordon.
Round the corner there's also a recreation of the 1971 IGM Minibug T.2, a Mini-based road car that Gordon designed and built during his first two years at Brabham (after a chance meeting with Brabham designer Ron Tauranac). He built four, one of which was discovered recently, and drove his own as his only family transport for three years. Nearby is the 1976 Supertrac lawnmower that he built on moving to a larger house – complete with Brabham steering wheel.
There's also the Duckhams Ford LM T.3 Le Mans car, designed as a freelance job for Alain de Cadenet, and the IGM Formula 750 T.4 that Gordon designed for his own use, before pressure of work ended the project. Still, it featured the first use of rod-operated rising-rate suspension on a race car.
The Brabham Formula 1 era
The race cars properly begin with Brabham, where Gordon got his break when the company was bought by Bernie Ecclestone, sacking many of the staff but promoting Gordon. The result was the clean-sheet BT42.
'The BT42 was pretty radical – much smaller and simpler than the opposition,' explains Murray. 'I took a fresh approach to the aerodynamics with a triangular cross-section that forced most of the air over the car and created a crude form of ground-effect aerodynamics.'
The cars that follow chart Gordon's pioneering work in aerodynamics and composite materials, including the carbon brakes of the BT45C, the remarkable BT46B 'Fan car', which effectively sucked the car to the tarmac (it was subsequently voluntarily withdrawn following protests from other teams) and the 1983 BT51 and BT52, the first cars designed for strategic pit stops (ie with small fuel tanks) – another Murray innovation.
In case you're wondering what the little red road car is doing in the gallery of Brabhams, that was another side-project, taking the existing front-engined Mini-based Midas kit car and converting it to mid-engined Alfa Romeo power...
The McLaren era
Gordon moved to McLaren late in 1986 and, with the 1987 car already designed, set about preparing for the switch to the Honda V6 turbo engine in 1988. The result was the iconic MP4/4, driven by Prost and Senna to an unprecedented 15 wins out of 16 races – a record that still stands today.
By 1989 he was stepping back from Formula 1 to focus on setting up a new road car company with McLaren, although in between he also worked with Chris Craft to produce the motorcycle-engined LCC Rocket (and the later one-off Lightning, also on show). Then it was onto the McLaren F1.
'I went on a focused and almost fanatical quest for lightweight and highly-detailed engineering,' says Murray. 'I set out to design the very best-engineered drivers’ car that I could.'
The result, of course, was one of the greatest ever supercars, and the 240.1mph top speed set by Andy Wallace in the XP5 prototype is still the fastest ever by a normally-aspirated production car.
Several varieties feature in the exhibition, including the 1993 original, 1995 Le Mans-winning F1 GTR, 1996 F1 GTR, 1996 F1 GT and 1997 F1 GTR 'Longtail'. These are joined by the gullwing Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and SLR GTR.
The iStream era
Here's where Gordon Murray moves into the future, starting with a series of city cars – 2010 GMD City Car, Yamaha City Car, GMD Electric City Car and Toray Teewave AR1 – using his iStream production technique.
This is the method of building a lightweight frame onto which are bonded lightweight composite panels. The same technique was employed for the new TVR Griffith and the Yamaha Sports Car, and will feature in the new Gordon Murray Automotive platforms, available for other manufacturers, and the company's forthcoming IMG sports cars.
The iStream cars are joined by Gordon's Batmobile project and the revolutionary 'flat-pack' OX truck, designed for use in third-world countries.