x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

McLaren F1 designer: it's time to get back to sports cars as works of art

Scroll through the CV of Gordon Murray and there is more than a little of the Midas touch about it.

Gordon Murray
Gordon Murray

Scroll through the CV of Gordon Murray and there is more than a little of the Midas touch about it. The maverick car designer packed up from his native South Africa in his early twenties searching for a job with Lotus Cars. As it happened, he ended up at Brabham and turned the then Bernie Ecclestone-owned team into world beaters with his cutting-edge designs. On moving to McLaren, he designed a Formula One car in 1988 that won 15 of that season's 16 grands prix before setting up a new division at McLaren where he was the chief architect of the legendary F1 road car.

At the start of this year, he unveiled plans for a new city car, the T25 - so named to mark a quarter of a century of car design by Murray - which he promised would revolutionise the car industry with iStream manufacturing, a groundbreaking process of building cars. And the general consensus is that Murray may well have struck gold again. While the T25 and the iStream process, which involves pre-painted panels being formed by welding rather than being stamped in a press, are taking up the majority of his time, Murray, who readily admits to being a dreamer, already has his sights set on something new.

When we last met, Murray had declared the death of the supercar, but the creator of arguably the finest supercar in history is currently planning a new foray into that market. Neither horsepower nor top speeds are a target for the wily designer, who is bidding to make the most attractive sports car since the McLaren F1. "For me, the sports car needs to get back to being a work of art," he says, "and I'd love to start a new trend of getting back to sports cars being almost like pieces of jewellery.

"What I have in mind will be more delicate than the F1 but, like the F1, this will be beautifully handmade and detailed. But also, it will be more driver-focused than anything that's gone before." While most sports car creations are about the amount of grunt and torque available to the driver, Murray will be working from a greener platform, with lightweight materials being used throughout, a novel approach for that section of the motoring industry.

"For me, a change in sports cars is needed as things are spiralling in the wrong way," he says. "You're getting too much torque and power, the parts are getting too heavy and unsustainable. Going for 1,200hp and 260mph is not the way to go anymore. If anything, this horsepower battle is nonsense and I think people are beginning to see that now. "There are a lot of sports car makers around and the market will get increasingly flooded. I'd said before that the sports car market is dead as it is, but that's not to say sports cars are completely dead. There will always be a market for beautifully made sports cars on a smaller scale and that's the way to go."

Murray has yet to officially put pen to paper on his sports car design but concedes that he has "thought a lot about it for a good few months now". The plan would be to create 100 cars at most within the next two to three years for a select band of buyers that would be cheaper than the current rivals on the market but no less luxurious. The cost-cutting is achievable by the materials that Murray plans to use. He laughs at the idea of conventional steel and admits that composites are the way he will go, although understandably refuses to reveal anymore than that.

The T25 city car, which Murray previously told The National would revolutionise the global motoring industry, will be the first creation to use the iStream process. But he also has plans for an electric version of the car, the T27. The British government has been sufficiently impressed by Murray's plans to have stumped up £4.5 million (Dh27.5 million) in funding towards the electric car, a fee that will be matched by Murray himself.

And his green credentials have also seen him appointed deputy chairman of the Automotive Council, a Government-led initiative aimed at revolutionising the motoring industry, all of which gives Murray little breathing room. "Put it this way, I don't get a lot of holidays, but it's exciting to be involved with. I can make a real difference to the future of the motoring industry. Not just in the UK but in the Middle East; wherever really." motoring@thenational.ae