The covers have finally come off Gordon Murray’s latest and possibly last supercar, the GMA T.50.
The legendary former Formula One designer, now aged 74 – attributed with creating the iconic McLaren F1 road car in the 1990s – has released images of his new three-seater supercar in the UK overnight.
Murray says the GMA T.50 will likely be his "last analogue supercar", a hint to the possibility of switching to electric power if he were to come up with another creation.
While the original McLaren F1 supercar – also a three-seater, a novel concept at the time – was widely lauded as one of the greatest performance cars of its era, the man who created it had been planning to improve it since production ended in the late 1990s.
Indeed, the GMA T.50 is widely regarded as a McLaren F1 for the 21st century.
McLaren may take exception that suggestion, given that it is in the process of releasing its own three-seater supercar tribute to the original McLaren F1 – in the shape of the new Speedtail – which also has a central driving position, and is limited to the same production run as the 1990s version: 106 examples.
However, the new McLaren Speedtail is bigger, heavier and more complicated than the original McLaren F1, with a hybrid powertrain and a 400km/h top speed.
With that in mind, purists believe there is a more obvious connection between the original McLaren F1 and this new GMA T.50 supercar, even though they are separated by more than two decades of technology.
Judging by these images of the GMA T.50, the links to the McLaren F1 are clear.
The new car is fractionally longer – 4352mm versus 4287mm – and its 2700mm wheelbase is 18mm shorter.
But the design is very similar, especially at the front, with the same low windscreen line (essential for the central driving position) and broad ‘valley’ between the headlights.
The GMA T.50 comes with "gull wing" doors (as per the McLaren F1) with a similarly small opening panel within a large side window frame.
There are plenty of differences too; in part because aerodynamic modelling has come a long way in nearly 30 years.
The skin of the doors contains bigger cuts to channel air, and the intake snorkel on the roof is narrower and flanked by glazed panels which will make the cabin feel like the cockpit of a fighter jet.
The most obvious change, at the back it is wearing a 400mm diameter vent for the 48-volt fan which powers the car’s aerodynamics.
All this tech wizardry won't come cheap. The GMA T.50 is set to become one of the most expensive cars in the world – £2.36 million ($AU4.33 million) in the UK before taxes.
Despite the vehicle's capability and price tag, Murray acknowledges the GMA T.50 is not going to top the charts on power, top speed or aerodynamic downforce.
Other supercar manufacturers have it beaten in all those categories, and Murray doesn’t mind.
This is a car that’s defined by what it lacks rather than what it has: no turbos, no big wings, and no whizz-bang twin clutch gearbox.
In their place is a naturally aspirated 3.9-litre V12 with a ludicrous redline of 12,100rpm (just beyond where peak power arrives, at 11,500rpm), a 48-volt electric active aero system and – the greatest glory of the lot – a proper six-speed manual gearbox.
It’s also a genuine featherweight, set to tip the scales at 986kg, not much heavier than a Suzuki Swift hatchback. Murray was apparently bothered that the McLaren F1 narrowly missed out on his original 1000kg target.
The active aero is a technical rabbit hole in its own right, and one that Murray can talk about knowledgeably for hours.
However, in the simplest terms, the fan is used to extract turbulent air from the top of the underbody diffuser, removing this disrupted ‘boundary layer’ making the whole thing work harder and create more downforce.
It also means the aerodynamics can be altered by turning the fan up or down, with Murray saying the ability to reduce lift at speed is just as important as adding it when travelling slowly.
“The big problem with wings is that they are making downforce even when you don’t want them to,” he says.
“Say that I’m in Germany on the autobahn and doing [180km/h]. I don’t want downforce to increase with the square of the speed, which the law of physics tell you it’s going to, because that will use up all of the suspension travel and make the car uncomfortable as it gets near the bump rubbers, and I will be towing around a load of drag, and using engine power to do that.”
Which is why the GMA T.50 has a ‘Streamline’ mode, which minimises downforce and uses the fans to create a ‘virtual longtail’.
“We use the fan to clean up the aerodynamics and get a 12 per cent drag reduction,” says Murray. “Suddenly, downforce isn’t a slave to car speed any more.”
That means the GMA T.50 can sit on softer springs than the supercar norm, as they don’t need to fight against huge aerodynamic loadings.
It will also have passive dampers rather than weightier active units.
The 8.5kW electric motor and the ducting of the fan system weigh about 10kg, much less than a conventional wing element and hydraulic struts needed to vary its angle.
The use of 48-volt electrics creates another saving, removing the need for a conventional alternator and also powering the air conditioning pump. Murray admits the F1’s air-conditioning was “pathetic” at idle due to the need of its belt-driven pump to survive at the car’s 7800rpm redline.
The GMA T.50’s cabin shares its basic layout with the McLaren F1. “There is basically only one way to have a central driving position with passengers on each side” says Murray says.
However, he says he has improved some of the earlier niggles. Occupant space has been increased, and the new car won’t share any switchgear with any mainstream model.
“I’ve finally found a company that can build a switch with no spindle play,” says Murray. “With the McLaren F1, we had lovely machined aluminium 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.”
Instrumentation is a central rev counter flanked by reconfigurable digital display screens on both sides.
There are two switch binnacles, one carrying controls for lights, wiper and the aero fan modes and the other for climate and ventilation.
Eagle-eyed readers who've noticed the two paddles behind the steering wheel, might wonder what they are doing on a car with a manual gearbox. One is for the horn and the other the high beam.
There is also a surprising amount of cabin stowage space, 30 litres split between five different cabin compartments.
Murray says the lack of storage in his Alpine A110 daily driver is a constant annoyance. The GMA T.50 also gets more luggage space within its side compartments.
The star of the GMA T.50’s show will undoubtedly be its screaming V12 engine.
Murray says he gave builder Cosworth three key objectives: light weight, a higher rev limit than the 11,500rpm LCC Rocket that he also designed, and a better response rate than the McLaren F1 – how fast engine revs rise in one second while the vehicle is in neutral. For the McLaren F1, it was about 10,000 revs a second.
Cosworth used both gear-driven valve-gear and titanium for valves and connecting rods to hit the rev target, with the GMA T.50 pulling to its extraordinary 12,100rpm redline.
The engine is also 60kg lighter than the BMW S70/2 that powered the McLaren F1, while its 487kW output is 23kW higher.
But the response rate is off the chart. “I got an email from Cosworth saying ‘we think we’ve hit it’,” says Murray. “It was 28,400 revs a second. Even after all my years in the industry, I struggle to get my head around that one.”
Murray also insisted Cosworth design two separate engine modes, an unleashed version that delivers the lot, and a de-tuned “trundle to the shops” mode that limits the V12 to around 9000rpm (a figure he smilingly refers to as “Ferrari revs”).
Drivability should be pretty good in either mode, Murray insists, with the GMA T.50 delivering 70 percent of its peak torque of 467Nm from just 2500rpm.
Unsurprisingly, Murray believes the GMA T.50 will be better than the McLaren F1 in every crucial regard.
But the biggest difference, he hopes, will be that buyers of the new GMA T.50 will find it more accessible to drive than the McLaren F1.
How much does Murray believe in his new creation? Well, if this is a clue, he sold his own McLaren 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,” said Murray.
“When it became worth £10 million ($AU18.2 million) you had to start being a little bit careful, and the insurance premiums got eye-watering," said Murray.
"And once a car gets over £20 million ($AU36.4 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 realised I wasn’t enjoying it any more.”
The majority of the 100 GMA T.50s to be built have already been sold. If Murray's passion for his latest project is a guide, anyone lucky enough to buy one should be forced to sign a contract promising to drive it enthusiastically, and often.