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Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars

The legendary Formula 1 designer spoke to Car Throttle about the incoming McLaren F1 successor, his Alpine A110, and the state of the supercar industry

Remind me later
Alpine - Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars - Blog

The era of noisy supercars with giant, powerful internal combustion engines is in its twilight years. But it’s hard to be sad, because the genre is going out with a bang. And no car exemplifies this more than the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50.

Legendary Formula 1 designer Gordon Murray is not beating about the bush with this thing - he’s happy to tell the world this is essentially McLaren F1 v.2. The follow-up has a 3.9-litre V12 built by Cosworth with a wild 12,100rpm redline, and a 400mm fan at the back to help give it the most advanced aero system of any production car in history.

With the car not due to be revealed until May 2020 ahead of production starting in 2022, we have questions. And thankfully, Murray had some time to chat with us.

Alpine - Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars - Blog

Car Throttle: It’s just over 20 years since the F1 went out of production. Why is now the right time to make a successor?

Gordon Murray: I’ve been watching the trend in supercars since the F1, and nobody’s really cottoned on to the formula since then. I don’t think there’s been a truly focused, lightweight driver’s car since the F1. It’s just gone in a direction I don’t particularly like as a driver, getting more complex, heavier and larger. And inevitably, to get the power race won with turbochargers and hybrids and batteries, we’re heading towards the two-tonne supercar at the moment. 1500kg is quite normal these days. I did an average back in 2017 of the last 15 years, and it was something like 1410kg.

So I thought if no one else has done one, why not celebrate 50 years [of Murray designing cars] with a follow-up to the F1? Also because I think it could be the last true analogue supercar, with the way things have to go.

CT: Could you say that the T.50 is actually closer to the ethos the original F1 aimed for?

M: I think the targets in my head are all the same as the F1. I was just aiming to do the lightest, best, as beautifully engineered drivers car there had ever been.

What has changed is the technology and materials. It’s getting on for 31 years since I started designing the F1, and a hell of a lot’s changed. We’re able to draw on new materials, new technologies, new systems, and that’s enabled us to get even closer to what the original F1 was trying to aim for.

Originally the F1 was supposed to have a 4.0 or 4.5-litre V10 or V12 from Honda, and my target was 1000kg. And when they dropped out, and my dear friend Paul Rosche [of BMW Motorsport] turned up with a 6.0-litre [S70/2 BMW V12], I grabbed it with both hands. But it was bigger than I really wanted. So we’ve gone back to the target the original F1 tried to hit, but this time we’re going to hit it. The thing’s going to be quick anyway - the power to weight ratio is more than a LaFerrari or P1 GTR so it’s going to be a quick motor car whether you like it or not!

Alpine - Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars - Blog

CT: Were you aware of Cosworth’s partnership with Aston Martin to create the Valkyrie’s engine when you first approached them?

M: Yes, we knew then. We went to three different engine manufacturers and Cosworth convinced us that they had better technology than anyone else we’d been to. And because they had done the Aston Martin [Valkyrie], they had current knowledge on a modern high-revving engine.

Our engine has nothing to do with the Aston engine, but they learned very much from the Aston engine. We’ve benefitted from the background knowledge, but the engine is completely different. You could almost say ours is like the next generation - it’s got a lot more titanium in it.

One of my targets is engine response time as the F1 - for engine response - is still probably the quickest V12 out there. About 10,000 revs per second and this one is about 28,000 revs per second. It takes the driving pleasure to an even higher level.

CT: When it came to your original requests to Cosworth, was there anything the company deemed infeasible?

M: Initially, they baulked a bit at the targets. The highest revving car in history is my Light Car Rocket, which revs to 11,500rpm. I really wanted to beat that. Initially, when I said more than 12,000, they said, ‘with conventional valve gear, probably not’ [chuckles].

But they worked on it and they achieved it. They’ve done a fantastic job. I didn’t give them a horsepower target, it was just going to be whatever it was going to be. I was hoping it was going to be roughly the same as the F1 - it’s turned out to be more.

The T.50's 3.9-litre V12 is "like the next generation" of Cosworth's 6.5-litre Aston Martin Valkyrie engine, although the two are unrelated
The T.50's 3.9-litre V12 is "like the next generation" of Cosworth's 6.5-litre Aston Martin Valkyrie engine, although the two are unrelated

CT: We’re talking about a very high-revving engine here. How long will it take before needing a rebuild?

M: It’s nothing like the AMG Project One engine which needs a rebuild every few thousand kilometres. It’s a proper road engine. We’re warranting the engine for 50,000 miles, for a start, and three years. It’s not a race engine.

CT: Was the T.50 always going to have a V12, given that there was originally talk of the F1 getting a compact V10 from Honda?

M: That was Honda’s decision - I went to them about a V12 and they said it might have to be a V10. I thought that was enough cylinders to give the thing character. With this car [the T.50] it was never going to be anything but a V12.

I still think they’re the most characterful engines from a power delivery, torque delivery and sound. I want the thing to sound good because a lot of the turbo cars I’ve driven sound pretty abysmal.

Gordon Murray Automotive released this rendering of the T.50 hypercar, showing the McLaren F1 successor's 400mm fan
Gordon Murray Automotive released this rendering of the T.50 hypercar, showing the McLaren F1 successor's 400mm fan

CT: We’re in a strange place now where there are a surprising amount of £2 million hypercars - what are your thoughts on what’s out there? What will the T.50 do differently?

M: Well, everything. The fun thing about this project is there’s nobody doing anything remotely like what we’re doing with the T.50. The target is to be the best driver’s car. Everybody is 180 degrees, and probably the furthest from what we’re doing is these heavy electric cars. They might produce 2000hp, but you’re never going to get the vehicle dynamics of the T.50.

Alpine - Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars - Blog

CT: Will there be any derivatives of this?

M: We’re doing exactly 100 road cars and 25 track cars.

CT: Can you tell us any more about the track cars at this stage?

M: It’s an even more powerful derivative of the same engine - about 700bhp. It’s purely a track car, it’s not road registrable, and it’s 890kg. It’s got three times the downforce of the road car. It’s still got the fan on the back, but the fan has far fewer functions. Just one function - downforce.

CT: And slick tyres, presumably?

M: The stresses are designed for slicks, but it could run on track-biased road tyres as well.

"We just want a business that makes no more than a hundred cars a year, and cars that are at the top of their game"

CT: You refer to the T.50 as a Halo product, which seems to suggest there’s more to come…

M: There’ll be more cars. What I don’t want is to compete with Ferrari and Mclaren and Aston Martin and make thousands of cars. We just want a business that makes no more than a hundred cars a year, and cars that are at the top of their game.

If it has to be lightly hybridised next time, that’s what it’ll have to be. And if eventually if it has to be electric, that’s what it’ll be. But they’ll always be at the top of their game and leading the pack. This will be the one and only hypercar if you like.

Over 20 years after going out of production, the McLaren F1 is getting a true successor
Over 20 years after going out of production, the McLaren F1 is getting a true successor

CT: Speaking of McLaren, what are your thoughts on the company and the direction it’s taking now?

M: They’re trying to build a proper automotive business where you need to grow volume, and you need to keep the growth going. That’s not where I’m coming from at all - I don’t see us a competitor to any of the top companies.

Having said that I think they’ve done a fantastic job. They produce just brilliant products - I’ve driven all the latest supercars, and the 720S is probably the most capable I’ve ever driven. It does everything so well. The steering and the brake pedal feel is very good too.

CT: Will you take the T.50 racing?

M: I’d love to. It just depends if we fit. One of the problems we have is the formulas that this would drop into. In the GT formulas, the weight is about 1200kg. Our track car is 890. Trying to fit 300kg of steel on the car for ballast is not going to work! If anybody wants us in a formula badly enough I’m sure we can come to a deal because it’s all balance of performance these days, so maybe we could run lighter, a bit less horsepower or something.

Alpine - Gordon Murray On His F1 Reboot, Alpine, And What's Wrong With Modern Supercars - Blog

CT: The original F1, not just because of its three-seat layout, was surprisingly practical, particularly when it came to luggage space. With the T.50’s packaging can you offer something similar?

M: We’ve made everything slightly better than the F1. The F1 package was pretty good, and this is better, so more luggage space. We can get two full flight cases in now. We’ve got more interior space in the cabin, much more interior storage, and better air conditioning. Better access to the luggage, better ingress and egress - the F1 was a bit awkward to get in and out of.

CT: You’re using passive dampers rather than active. Can you explain why?

M: It’s a really simple answer. A year ago I bought an Alpine A110, and it has the best ride and handling compromise of anything I’ve driven since the Lotus Evora, which was top of my list before this. When you analyse that car [the A110] - and we did, we pulled mine apart for two months, we benchmarked it - that car’s got nothing trick on it. It just does the basics really well.

CT: That raises an interesting point about benchmarking - that can’t be easy when you’re trying to create a car that’s so different.

M: Well, we weren’t going to benchmark, until the Alpine came out, and I said no, that’s a whole new planet. I did a similar thing with the F1 - I benchmarked the NSX, and that was the best ride and handling car of its time.

It’s [the Alpine] the best car I’ve ever driven for ride and handling. It’s better than a Porsche, it’s better than supercars - it’s absolutely brilliant

Image via Gordon Murray Design
Image via Gordon Murray Design

CT: Is the Alpine the car your spending most time in? What’s your daily driver?

M: I’ve got two daily motor cars. I live in a place where I need four-wheel drive to get out if it snows - I’ve just bought myself the latest Jimmy, and I love it. I like the styling, I like the way it drives. My two daily drivers are the Alpine and that.