A winning formula

Features Posted 21/06/19
CBE is the high point of a half-century devoted to improving the design, speed and safety of a new breed of supercars.

After more than 50 years at the heart of the high-octane, high-excitement world of Formula One racing, Gordon Murray could be forgiven for wanting to retire to enjoy some peace and relaxation. Far from it, he’s still raring to go and has just announced the launch of “the purest, lightest, most-driver-focused supercar ever”.

Professor Murray, who was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours’ list and presented with the insignia by the Duke of Cambridge last month, shakes off talk of retirement and says he can’t wait for his latest project to roll off the production line in 2022. Just 100 of the revolutionary T50s will be manufactured in the UK by Gordon Murray Automotive, a new subsidiary of the Gordon Murray Group, based at Guildford, Surrey. All of its engineering planning, interior and exterior styling has been completed by Gordon Murray Design.

Gordon’s half-century of devotion to the UK’s motorsport and automotive sectors was recognised by the award of the CBE, described by him as “one of the highlights of my life – right up there with Formula One World Championship wins, or creating the world’s fastest production car.”

As the son of a motor mechanic in Durban, South Africa, Gordon says he was always passionate about motor racing. A year of military service failed to extinguish this and he enrolled as a draughtsman at an engineering firm while studying mechanical engineering at the Natal Technical College. Meanwhile, he designed, built and raced his own cars because he did not have the money to import one. Then came the biggest decision of his life.

“I decided that if I wanted to make an impression in motor racing I would have to be in England, so I sold all of my belongings and bought a ticket on a ship to Britain, hoping to get a job at Lotus Cars, with whom I had been corresponding. In the end, however, I found work as a missile designer at Hawker Siddeley, before a chance meeting led to being offered a job by Ron Tauranac as a design draughtsman at Brabham.”

Gordon arrived in England in 1969 and his girlfriend, Stella, followed him a few months later. They married in 1970 and have one son.

The next three years saw Gordon learning the trade from Tauranac and his team, which was taken over by Bernie Ecclestone, who appointed him chief designer of Brabham at the end of 1972 and asked him to design a competitive car. The result was the Brabham BT42 which finished fourth in the World Championship the following year.

A succession of designs improved Ecclestone’s team successes through the 1970s and 80s and finally Gordon went to work for McLaren as chief designer in 1989. He remained with the company until he decided to leave in 2005 and he set up his own company two years later. Since then, he has followed a new philosophy, after realising that “the way we make cars hasn’t altered since Henry Ford produced the Model T. I decided to tear up the rule book and start from a blank canvas.”

The result is the revolutionary iStream principle, cars designed with a tubular steel chassis described as “incredibly light, [with] strong composite panels bonded on to the chassis and plastic body panels that give the car its shape. It means a massive drop in energy requirements and a dramatically lower environmental impact,” Gordon explains. The designs have been described as “Formula One technology for the everyday driver – a complete rethink and redesign of the traditional manufacturing process.”

Gordon is marking his half-century in the racing world with an autobiography called “One Formula” – an impressive two-volume, 900-page epic charting his extraordinary life.

When he’s not living and breathing Formula One, Gordon enjoys listening to music, socialising with friends and travelling to watch the Isle of Man TT races. He also loves spending time in Scotland.

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