Gordon’s golden touch
A retrospective show celebrating a lifetime of car design proves that even at 71, Gordon Murray remains as innovative as ever
When Gordon Murray decided that his 50 years in cars was worth remembering, it coincided with a new project and a new factory. Not content with creating Formula 1 race winners, the greatest supercar yet built, an eco city car and redesigning the entire process of car manufacture, Gordon has decided to start a new car marque.
Partly to announce that and partly in celebration of those 50 years of achievement, Murray’s team assembled an amazing once-in-a-lifetime show of 40 cars he has created, from his IGM Ford built at his South African home in 1967 to the latest TVR Griffith, in a brand-new building at Dunsfold aerodrome. While Gordon Murray Design remains at Shalford, Surrey, expanding his revolutionary iStream manufacturing process, Dunsfold will be home to Gordon Murray Automotive, developing and building small-run cars under the IGM label (it stands for Ian Gordon Murray). And while Gordon was reticent about detail as he announced it, the first car will be a compact, light supercar designed by Murray’s never-varying philosophy of ‘lightness first’.
You could see that principle in the man’s own car collection – not supercars but flyweights: Fiat 500, Alfa Romeo SZ, Mini, Abarths, Elans – all weighing in at less than 1000kg. It’s Murray’s obsession.
NEXT DOOR we strolled around the ‘One Formula’ exhibition, Gordon chatting casually about his Grand Prix-winning cars, most of which were lined up here from BT42 through the red Alfa Romeo era and blue and white title-winning years into McLaren glory, including the BT46B fan car. “Chapman made up the stuff about stones being fired at following drivers,” he said wryly, patting the dustbin-sized fan cowling. “The air exit speed was only about 50mph.”
That IGM logo appeared at the start of Murray’s design life, on that T1 sports car, and while the car here is a recent replica, the original IGM-badged steering wheel was hanging on the wall. Alongside was a reconstruction of Gordon’s first office featuring his drawing board, desk, instruments and Dansette record player. Music’s another theme – the show was backed by hundreds of LP covers.
Amazingly it’s 25 years since the McLaren F1 redefined the word supercar, and a squad of them on show ran through ‘base’ model and LM winner to the long-tail GTR. But in between the physical vehicles were the ‘ghost cars’ – projects that never materialised, such as a McLaren 2+2 supercar, a side-by-side two-seater to partner his tandem Rocket, a Brabham-Offy Indy car.
In this fascinating show, occupying the spaces that will see new IGMs created, one thing was noticeable: Murray is incapable of making an ugly car. Even the flat-pack Ox truck, assembled from simple panels, and the garden tractor he knocked up using Tyrrell six-wheeler tyres have attractive proportions. Speaking of gardens, also on show were some of the soapbox karts that every year fly down a rough track in Gordon’s private ‘grass prix’ at his place in France. This is not a conventional corporate man.
Convention is in fact so far from Murray’s standpoint that he hopes to disrupt the whole car manufacturing industry, and his tiny city cars demonstrate that. Minimal is the game, although the last car in the show is the brawny TVR Griffith; but GMD managed to fillet even this roadburner so it’s 300kg less lardy than its rivals. Weight, he says, is “the last frontier. Car companies will pay more than ever for every kilo saved. On the other hand, an iStream structure is not only innately lighter but completely future-proof. We don’t care whether it’s petrol, electric, hybrid or hydrogen, or if it’s autonomous, it can adapt simply. Well,” he adds after a pause, “I personally care if it’s autonomous…”
SITTING ON a red and white vinyl sofa by a glowing jukebox issuing rock & roll classics, he told me about what comes next. The aim is to develop and licence his iStream principle from Shalford, while at Dunsfold GMA will develop cars for clients and build prototypes. Plus its own IGM designs. “In very limited quantities – 50 or 60 cars. We don’t want to be another car company, another Ferrari.”
He’s unlike Enzo in another way, too: he values his history, retaining all drawings, notes and records. “But I can’t think how I had the energy to design all these cars!”
Currently he’s restoring a BT44B Brabham, too. “I drove every Brabham up to the BT48,” he says. Did he time himself? “Oh no. I was good enough to win a few races in South Africa, but I’m no F1 hand. But it was valuable to feel the spring progression, the damping, the gearchange function.”
The exhibition wasn’t open to the public – insurance and facilities concerns scuppered that. However, the next best thing is on the way in spring – the book of Murray’s career. I don’t think it will be dull.
Later, Gordon was the guest on one of our RAC/Motor Sport talk shows, and as usual sparkled. You can hear that on the Motor Sport website. But the conversation carried on once the mikes were off: how George Harrison tried teaching him to play guitar, and he still has Harrison’s annotated scores, about aircraft – “I’ve designed a simple aircraft on iStream principles, a rugged short-strip machine something like the Britten-Norman Islander” – and about architecture.
“I love architecture,” he said, eyes lighting up, flicking through his phone for pictures. “I keep building on to my houses, and I have a thing about polygons. I moved an octagonal church and rebuilt it beside our English place. Even our bedroom is octagonal!” There’s also a place in Scotland, on a little bay in a wild north-western corner of Sutherland. He’s amazed I know it and pulls up pictures. “I’ve designed loads of houses,” he says, “but this was the first completely new design.” It’s obvious the whole process excited him as much as – well, everything else he tackles. So just how many hours are there in a Murray day? “I don’t sleep much,” he shrugs.