I’ve known Gordon Murray for at least 30 years, and if he’s changed in that time, I’ve not really noticed. Of course if I look back at photographs taken when I first got to know him during the development of the McLaren F1 in the early 1990s, I can tell the hair is greyer, and I guess if I looked closely enough the face would show some evidence of the intervening decades, but as a person with whom to talk he is the same at 75 as he was at 45. Which is an unstoppable powerhouse of information, insight and enthusiasm. The two of us stood alone in a cold, underground car park for two hours while he talked me around his new T.33 supercar. He barely drew breath.
What has changed is what he talks about. It used to be all about the engineering, but now he says he’s just as interested in design, a fact to which the gorgeous T.33 bears potent witness. But over in the corner there is a 3.9-litre Cosworth V12 motor to which I am urgently summoned. “Just look at this!” he exclaims, and it takes me a while to realise he’s not actually talking about the motor – beautiful though it is – but the stand upon which it sits, an elegant confection of carbon struts and milled titanium fixings.
Needless to say it’s Gordon’s own design and exists because many of his customers for the T.50 and T.33 want a show engine to go with their car. “It comes in a pack and we tell owners they have to assemble it themselves.” How much does it cost, I wonder and, for the one and only time that day, he doesn’t have an answer. “Quite a lot, I expect,” is all he’ll say.
In typical Gordon fashion, there’s no great razzmatazz. I turn up to the new 54-acre site secured at Windlesham in Surrey – at which he will build the campus that will house Gordon Murray Automotive, Gordon Murray Design and his new venture Gordon Murray Electronics – descend a narrow iron spiral staircase and there’s the T.33, parked in the middle of a car park. A single electric cord trailing from it to a wall socket so its lights can illuminate (it’s a show car; functioning prototypes won’t be built until the summer) is the sole concession to theatrics. It doesn’t need more: while almost all other modern supercars come slathered in wings, fins, slats and scoops, the T.33 does not. Gordon is scornful of the approach not just because it makes cars date quickly but, he says in reference to one manufacturer in particular, “most of it’s there for show; you can see that it can’t have any aerodynamic benefit”.
“Toyota UK says it is “drooling from afar” about the GRMN Yaris”
The T.33 is not like that, lacking even the fan system of the T.50. Instead its shape is super-clean, with the minimum number of shut lines possible. Looking at it I found some of my favourite 1960s sports cars were staring right back: something of the Lotus 23 about the nose, the Ferrari 206 SP in the headlights, the Porsche 904 in the rear end and the 250 LM over the rear haunch. In a rather subtle way, it is a quite stunning device.
But you’ll be glad to know even Gordon Murray can make mistakes. Because the T.33 is what he calls a supercar GT, he felt he ought to offer it with the option of two-pedal transmission. But being Gordon, this wasn’t even going to be a heavy double clutch gearbox, but a bespoke commission from Xtrac that uses no clutches at all other than to pull away. He says it offers seamless shifts with zero torque interruption and is very proud of form and function. So, I asked him, how many customers for the 50 cars he’d already sold at the time of our conversation, some time before its launch, had optioned in the paddle-shift box. “So far, three,” he replied. And what did it cost to develop? “Don’t ask. But we said we’d do it, so do it we will.” Ultimately he’ll build 100 of the current car, then 100 each of two other versions, probably one with some kind of open roof, and a more stripped-down, extreme-performance version.
It’s such a shame that not one of the 500 little Toyota GRMN Yaris monsters is going to find its way over here or, indeed and officially at least, anywhere other than its native Japan. With a stiffer shell, reduced weight, short gears, mechanically locking differentials and special track tyres, it looks like being one of the most compelling driving machines of its era, not least because the GR Yaris from which it is derived is without question the most entertaining hatchback currently on sale. But there’s more: the lucky 500 will be able to decide whether to keep their cars as described above, or to optimise them for the track with bigger brakes, Bilstein dampers and an aero kit, or for the rally stage with long-travel suspension and underbody protection.
Toyota UK seems as saddened by the decision not to offer the car globally as anyone else, saying that it is “drooling from afar” but citing the cost and complication of homologating so few cars for other markets as the reason they will all be sold in Japan.
That said, as they’ll all be right-hand drive, if any do escape (and they absolutely will), they’re more likely to end up coming here than anywhere else. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.
A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel