The first sketches of the legendary McLaren F1 were put to paper in September of 1988, though it’s likely the earliest seeds of the car were planted in Gordon Murray’s brain long before. That car was perhaps the most ambitious performance car ever created, and its has never been replicated or surpassed. Until now. Murray is back with a brand new car, and if he wasn’t fucking around before, he definitely isn’t now.
His new project, the GMA T.50, isn’t just an improvement on the old Macca, this is a ground-up rethink of the whole concept aimed at creating a new hypercar G.O.A.T. Every single component was designed to improve on its predecessor. As a result, the T.50 is a rolling superlative. It has almost as much power as McLaren’s vaunted 720S, but weighs a full 1,000 pounds less. It has a naturally-aspirated Cosworth-built 4-liter V12 that revs to 12,100 rpm, and it can jump from idle to redline in just three tenths of a second.
The T.50 weighs 160 pounds less than a Mazda MX-5 and has a compact V12 mounted behind the driver making 690 horsepower. It also has way more downforce than the Mazda, and allegedly even better steering. Not only that, but it seats a third person and has cargo capacity for everyone. How is that even possible in 2020?
Well, for one thing, this car is going to cost more than two million British pounds and only 100 of them will be delivered worldwide. As for everything else, let’s take a closer look.
You can watch the dramatic live launch of the T.50 right here.
How Is It So Light?
At just 2173 pounds, the T.5o isn’t just lightweight, it’s Colin Chapman light. Every single component in the car has been given a diet of exotic materials to make it weigh as little as possible, but as Murray quipped to me, there’s nothing lighter than a hole. Using modern stress testing methods to determine exactly how much material could be machined away was imperative in this car’s lightweighting exercise.
The T.50 is also quite small. This car has a smaller overall footprint than Porsche’s current 911. It is 171.3 inches long, 72.8 inches wide, and just 45.8 inches from the bottom of the tire to the top of the intake scoop. The carbon tub and all of its bodywork weighs less than 330 pounds.
The Cosworth-developed engine is said to be the lightest engine ever installed in a road-legal automobile. The block is built from high-strength aluminum. The connecting rods and valves are titanium. Even the crankshaft and pistons which are made from steel, are as light as possible. All-in, the finished engine weighs just 392 pounds. And all of the rotational weight of the crank is mounted as low as possible in the dry-sump engine.
Even something as simple as the foot pedals in the cabin have been given a thorough re-think. In the early stages of the project Murray told a young engineer to look at a photograph of what he’d designed for the F1 pedal box all those years ago and ‘do something like that, because you won’t get it any lighter’. The next day he came back in and took back what he said. By redesigning the pedals with holes for your shoe leather to grab rather than debossed grips, Murray and co. managed to pull an extra 300 grams of weight out of them! “And they look better, too,” says Murray.
Whether it’s a racing car or a street car, building a faster machine is usually made possible by pulling weight out. And if you remove enough ounces, eventually they add up to pounds.
What does the fan do?
If you look at the T.50 from the back, it’s difficult to ignore that giant fan smack in the middle of the thing. Many people, GMA included, have made a parallel between this hypercar and Mr. Murray’s famed Formula 1 “Fan Car”, the Brabham BT46. That car actually had little side skirts that touched the ground, forming a seal so the fan could create a suction effect. This isn’t quite like that.
The T.50 does not have a seal to the road, and while the fan does help with ground effect downforce, it does not create the same suction effect as the F1 racer did. This is more of an extension of the McLaren F1’s pulled-diffuser effect blown up and highly exaggerated.
People don’t often talk about this aspect of the F1’s design, but Murray found that the car was creating a lot of aero wash underneath, as the air would detach from the steep diffuser at the back of the car. In order to pull it back to the diffuser, the F1 had two small fans fitted into its engine cover to pull the air back up into position. This gifted the F1 a 10 percent improvement in rear downforce, but Murray knew there was more to be had with this concept.
Murray tried to design the T.50’s large fan to fit completely into its engine compartment for similar reasons, but it simply wouldn’t fit, so it protrudes. The fan does allow the car to create massive downforce without “unsightly wings, outlets, vents, and bulges” giving it a cleaner look overall. Where traditional hypercars need big active aero and huge strakes everywhere to create downforce (I’m looking at you, McLaren P1) the T.50 is said to have more than enough downforce without self-flaggelating with the ugly stick.
The big fan is driven by a 48-volt electric motor with a 7,000 rpm max speed. The car’s 48-volt system is powered by an integrated starter/generator, gear-driven off the front of the crankshaft. During normal engine operation the ISG directly supplies power to the fan unit and other electrical components. In the car’s “V Max Boost” mode, the ISG decouples from the engine allowing it to eliminate parasitic drag. For a few minutes at a time, the electrics, including the fan, can be run from the battery, boosting power from 650 horses to 690.
The fan itself, in addition to helping the car build diffuser downforce, can provide 33 pounds of thrust. Does that actually make the car go faster? I’m sure it doesn’t hurt.
If the internal combustion engine is destined to die, this is certainly the last hoorah that it deserves. Says Murray, “By working with the team at Cosworth Powertrain we have created the greatest naturally-aspirated engine ever designed for the road. It is the highest revving, highest power density, lightest and fastest-responding naturally-aspirated V12 ever made for a road car.”
In spite of the trends, GMA wanted to provide the T.50 with a proper driver-focused experience. As such, it eschewed any thought of hybrid or turbocharger power. Mount a V12 engine amidships, give it a huge redline, row the gears through a manual shifter, and let it eat. Many recent hypercars,—particularly Porsche’s 918 Spyder—build speed a bit like a video game. There is no drama or excitement, just instant fast. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not what Gordon wanted from this machine.
The T.50 “was never going to be a dual-clutch gearbox car” admits Murray. From the outset he’d had his mind made up that the car would feature a push-and-pull sequential manual box from Xtrac. “My everyday car is an Alpine A110, and it’s a beautiful little car, but it has a DCT gearbox, there’s no manual variant. I just leave it in automatic because a gearshift is such a non-event. It doesn’t involve you in any way, shape, or form. It’s like flipping an electric switch.”
So how did the car switch from sequential to H-pattern gearbox? When the car was announced in 2018 some of the potential customers for the car contacted Mr. Murray with a request that the car have a three-pedal setup. “More and more, these people with a big supercar collection and a classic car collection, they were turning to their old 911 Porsches at the weekend to have a bit of fun. The supercars were getting wider and bigger, difficult to see out of, and they all had these switch gearchanges, and they just weren’t engaging enough,” recounts Murray. “Would you please consider an H-pattern? and boy oh boy was that music to my ears!”
How did we get here?
In a 2014 interview, Gordon Murray admitted he didn’t think very highly of the then-new hybrid hypercar trio, and that he was considering a revamp of the F1, a new best-of-the-best.
“I have a hankering to do one more supercar, and I wouldn’t have unless these one-and-a-half-tonne hybrid monsters hadn’t come out. I would have left it with the F1. But now there’s a point to be proven: that you can still do a great driver’s car with an internal combustion engine and pure engineering.”
The advancement of technology across the last thirty years or so has allowed the T.50 to be a more functional version of supercar than the F1 ever could have been. Just carbon fiber technology has advanced enough that the T.50 has double the torsional stiffness of the F1 while reducing the weight of the chassis by 110 pounds. Not only was Murray out to prove that he could build a better F1, but to prove that every other supercar manufacturer was going about their quest for speed the wrong way entirely.
“I’ve driven all of the current supercars on the track and quite a few of them on the road. And I have to say the standard these days, virtually all of them are more capable than the McLaren F1. However, after driving them all, none of them give you the thrill and the driving spirit that the F1 gives you.
You get the feeling that almost anyone could drive them. They do almost everything for you. None of them make a particularly nice noise. None of them give you that instantaneous snap throttle you get in an F1, because A) they’re heavy, and B) they’re turbocharged, most of them.
I started thinking in 2017/2018, ‘Why hasn’t anyone picked up that formula?’ And I think it’s probably because even if they did understand the formula—and the formula goes way beyond center-seat, lightweight, V12—…they were probably working in a company that had committees, which actually meant they couldn’t deliver an element that was bespoke for that car.
There’s nobody doing what we’re doing.”
The GMA team ripped apart Gordon’s personal Alpine A110 as starting point for this car. “It gets all the basics right.” If the T.50 can provide the driving engagement of an A110 while showing up all of the other supercars with its speed, this could be the new poster car for all eternity.
And where are we going?
As with the F1 before it, the T.50 will likely hit the track in short order. “Yes, I’d love to race it. We’re doing 100 road cars and 25 track cars. Between you and me, they’ll be more GTR than track-day. And I’m engaged with a couple people at the moment about a possible supercar race series, which would be fun.”
What does it all mean?
This is, without question, the most exciting hypercar to be built in decades. I personally have only awful things to say about exclusive, expensive, powerful monstrosities and the terrible people who buy them, but even I am intrigued and titillated by the prospect of this T.50. It is somehow both a revolutionary idea and a return to form. The company hasn’t even released 0-60 specs or a top speed because they absolutely don’t matter. The point of this car is the driving experience. The T.50 could be propelling the supercar to its ultimate end.
Nothing before the T.50 will matter, and nothing that comes after will provide the driver engagement. In a car that makes a Miata look fat and a Porsche 911 Turbo underpowered, there is nowhere to go after that. We’ve reached the event horizon. Gasoline-powered hypercars will forevermore be sucked into the black hole that is the T.50’s shadow. I have no doubt in my mind about that.