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Lightness of touch for GMA T.50. Image by Gordon Murray.

Lightness of touch for GMA T.50
Prof. Gordon Murray talks through how he got his forthcoming T.50 V12 supercar down to 980kg.
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What's all this about?

You remember the famous Colin Chapman mantra, about 'simplify, then add lightness'? It has stuck around for decades with good reason, because it so perfectly encapsulates why trim sports cars are, if they're executed correctly (sorry, Alfa 4C), usually held in such high critical esteem. And why the modern range of Lotus cars is so bloody good across the board.

Well, one of the principal adherents of the Chapman philosophy is Professor Gordon Murray, boss of Gordon Murray Design (GMD) and Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA), and also the man who gave the world the seminal McLaren F1. We already know Prof. Murray is planning a sensational return with the GMA T.50 supercar, which his companies announced last year and which we saw for the first time at the end of 2019. Now he's talking us through the 'simplify, then add lightness' regime which has seen his forthcoming masterpiece clock in at a mere 980kg.

Less than a tonne? That's pretty trim for any car, right?

It most certainly is. Indeed, august publication Autocar ran a feature called the 'Best 10 Supercars of 2020' recently. So Murray and his mob went through this list of the great and good of the modern motoring era, and totted up all their kerb weights and power outputs before dividing by ten, to come up with a 'Typical Supercar' of the 2020s. This hypothetical machine weighs in at 1,436kg and has 684hp. That results in 476hp-per-tonne, when the 650hp/980kg T.50 records a phenomenal 663hp-per-tonne.

In fact, Prof. Murray would rather you not think of power-to-weight when considering a performance car, but rather 'weight-to-power'. He cites the fact that every 100hp of the T.50 has to push along 150kg of car, whereas the Typical Supercar's 100hp is trying to shove 210kg of car down the road; 40 per cent more. And it's the light weight which is the key to the GMA's likely brilliance, because to match its power-to-weight or weight-to-power (whatever's yer poison) the Typical Supercar would need another 300hp from its motive powerplant, resulting in around 950hp; once you get to 950hp, you need to start adding larger, heavier components (tyres, drivelines, transmission, brakes and so on) to deal with that force, which adds yet more weight and cost to the project and... well, you see what he's getting at.

Prof. Murray said: "Designing a lightweight sports car does not come from specifying exotic materials alone, it comes from a state of mind, from absolute focus and control, and from a deep understanding of lightweight, optimised design." He further asserts that a heavier car can never deliver the dynamic attributes of a lighter car, even if they have the same power-to-weight/weight-to-power ratio and/or complex active suspension systems and sophisticated electronics.

He added: "Today, the enjoyment of driving has been lost as so many supercars only come 'alive' at the upper ends of their performance capabilities. Chasing a top speed only adds weight (notably through ever-more powerful engines), so the future of true performance cars lies in shedding weight intelligently."

Go on, then. How come the T.50 only weighs 980kg?

Because it was designed from the ground-up to be a featherweight, in every single regard. Its 4.0-litre V12 engine, which revs to 12,100rpm and produces that 650hp? It weighs less than 180kg, making it the lightest road-going V12 ever committed to production and fully 60 kilos trimmer than the legendary S70/2 V12 from the Macca F1. The carbon-fibre chassis and body panels? Less than 150kg all-in. The glass for enclosing the cabin? It's made to be 28 per cent thinner than normal automotive glazing, to reduce weight. Goodness, even the transmission and the pedal box are lighter than their counterparts on the old already-pretty-trim-and-focused-F1 (to the tune of 10kg and 300g, respectively), while the GMA team has gone through every nut, bolt and washer in the T.50 and ensured they're precisely the right size for their specific application; on the Typical Supercar, these items (of which there are 900 in the T.50) would be a generic size, adding needless weight where the commonality-for-all fixings were oversized for a particular use.

And despite the fact that the 4,380mm-long, 1,850mm-wide T.50 takes up less road space than a Porsche 911, it can still fit three people and their luggage onboard. Yes, the seats are carbon fibre, too, the driver's pew weighing a mere 7kg and the two passenger contrivances less than 3kg apiece. Astonishing stuff from the GMA team and it's this fastidious attention to detail which will probably deliver a car with a driving experience that will go down in folklore. Seriously.

Matt Robinson - 28 May 2020

Earlier articles featuring 2020 Gordon Murray T.50

2019-06-05: The GMA T.50: a McLaren F1 for 2022

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