Heroes: Gordan Murray and the Mclaren F1, Part II

As the 'Heroes' series continues, so does the shower of praise for this South African born British designer and his star creation, the McLaren F1...

Having listened to a podcast with the man himself, It seems Gordon Murray has a somewhat simple view on the subject of driving, it’s an approach that’s being acknowledged slowly through the various car communities, the ‘lightweight approach’. Being a man who started out designing racing cars, it’s no surprise that he’s a man who strongly appreciates lightweight design as the best approach to pure driving. This is why he made sure that every single piece installed on the F1 was ultimately dictated by its function. So in other words, Gordon is a function over form type of guy and that’s brilliant because it’s easier to keep focused on what really matters. The lightweight ethos has been a Murray hallmark and no other project displays this better than the F1. Being one of the earliest cars to adopt CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer) in its chassis, it only weighed in at 1138 kg which is still a good 200 kg of your average modern-day hatchback, if you must know.

While the concept of “lower weight & high power” wasn’t that new or original, it’s important to remember that it’s not every decade that we can make those strong jumps with our power to weight ratios. I can only imagine how lively 460 KW/621 hp felt back in 1994, back then the NA Mazda MX-5 only had 86 KW/ 115 hp and it was only 200 kgs lighter. Apart from being a feather weight and very powerful (courtesy of that BMW V12), it was also the tight packaging that made the car to stand out, quite so elegantly too, if I may add. There is a softness that’s accentuated through the swooping flow-lines of the design that has been uniquely captured by the new Gordon Murray design T50 (more on that later).

There was no room for the clumsy design habits that we’ve become so accustomed to now, granted some of the heavy design is mandated by Regulations or so they say. There is perfect use and allocation of spaces underneath the body, so much so that the car ends up looking like it wasn’t put together but rather it grew into being. This is special, this makes an F40 (another great) look like a hastily packed suitcase by comparison and so even that aspect of its design links back to Gordon Murray’s no compromise nature.

The engine landed like a meteor, fast, red hot and it crashed itself into the very deep end of the supercar engine fest. This was the new kid at swimming practice, diving in mid-race and not only winning but also mercilessly out lapping the whole group. Even today we still haven’t been graced with too many of these angelic naturally aspirated engines, personally I’ve not heard better. You may know of better sounding engines but I don’t think you’d be honest if you said so or you’re from another planet. This car puts the emphasis on intake sound especially because the airbox runs longitudinally from the top of the driver’s head to the engine in the middle. Having only seen the onboard videos of both the road going and the race version, by God, has there ever been a more definitive sound. The sound typically has three stages to it, a sudden low intake howl that quickly gets overtaken by the engine’s mechanical rush (twelve cylinders here remember) and eventually you get to the high pitch crescendo that hits you in the last steps of the tachometer. Enough said

As for the driving, there was a bit of a mixed review amongst the people driving the car in the first few years. There were some complaints levelled at the car’s “twitchy” behaviour at the limit, claims that only the highly experienced drivers could take full liberties with it, looking at you Tiff. There were also the brakes that some claimed weren’t adequate for a vehicle capable of such savage speed. The thick sidewalls on the tires meant that there was a decent (by then) softness to the ride, that’s a talent that’s been missed by modern day supercar or most performance cars, I suppose. Being a roughly 1000 kg car with over 600 hp was never going to be an easy proposition. I’d imagine trying to deal with that fire would be like a rat charged-up on red bull being dropped into your nether regions and being enthusiastically told to ‘handle it’. The thrill of it was also in that fear it gave, there lies the lure of most super/hypercars in most cases anyway. Let’s not forget that other manufacturers like Lamborghini built their names on selling-out ‘sketchy’ wedge-shaped boxes. The F1, although it was never thought to go racing from the get-go, it was considered for racing and rise to the occasion it did, destroying the competition in the hands of yet another legend, DK (to be featured soon).

Author: Kudzanai Manyau

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