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Gordon Murray to celebrate 50 years of automotive design

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Gordon Murray poses with the Global Vehicle Trust OX, one of his more recent creations. Photos courtesy Gordon Murray Design, unless otherwise noted.

Over the course of his five-decade career, Gordon Murray has designed everything from Formula 1 cars to a flat-pack truck named OX, meant to deliver affordable mobility to developing nations. Best known, perhaps, for his role in developing the McLaren F1, which redefined the supercar upon its 1991 introduction, Murray will be celebrating 50 years of automotive innovation with a one-week exhibit in November, at a new Gordon Murray Design facility in Dunsfold, Surrey, England.

The original IGM Ford.

Even before Murray joined the Brabham F1 team, he had a car to his credit. While studying mechanical engineering in his native South Africa, Murray designed and built the Lotus 7-like IGM Ford, which he then campaigned during the 1967 and 1968 seasons. Hoping to land a job with Lotus, Murray moved to England in 1969, but it was Brabham that made him a job offer first. There, under team manager Bernie Ecclestone, Murray was soon promoted to chief designer.

Brabham BT46B fan car

The 1978 Brabham BT46B “fan car.” Photo by edvvc.

During his 17 years at Brabham, Murray was responsible for such innovative vehicles as the Brabham BT46B “fan car,” which used a “cooling fan,” permissible under the sporting regulations, to improve downforce by reducing air pressure beneath the car. It ran just once, at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, where driver Niki Lauda qualified on pole (despite his best efforts to avoid doing so) and drove the car to a decisive 34-second victory over second-place Riccardo Patrese.

Competitors protested the design, but the rules were clear. While “movable aerodynamic devices” weren’t allowed if their primary function was to increase downforce, nothing prohibited the use of a cooling fan whose ancillary duty was reducing under-car air pressure. Though the cars were initially permitted to compete for the remainder of the 1978 season, the Commission Sportive Internationale soon placed an immediate ban on ducted fan cars, and Brabham reverted to the conventional BT46 at the next race of the season.

1988 McLaren MP4

The 1988 McLaren MP4/4, as raced to an F1 Driver’s Championship by Ayrton Senna. Photo courtesy McLaren.

Later appointed Brabham’s technical director, Murray helped the team amass 22 race wins and two F1 Driver’s World Championships, in 1981 and 1983. In 1987, he left Brabham to take the technical director position at McLaren, where he helped guide the team to four consecutive F1 driver championships, in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Following Senna’s title in 1991, Murray assumed a new role within the McLaren organization, helping to establish its McLaren Cars Limited as a new group company.

1993 McLaren F1

1993 McLaren F1.

Its first product was the McLaren F1, designed from the onset to be the highest-performance production car of its day. In racing form, the car would earn two world sportscar championships, and even score an overall victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, beating faster and purpose-built prototypes (thanks in part to rainy conditions). As if that weren’t impressive enough, McLaren F1s finished first, third, fourth, and fifth at Le Mans that year, with a single prototype (a Courage C34) earning second.


The GMD T27 electric city car.

In 2005, Murray established Gordon Murray Design Limited (GMD), which focuses design, engineering, prototyping, and development of vehicles. To date, its projects have included the T25 city car (and its electric-powered equivalent, the T27), the new TVR, and the flat-pack OX, designed by Murray at the request of the British charity Global Vehicle Trust.

Global Vehicle Trust OX

The Global Vehicle Trust OX.

GMD has also created a trademarked process it calls iStream, billed as a “fundamental rethink on the way cars are designed, developed, and manufactured.” Using materials and construction processes borrowed from Formula 1, iStream reinterprets the old Colin Chapman mantra of “add lightness,” embracing a mentality it describes as “think light.” Products created via the iStream process already include a two-seat sports car, a full-size luxury car, and even a 3.5-ton truck.

The week-long retrospective of Murray’s work will be held at a new GMD facility in Dunsford, though the exact address isn’t yet published. That may be a moot point, as Car Magazine reports the display will be by invitation only, though those not on the guest list will be able to take an online “virtual tour” of the exhibition (and we’ll update this story with a link as soon as it’s available). More than 40 cars — many borrowed from private owners — are expected to be displayed, ranging from a replica of the IGM Ford (recreated by GMD’s prototype shop) though his range of Formula One and road cars, including the latest iStream creations. Look for an announcement on GMD, iStream and its plans for the future as well.