More than 25 years after it first burst onto the scene like a thunderbolt, the McLaren F1 still reigns supreme. By now, there have been plenty of faster, easier to drive, more affordable, and more dramatic hypercars available, but nothing has yet matched the F1 for pure driving experience. Don’t just take our word for it; if you do manage to find one for sale, good luck getting behind the wheel for anything short of $10 million.
But now Gordon Murray, legendary Formula 1 designer and the original driving force behind the F1, just announced a spiritual successor to that car called the T.50, and the formula sounds slightly familiar: three seats, a high-revving V-12, a manual transmission, and advanced fan-based aerodynamic features, among other advancements.
But first, a bit of history. To understand what makes the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 so unbelievably exciting, it’s best to first understand what makes the original F1 an icon. The F1 arrived during a time of rapid technological advancement, particularly in the supercar sector. Cars like the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959 represented the very best of what happens when a large specialty automaker goes to war, incorporating then wild tech like Kevlar, carbon fiber, performance all-wheel drive, and hollow magnesium wheels.
The goalposts were constantly being moved, and cars like the Jaguar XJ220 and Bugatti EB110 stormed onto the stage in the early 1990s, boasting 600-plus horsepower and top speeds that didn’t just breach the 200-mph barrier but demolished it, with the XJ220 topping out at a tremendous 217 mph. Still, aside from sci-fi-level materials and race-bred tech, this generation of supercar still relied on a competent driver rather than an advanced stability-control system and a fancy dual-clutch automatic transmission.
That last part is key. The advent of a reliable and modular dual-clutch transmission could rightly be pointed to as the end of inaccessible performance. For a brief period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most supercars had clunky single-clutch manumatics that were effective on a race circuit but horribly uncivilized on the street. Performance was largely hampered during this period, with only a select few models—the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and Ferrari Enzo among them—putting down numbers that still impress today, the former utilizing a beefed-up traditional torque-tube automatic.
The F1 was the perfect synthesis of traditional, established tech and cutting-edge innovation. It utilized a six-speed manual transmission, natural aspiration, and a fixed suspension—all hallmarks of that generation of supercar. On the other end of the spectrum, it was also the first production car to use a carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymer monocoque, an Inconel exhaust, and specialized gold foil as heat shielding in the engine bay.
Whereas the aforementioned XJ220 and Enzo chased headline-grabbing lap times and acceleration runs, the F1 was designed not as the end-all, be-all of performance, but to serve as the greatest driver’s car the world has ever seen. Stunning speed was a happy side-effect; until the Koenigsegg CCR and Bugatti Veyron topped it in 2005, the F1 held the record as the fastest production car, with certain variants capable of 240 mph.
The suspension was designed to be comfortable enough for daily use, and the car also had a full air-conditioning system, a special custom-fitted luggage kit, bespoke lightweight Kenwood audio, and interior courtesy lights in all compartments. It was millennia ahead of the cramped, rough-riding, worse-performing products from Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche. And when you were done puttering around the city center, you could take two of your closest friends for a hair-ripping sprint around the countryside at a level of speed previously unknown in the realm of street cars.
Fast forward to 2019. The world-rending Bugatti Veyron has come and gone, and that car deserves a treatise of its own. It moved the targets as dramatically as did the F1, only now performance and numbers were king, and user-unfriendly manual transmissions, aggregated construction methods, and sketchy road manners were out. Later hypercars like the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and Koenigsegg Agera redefined what “quick” meant, but also remained wholly usable on a daily basis with their dual-clutch transmissions and full suites of driver-assistance systems—provided you could swallow the massive running costs.
Until plans for the T.50 were revealed, I thought it exceptionally unlikely there would ever be a car to pick up where the F1 left off. Evaluated as “driver’s cars,” digital hyperspace wedges like the upcoming Aston Martin Valkyrie, Mercedes-AMG Project One, and Koenigsegg Jesko miss the point entirely. And the idea that a large-scale manufacturer will ever again release a hypercar with a manual transmission and natural aspiration is laughable, although the Valkyrie’s purported naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V-12 is one exception, even if it will be paired an automatic and hybridized.
Emissions regulations necessitate turbocharging, and in a space occupied by multiclutch automatic transmissions, the car would lose the spec-sheet and on-paper acceleration war right out of the gate, and that’s not a risk any current company is willing to take. After all, the volumes for such products are extremely low at their often seven-figure price points. Even the new McLaren Speedtail—a bona fide three-seat tribute to the original F1—uses a hybridized twin-turbo V-8 powertrain.
Enter Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA) and the new T.50. It looks like Murray is ready to follow up his original magnum opus with a hypercar that, at least on paper, appears to be every bit as scintillating. GMA pulls no punches, claiming the T.50 “will be the purest, lightest, most driver-focused supercar ever built.”
Almost 30 years of technological advancement means the T.50 can take full advantage of modern material sciences, especially in terms of carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum, and special polymers. When it reaches production, the T.50 will barely spin the scales at an absurdly flyweight 2,160 pounds, GMA says. Skepticism would be justified if it were anyone else making these claims, considering that’s just 22 pounds heavier than a first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata. The T.50 is also rather small; at 172.4 inches long and 72.8 inches wide, it’s smaller than a Porsche 911.
Cosworth provides a naturally aspirated 3.9-liter V-12, putting out 650 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque at an otherworldly 12,100 rpm. That’s a scary amount of power for something that’s slightly heavier than a three-ring binder, but it’s the incredible redline that really intrigues. According to the release, it achieves such heights in part by leaving the flywheel on the parts shelf. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission developed by Xtrac, a conscious decision by Murray to “eschew the dual-clutch transmission favored by many supercar makers.” Right on.
To keep such a small footprint on the ground, there’s a full suite of active aero, including a 14.7-inch fan that blows over a rear diffuser and manages underbody airflow, much like the Murray-designed 1978 Brabham BT46B Formula 1 car. Apparently, the underbody aero is so strong, the exterior design is “free from unsightly wings, outlets, vents, and bulges, safeguarding the purity and beauty of the exterior design.”
GMA intends this to be just as much a grand-touring supercar as the F1, incorporating the same dihedral doors and three-seat interior layout. Murray assures there will be plenty of room for luggage, along with “selectable engine maps and driving modes” for maximum usability.
Production will be capped at 100 units, all built and developed in the U.K. If you’re interested, prices start at a whopping $2.5 million before any taxes. Assuming this all comes together and a production car materializes, you might be out of luck if you live in the U.S. In interviews, Murray admitted he doesn’t plan to federalize the T.50 on account of the low production figures, so if you circumvent importation laws through show and display exemption, it may only be able to be driven on track. Our early take? It’ll be worth it.