Gordon Murray: Supercar guru picks Lotus
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Gordon Murray is renowned for a string of Formula 1 title-winning Brabhams and McLarens. Still at McLaren, he designed the F1 supercar that rewrote the book on high-performance road cars.
He formed his own design consultancy in 2007 and specialises in streamlined production techniques and light, easy-to-build city cars.
What was your first car?
It was, out of necessity rather than choice, a 1956 Hillman Minx. I was lusting after an Austin Healey, but secondhand they were still £300. My dad said no; his budget was £150. Which was jolly lucky as, six weeks later, I planted it, at 60mph, head on into a bus. It broke in half, and if I had been in an Austin Healey I probably wouldn't be here.
What's your favourite memory in a car?
Driving the McLaren F1 for the first time, after having conceptualised it from a blank piece of paper and imagined what it would feel like to sit in the centre of the car with the engine behind. I signed off every single drawing on the F1.
What do you currently drive?
My everyday drive for the past 13 years, if you promise not to laugh, has been a Smart Roadster. I can't find anything else which is that small and is that much fun. I have a small collection of classic cars for use in summer, though.
When did you first start being interested in cars?
Aged 6. My dad was a mechanic, and after the war nobody in South Africa had the money to go racing, so they used to build "specials". They'd take something like a Sunbeam Alpine, chuck away the body and tune the engine. I used to watch my dad working, and all I wanted to be from then on was a racing driver.
Where did bikes come in?
You had to be 18 to drive, but I could ride a bike at 16. After months of resisting, my dad bought me a 50cc two-stroke Maserati. It didn't run, so I had to rebuild the engine. I fell off once a month for two years and was constantly fixing it. It had three horsepower -- 30mph with the wind behind, 40mph off a cliff. I have some in my workshop, but you wouldn't want to ride them.
What is your dream car?
I've actually got my dream car, a Lotus Elan. I've never driven a better sportster. It's just what I like in a car, and has the best steering feedback ever. It looks pretty, too, and makes a nice noise. I had one in 1970 when I first got married and I've had two since.
What do you most regret selling?
Probably a GSM Flamingo, a coupe with a split rear window and Batmobile-style fins, made by the only low-volume car manufacturer in South Africa. GSM made 150 Flamingos. I had a guy in South Africa find me one, I spent years restoring it; but when I drove it, I didn't get on with it so I sold it.
What's your pet peeve while driving?
Other drivers; the standard of driving is generally poor. Not just people going too slowly -- it's more people not indicating. If you're on a motorbike, a bad driver can mean death.
Any hints about what's next from Gordon Murray Design?
We're engaged with 11 people, eight OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and three start-ups. The only bad thing about what we do is that we can only go public when our customers decide. There's one British job I'd just love to talk about, but can't.