F1 Race Car Designer Gordon Murray Shifts Focus to 'Greener' Wheels

Murray's main goal is to license the revolutionary manufacturing process he's invented to build the cars.

Published: 29-Dec-2009

To aficionados of auto-racing and high-performance sports cars, Gordon Murray is a legend. He's designed championship-winning Formula One cars, as well as two iconic, drop-dead-beautiful sports cars: the McLaren F1, one of the fastest road cars ever made, and the Mercedes SLR McLaren. These cars were, of course, built for speed and power; fuel economy wasn't even an afterthought. So it's somewhat surprising that the 63-year-old South African engineer is now more interested in cleaning up the planet by reducing carbon emissions than cleaning up at a Grand Prix finish line.

Murray's latest project is an environmentally friendly, compact commuter car — a change of focus he insists isn't as dramatic as it sounds. "Philosophically, they're quite similar," he says. "It's all about designing cars that are lightweight," which makes them highly efficient as well. The major difference between the two types of cars, however, is cost. Creating a lightweight, highly efficient car that is also affordable — not to mention cool and fun — is "the most challenging thing I've ever done," Murray says.

But done it he has. His team in suburban London recently unveiled the T.25 car — a three-seater made of flyweight composite materials that is smaller than a Smart car but has more interior room and gets 80 miles to the gallon. He's also started work on a $14.9 million project — partially funded by the British government — to develop four prototypes of an electric car, to be called the T.27, by February 2011. He promises the T.27 will be 27% more efficient than any other electric vehicle (EV), yet still capable of a top speed of 60 m.p.h. and a driving range of 100 miles. His partner, battery manufacturer Zytek Automotive, is developing an electric drivetrain especially geared to small urban cars, and he's working with Michelin to devise an EV-friendly tire that reduces friction.

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