One Formula – 50 Years Of Car Design From Gordon Murray

A group of motoring journalists recently gathered at the Royal Automobile Club in Central London, which was a fitting venue for the launch of a two-volume blockbuster book simply entitled ‘One Formula’, which covers in tremendous detail the extraordinary and impressive 50 years of car design by legendary automotive designer Gordon Murray.

The book has been lovingly put together over a two and a half year period and is a detailed collaboration with award-winning author Philip Porter. Legendary motor racing commentator Murray Walker has written the foreward, where he rightly says that “the team’s designers are every bit as important to them as their drivers.” He goes on to talk about the way that Gordon Murray thinks outside the box and how he pioneered a trick suspension that legally defeated the rules. Walker also touches on Murray’s other interests outside of motoring and how “he is very much a lover of rock music, ghastly shirts, fine wines and riding high-powered motorcycles – all of which makes him a top man for me.”

As soon as you open volume one, which incidentally has 481 pages, you will begin to appreciate the amount of detail that has gone into creating this beautiful and comprehensive two-volume book, which covers every single one of Gordon Murray’s over 70 designs, not all of which have been built. It is a particularly fascinating read for any car enthusiast like me and something to keep and refer to over the years to come.

The large pages are crammed full of Murray’s notes, drawings, illustrations, original sketches, correspondence and some wonderful behind-the-scenes photographs. I particularly love the period racing photographs, taken by some of the leading photographers of the day.

Gordon Murray and Philip Porter

The book is written in chronological order and begins in Durban, South Africa, where Gordon Murray was born in 1946. Motoring was part of Murray’s life from an early age, as his father was a motor mechanic, self-taught from his days as a chauffeur. As Murray says: “As early as I can remember, I was interested in anything that went fast.”

Murray was surrounded with racing as he was growing up. In the late 1940s and 1950s Murray recalls the round-the-houses races in Durban, a bit like Monaco but on the beach front. Slot car racing was also just in its infancy and he got a crude second-hand Scalextric set which quickly progressed into making his own brass chassis and sidewinder engines.

In his mid-teens, Murray studied engines everywhere he could and decided to design his own flat-12 engine, drawing every detail, from the valves and valve guides to the pistons and cams on the drawing board his parents had bought him.

When he turned 16, Murray seemed more drawn to motorbikes than cars and got his first motorbike, rebuilding the engine and gearbox to get it going. This got him thinking what fun it would be to design his own car and set about building a plywood monocoque two-seater city car.

Gordon Murray's first full car design

At 18, got his driving licence and set his heart on an Austin-Healey ‘Frog-Eye’ Sprite. But they were expensive and so his father bought him a 1956 Hillman Minx. The car was quickly written off in a head-on collision with a bus. His father then bought him a second Hillman Minx which also had its fair share of crashes.

The following year, at the age of 17, Murray joined the army, which he says, “was the worst nine months of my life.” But thankfully he put his drawing skills into good practice and created training diagrams on how to use all the machinery and guns, managing to avoid a lot of the route marches!

After finishing school Murray decided that he wanted to go into mechanical engineering but could not afford to go to university, so he did a ‘day release’ course signing up for an apprenticeship of four or five years as a junior designer. In his third year he felt that he was designing things that were just as good as the senior designers and asked the chief engineer for some more money as he desperately wanted to build a racing car. He was flatly turned down, but it was suggested that he might like to go and see the MD, which he duly did. Having booked an appointment with the MD, Murray promptly showed him his drawings and his salary was increased. This helped fulfil that dream of building his racing car.

Whilst Murray’s engine knowledge was pretty good, he knew he needed to get more experience on chassis. He read second-hand copies of Autosport a month late, but it helped him keep up-to-date and he quickly fell in love with Lotus and Colin Chapman. In fact, Chapman was his hero.

Gordon Murray early design work

Murray started going to race meetings and took part in a few unofficial race activities on the Durban streets. Whilst his Hillman Minx was uncompetitive against all the souped up Cooper Ss, Mk1 Cortinas and 105E Anglias, once he got his racing car finished, he had it licenced for the road and beat everything. But following the death of one of the competitors, the police started clamping down and so all the keen young racers started using the Roy Hesketh Circuit and doing standing quarter-mile contests.

Fast forward to 1967 and Gordon Murray wanted to be a racing driver above all else. But with no money the only answer was to design and build his own car. He started from scratch and designed a car that could compete in hillclimbs, sprints, local and national races. Engines were expensive, and with no money it meant that Murray set about building his own engine – a little three-bearing-crank Ford 105E. Over in England people were managing to squeeze a lot of horsepower out of these units.

Murray then goes into detail about how he built the car and engine, with a little help from his father, who felt his son was wasting all his money on this racing car.

The IGM logo dates back to 1966, as Murray soon discovered that he needed to enter his car as something for competitions, so he decided to use his initials and call his car the IGM Ford.

Brabham design work

Murray crashed rather spectacularly at his first race at the Roy Hesketh Circuit but thankfully survived to get his act together and then started winning a few races in his class. He went on to race for two seasons but quickly realised that if he wanted to get anywhere as a racing driver he needed to be in England.

Much to his father’s disbelief Murray managed to sell his car to a German chap for £600, who couldn’t even reach the pedals as the seat wasn’t adjustable. He used this to come over to England and wrote to Colin Chapman, who put him in touch with Brian Luff, who was head of engineering at Lotus Vehicles, who offered the young Murray an interview.

Having made it over to England, Murray’s hopes of a job at Lotus were dashed as recession hit and 30 people were laid off. Now desperate for work, Murray was offered a job at Ford in Dagenham as a designer but turned it down. He also turned down a job at Hawker Siddeley designing missiles.

Quite by chance, Murray then landed his first job with Brabham, a dream come true to work for a Formula 1 team, his first assignment, working on pieces of the BT33 Formula 1 car.

Brabham BT44

The book then takes us to 1971 when Murray’s next car was born out of frustration more than anything and so the IGM Minbug was born, his second full car.

Murray’s third car was the Duckhams LM Ford Cosworth and the book is crammed full of wonderful photographs of the car and its design work. It is also where Bernie Ecclestone comes into the picture, turning up in 1971 working with Ron Tauranac at a Brabham in disarray. This is where Murray came across Alain de Cadenet who asked him to design a completely new car using as many parts as he could from the BT33 with the goal of winning Le Mans.

Alain de Cadenet raced the Duckhams in 1973 and 1974 and Murray designed the Long-Tail LM Prototype for de Cadenet.

IN 1972 Murray designed the IGM Ford F750, which was his first car to use pull-rod suspension. In the same year he also designed a one-off test car, the Brabham Westlake BT39, which was driven by Graham Hill.

Brabham BT44B

The following year, Murray’s passion for motorbikes surfaced, when he designed the Monocoque 500 Racing Bike for Colin Seeley.

The next chapter is dedicated to the Brabham Years and Ford Cosworth from 1973 to 1975. And it was in 1973 that Murray designed his first Formula 1 car, the Brabham Ford Cosworth BT42, his fifth car. The car had a triangular monocoque and advanced aerodynamics, with a forward driving position and fuel tank positioned behind the driver.

Then in 1974, Murray hit a milestone, by designing his first Grand-Prix winning car in the form of the Brabham Fore Cosworth BT44, his sixth car. The following year, Murray designed the Brabham Ford Cosworth BT44B, which was raced 14 times and won two races.

From 1976 to 1979 Brabham combined forces with Alfa Romeo and 1976 Murray designed the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT45, the first car to use carbon brakes in Formula 1 and Murray’s seventh car, which was driven in 18 races. In 1977 he then designed the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT45B which competed in 15 races but did not win. A year later, the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT45C was born and only competed in just two races. One of the cars was driven by then new recruit Niki Lauda, the reigning World Champion, whilst the second car was driven by John Watson.

Gordon Murray's Brabham design years

The following year the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT46 was built. It was Murray’s eighth car and raced in 14 Grand Prix. It was also in 1978 that the first fan car was raced in Formula 1 in the guise of the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT46B. It was also the first car to use an air jack in Formula 1. The car was then revised during the season and reverted back to water radiators in the form of the Brabham BT46C.

In the 1979, Murray designed the Brabham Alfa Romeo BT48, his 10th car. It was the first car to use onboard timing in Formula 1 and the first to use carbon panels. It was also a full wing car and the first to use roller and rack pull-rod suspension.

Brabham’s relationship with Alfa Romeo came to an end at the end of the 1979 season and so it was in 1980 that Murray designed the Brabham Ford Cosworth BT49, powered by a Cosworth 3-litre V8 engine and Murray’s 11th car. It competed in 17 races and won three times. It was in the early 1980s that Gordon Murray and Nelson Piquet forged a very strong team.

In 1981 the Brabham Ford Cosworth BT49C competed in 15 races and took three victories. It was also the first car to use hydro-pneumatic suspension in Formula 1. The following year the BT49D entered five races, winning one. In fact, the Brabham BT49 was one of the most successful Grand Prix cars of its time. The mechanics loved it as it was simple and uncomplicate and easy to work on. The reason the car did not race the full 1982 season was down to the introduction of the BT50 BMW turbo car.

Brabham Formula 1 Cars

Away from the race circuit, 1982 was also the year that Gordon Murray designed his 12th car, the IGM Midas Alfa Romeo, a roadgoing coupé.

Back on the racetrack, the book then takes us from 1981 through to 1986 when Murray was designing cars around the BMW engine and thus the Brabham BMW BT49T was born as a test car for the BMW turbocharged engine as an alternative to going with a 12-cylinder engine.

In 1982 the Brabham BMW BT50, Murray’s 13th car, competed in 13 races, winning one and was powered by a BMW 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It was Brabham’s first turbo car. The was then superseded by the BT50B which raced six time and won once, and it was also the first year that strategic pit stops occurred in modern Formula 1.

Murray’s fourteenth car was the BT51 and the first bespoke strategic pit-stop designed car. The BT52 was another milestone vehicle for Gordon Murray and his 15th car, as it won the 1983 Drivers’ Championship with Nelson Piquet at the wheel. This was also the year that tyre heaters were first used in Formula 1 and the first carbon rollover system employed in a car as well as the first car to have a compete magnesium front chassis casting.

Brabham BT46B Fan Design

The following year Murray’s 16th car the BT53 was introduced, which won two out of the nine races it competed in. In 1985 the BT54 raced 16 times, winning one race and was Murray’s 17th car. The BT55 took over in 1986 competing in 16 races but failing to secure a win that season. It was the first car to introduce a lay-down driving position in Formula 1 and was constructed with a single-piece moulded carbon monocoque. It was Murray’s 18th car.

At the end of the first volume, you will find some wonderful comments from Bernie Ecclestone, one of which was when asked why he put a very young, completely inexperienced Gordon Murray in sole charge of the Brabham design department, he replied: “Well, the guy that was in charge told me quite definitely that we ought to have a bit of change in the department and he suggested that Gordon Murray should be the first to go. So I thought the right thing to do was to keep him!”

One Formula – Volume Two

The second volume opens by telling the story of Gordon Murray’s McLaren years, starting with the relationship with Honda from 1987 to 1990. The first car he designed was the McLaren Honda MP4/3B which was the 1987/88 test car. But it was in 1988 that Murray designed his 19th car, the McLaren Honda MP4/4, which was another milestone vehicle because in 1988 it won the F1 Drivers’ Championship at the hands of the legendary Ayrton Senna, it also won the Constructors’ Championship. And there is a wonderful handwritten note from Ayrton Senna on page 528, simply saying: “To Gordon, Many thanks for such a successful season”, signed Ayrton Senna 88/89.

1989 saw the design of Murray’s 20th car the McLaren Honda MP4/5. This was another milestone vehicle, this time winning the 1989 F1 Drivers’ Championship at the hands of Alain Prost. The car also won the Constructors’ Championship the same year.

McLaren F1

1990 saw Murray’s MP4/5B again win both the F1 Drivers and Constructor’s Championship with Ayrton Senna at the wheel. The car competed in 16 races and won six of them.

The next chapter in the book is entitled the ‘McLaren Years – The Road Cars’ and is where the McLaren F1 road car story begins. Murray wanted to make a direction change, something different and new challenge.

And so it was in 1992 that Murray’s 22nd car was born, the McLaren F1. It was the first all-carbon road car and first road car to have active aero and ground-effect. It was also the first road car to have active brake cooling and to use a carbon clutch. The car also held the top-speed record for road cars at 240.1mph. The book goes into great detail of how the F1 was conceived and how it was made lighter, using the latest technology available.

It was then in 1993 that Murray designed the world’s lightest road car, the LCC Rocket. It was the first modern car to use a motorcycle engine and was the highest-revving road-car engine. The following year, Murray designed his 23rd car, the LCC Lightning, which was the lightest V8 road car.

McLaren F1 design

The next chapter continues Murray’s McLaren Years, this time from 1994 to 1999 with the F1 GTR. Although he had been adamant from the start that the F1 should not go racing as it was designed to be the ultimate driver’s car and ultimate engineered car. But whether Murray wanted it or not, the F1 was to go racing in the new BPR Global GT series.

In 1995 the McLaren F1 GTR was built. It was driven in 12 races and won 10 of them, winning the 1995 BPR Global GT Series Championship. In the same year the F1 GTR Le Mans was created and was another milestone vehicle for Murray, winning the gruelling 24 hour race on its debut. A limited-edition road going version of the car was also designed with a BMW 6.1-litre V12 engine.

In 1996 the F1 GTR went on to become the BPR Global GT Championship winning car as well as winning the All-Japan GT Championship. A long-tail road-going version was also created the same year.

There then followed a few designs that never made it to the road such as the McLaren Coupé and LMP1 Prototype.

McLaren F1 illustration

Towards the end of 1999, Murray had a year’s break in between stopping the BMW work and starting with Mercedes and so he did a year’s work developing a little three-seater city car named Comet, which never made it onto production.

The next chapter takes us from 2000 to 2005 working with McLaren and Mercedes and in 2003 the Mercedes McLaren SLR was created, Murray’s 24th car. It was the first productionised carbon manufacturing system in low volume and the first front-engined ground-effect car. It was powered by a Mercedes 5.5-litre supercharged V8. In 2004 Murray then designed the Mercedes McLaren SLR GTR, which was a GT test car.

The penultimate chapter of the book takes us from 2007 to 2017 and focuses on Gordon Murray’s Design Years – iStream and when Murray, after numerous achievements, finally set up his own company – Gordon Murray Design. The name iStream came about from wanting to be associated with modern technology and intelligent technology, much like Apple use the lower-case i. Stream, because it was a manufacturing process and Murray wanted it to actually mean something and also means the process flow, it is also an acronym for ‘Stabilised Tube Reinforcement Exoframe Advanced Manufacturing. Stabilised Tube refers to the fact that the tubular frame is stabilised with composites. Exoframe alludes to is being an external frame.’ And so iStream was born.

The ensuing pages take us through the design of the Three-Seat City car in 2010, then in 2011 the Three-Seat Electric City Car, the first electric car to use iStream technology shown to the public. In the same year, Murray designed the Toray Teewave AR.1, powered by a Mitsubishi i-MiEV BEV engine. In 2013, the Yamaha Motive.e was created, the first customer iStream vehicle shown at the Tokyo Motor Show and Murray’s 26th car.

TVR Griffith Design

2015 and the Yamaha Sports Car T.40 was an important milestone for Murray, because it was the first car to use the iStream carbon system.

It was then in 2016 that the first flat-packed truck was designed and created – the GVT Ox and the car Murray says he is the most proud of, as it has the potential to change thousands of lives in a positive way in poor parts of Africa.

The following year Murray tuned his attention back to sports cars and designed the new TVR Griffith, powered by a Ford 5-litre V8 and the first iStream production car.

The final chapter of this second volume focusses on Murray’s ‘Diverse Designs’ and looks back at his 50 years of car design from 1967 to 2017.

Clearly the creation of this book has been a labour of love for Gordon Murray, but what a fabulous memento it is of his outstanding and diverse design work over the years that brought an eager young man over to England from South Africa, driven by his ambition to build and drive racing cars. Well he got to design Formula 1 cars for some of the greatest Grand Prix drivers in the world and that is some testament.

I have enjoyed every minute of pouring over these two volumes and would thoroughly recommend them to any car enthusiast that has a passion for motor racing and evolving car design.

The Details

Gordon Murray – One Formula – 50 Years of Car Design, is published by Porter Press International and comes as a two-book set, slip-cased, has 948 pages and contains over 1,200 illustrations and priced at £225. Publication date: 14 May 2019.

For more information please visit

You can also email them at or call them on +44 (0)1584 781588 to order a copy.

Author Bio:

Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.

Photographs and illustration courtesy of Porter Press, Gordon Murray Design and Gary Harman.

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