You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Gordon Murray's Advice for Aspiring Designers

Road & Track logo Road & Track 9/22/2021 Kyle Kinard
gordon murray photoshoot © Richard Pardon gordon murray photoshoot

On his 18th birthday, Gordon Murray’s parents gifted him a set of Wild Heerbrugg Swiss drawing instruments. From those simple tools—a pen for lines, one for curves, a compass, some odds and ends—Murray’s future unfurled like a red carpet.

“And then I was away, you know,” Murray says.“Once I had a drawing board at home and the instruments, I thought I was absolutely away.”

This story originally appeared in Volume 7 of Road & Track.

SIGN UP FOR THE TRACK CLUB BY R&T FOR MORE EXCLUSIVE STORIES

The set of chromium-plated tools was built to offer a lifetime of dutiful service. And it did. Murray used them to design his first car, the T.1 (aka IGM-Ford). The burnt-orange Ford-powered imp looks like a Lotus Seven, but is lighter and stiffer. Murray cut his teeth on the car, rebuilding and refining, always looking to a future in motorsport.

Automotive icon Gordon Murray has some simple advice for the next-generation of aspiring automotive designers looking to make a name for themselves. © Richard Pardon Automotive icon Gordon Murray has some simple advice for the next-generation of aspiring automotive designers looking to make a name for themselves.

As a kid in South Africa, Murray grew up sketching electric guitars and race-car suspensions in his notebooks. By 12, he’d earned an art scholarship to study at his local college. At 16, he drafted a complete flat-12 engine by hand. His parents took notice, and the small drawing set followed.

Racing the T.1 on South African circuits took Murray from the abstract to the concrete. He faults one crash on some amateurish welding, but he earned class wins at Roy Hesketh Circuit and elsewhere via sweat equity and careful engineering.

Long before establishing his reputation as a master designer, Murray was a young racer on a shoe-string budget. He couldn’t afford imported Mahle pistons for the T.1’s Anglia-based 1.0-liter engine, so he made his own. With funds that stretched only to a standard cast crank, he balanced the reciprocating and rotating mass to within a tenth of a gram, eking out a reliable 8500-rpm redline. After campaigning the car successfully, Murray sold it and turned his focus to the U.K., the global hub for motorsport design. He booked a one-way ticket and packed the Wild Heerbrugg drawing instruments. He used them to draw every one of his Brabham Formula 1 cars, including the championship winners. Eventually, they drafted probably the finest road car ever made, the McLaren F1.

Murray’s old drafting board still lives at GMA headquarters, alongside ephemera from a great career. © Richard Pardon Murray’s old drafting board still lives at GMA headquarters, alongside ephemera from a great career.

From Brabham’s Seventies Formula cars to a role as McLaren’s technical director, Murray drew the shapes that defined Formula 1 for two decades. His ideas helped evolve the sport from a grid of steel cigars to the alien wingships of modern F1.

Today he heads Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA), a British automaker that recently unveil edits stunning T.50 supercar. Murray runs the show but never lets his nose drift from the drawing board, styling his latest design with pencils and paper. He’s also a shepherd now, guiding a new generation of designers with old-school fundamentals.

Murray, 75, implores the automotive designers, engineers, and stylists of tomorrow to stick with their sketchbooks throughout the design process, even as computer-aided design (CAD) steers the vast majority of modern car development.

“When it comes to [automotive] componentry or even furniture design, beauty and proportion died with analog drawings,” Murray says. “And if you asked most engineers to sketch a part, they’d rather you shot them instead.”

What would he tell aspiring designers? “Just two bits of advice. One is to sketch everything,” Murray says. His second tip: Get your hands dirty. Go racing. If you don’t have the means, lend a hand with your friend’s Formula Ford. GMA ushers its young stylists through a practical cross-pollination, wherein machine-shop workers learn CAD basics and engineers perfect proportion on paper.

“A technician apprentice from the workshop will have to go right through design and engineering and vice versa,” Murray says. “Somebody doing a graduate scheme will have to go down to the workshop and learn to machine and weld, and we find that’s starting to help a bit.”

Even better, Murray says: when young designers, engineers, and stylists show up prepared.

"A lot of the graduates we get haven’t had any practical experience. When they come for an interview and I say, ‘What have you done in your spare time?’ the worst thing somebody can say to me is, ‘I’ve played darts. And I go down to the pub.’ I want to get somebody that says, ‘I bought an old banger and I’ve taken the engine out and got it apart.’ Because if you’re not good at design, you can get a lot better by actually handling stuff.”

Murray and his T.1—well, a re-creation—were reunited in 2017, when he ran it up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The little frog-eyed torpedo scampered across the tarmac, its mustachioed creator at the wheel. It was a celebration of the first proper machine to flow out from his pencil, one that ushered Gordon Murray from dreamer to creator.

The Wild Heerbrugg drawing instruments, alongside a pedal assembly from the GMA T.50 supercar. © Richard Pardon The Wild Heerbrugg drawing instruments, alongside a pedal assembly from the GMA T.50 supercar. Looking to purchase a car? Find your match on the MSN Autos Marketplace
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Road and Track

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon