Inside Gordon Murray Group: a British breeding ground for engineering innovation
Through a gap in the trees, at the foot of some landscaped gardens blanketed in autumnal foliage, evidence of a burgeoning new British car company and engineering force is suddenly visible. There, in the distance, lies the bare shell of a factory that will begin producing Gordon Murray Automotive’s exclusive supercars in early 2024.
The building – all 4,000 square meters of it – is a few weeks away from being waterproofed and the site near Windlesham in Surrey is buzzing with activity as builders battle the winter rains. Health and safety signs are posted on high fences cordoning off the facility – but today Auto Express is getting an exclusive tour.
Our guide is not Gordon Murray himself, but Phillip Lee, the man entrusted with the day-to-day operations of the main components of the Gordon Murray Group (GMG). As a rough guide to the structure, there’s Automotive (GMA), which sells dream cars like the T.50 and T.33, and Technology (GMT), which supports them but also offers electric vehicle expertise to external customers.
Murray, who is now Group Executive Chairman, has a history of good ideas – not just his iconic motorsport designs, but also the iconic McLaren F1 supercar and the Rocket sportscar. But Windlesham is tangible proof of how his investors – a diverse group including private equity raised by well-heeled Formula 1 supporters – now aim to turn the 76-year-old’s vision into a profitable business, thereby extending his legacy consolidate .
The site – formerly home to global gas giant BOC – covers 54 acres. When finished, it will have cost GMG around £50m – “quite a bargain,” says Lee, when it includes the factory and offices. It has grown to a total investment package of £300million, which is a big part of the change to fall in a region not exactly known as a hotbed of modern automotive engineering and manufacturing, apart from McLaren in Woking.
At a time when UK PLC is struggling to find investment for each quarter, let alone development or manufacturing, GMG’s progress is impressive. The project is on schedule; It’s even on budget, though Lee admits that inflation is bound to put “a little more pressure” on finances for the second phase of construction.
That said, the landscapers are on hand on the day of our visit, shaping the mounds around a short test track that already has its ‘notch tests’ and some suspension-straining Belgian pavés. Just days earlier, Murray and celebrity advisor, three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, drove the first laps onto the track in a variety of vehicles, including a fully fanned-out T.50.
Windlesham’s tarmac isn’t for car development – GMA will keep its Millbrook base for the kind of undercover, high-speed racing needed for early prototypes – but more for the first few yards of a vehicle’s life. Cheeky, however, the layout includes a gentle incline along its main straight – designed, Lee admits, to allow Gordon to hold his annual soapbox derby race.
The factory’s first product will be the T.33, GMA’s second and slightly more conventional V12 supercar (the fanned T.50 and Niki Lauda’s T.50 will be manufactured at the existing headquarters in nearby Dunsfold). And as Lee explains, the facility is being built with customers in mind. “At one end we have a two-level area where components are received and stored,” he explains. “Then the central part of the building loses the second floor to open up the space and help us assemble in a light, airy environment.
“The last area will return to a split layout again, with after-sales on the ground floor and then a customer area on the top floor; You can watch the production line, but we can also host events or functions there.
“It reflects how closely we work with our customers; Of course, some just want us to build the car, but others enjoy being involved in what we do. They all want Gordon’s vision – that’s one thing you learn by talking to them – but there are different levels of immersion in the process.”
The T.33, T.50 and T.50s Niki Lauda have all sold out – even with prices in excess of £3million. Those earnings are useful, Lee says, but the earnings are almost secondary to how the three cars and those that will follow legitimize the technology side of the business. “I’ve always had this philosophy of life,” he says, “that it’s better to explain to people what you’ve done and then say what you’re going to do as a result of what you’ve done. It’s about what you do.” Keep telling people what you’re going to do. And now we are in this position. The cars are on the road, the T.50 is going through the final stages of homologation and the first production cars will roll off the assembly line in December.
“What I’m saying is that you can’t build the reputation that drives the technology business without following the ethos and values to make cars like the T.50 and T.33. They’re up there as a profiteer, yes, but they’re also a calling card. And that continues below. When I joined, one of the first things Gordon did was show me the product roadmap; he has cars that will run until 2035.”
Assuming that this momentum can indeed be sustained, GMT will aim to capitalize on it by offering customers vehicles developed on its own three platforms – large and mid-size, both suitable for SUVs, and one for sports cars . According to Lee, the company already has active projects with partners for all three of these setups – although some might want to manufacture and sell them, while others could use them as a technology showcase for their own systems.
He’s a bit shy about how a GMT-engineered SUV will compare to, say, the forthcoming all-electric Porsche Macan. But we already know from Murray himself that his team was looking for a lighter vehicle – possibly a third lighter than comparable competitors – with a smaller battery but faster charge rates. GMT’s policy is to take battery cells from one supplier but then invest heavily in developing new packaging, cooling and handling methods.
But this is really just the beginning. To even get to the piece of land dedicated to the factory and future offices, you have to pass a famous piece of modern architecture that once housed BOC employees. It’s nicknamed Molecule (fittingly for a gas company) because it resembles one when viewed from above, with strands and modules threading out from a larger core building.
Murray’s plan envisages that not only will some of the core workforce be housed here, but also a technology campus – a breeding ground for talent where young people can gain knowledge and experience alongside and embedded in GMG’s existing engineering teams. Over time, it could become a valuable melting pot for emerging engineering and software skills.
Our time is up and Lee has an urgent commitment at GMG’s Millbrook base. But he still has time to take us to one of the smaller workshops, where the final homologation prototype of the T.50 undergoes some polishing; In fact, it’s in two parts, with the entire rear sub-assembly, including the incredible 12,400rpm V12 engine – and fan system – being separate from the main chassis.
It’s a reminder of how Murray is on track to deliver. “We’re bucking the trend,” Lee enthuses. “Here we are with new UK headquarters and a well funded, profitable and growing business. Fast.” And then some. If the pace of progress at Windlesham is any indication, GMG is poised to become a success story of British engineering for years to come.
Gordon Murray Automotive model range
- T.33: GMA’s latest car is built in Windlesham. It’s the size of a Porsche Boxster, but has a V12 with 607 hp
- T.50: The spiritual successor to the McLaren F1 has three seats and a V12 and will be available to customers next year.
- T.50’s Niki Lauda: The track-oriented version of the T.50 costs £3.1m, saves weight and gets the V12 up to 725hp
Questions and Answers: Phillip Lee, Group CEO, Gordon Murray Group
Phillip Lee has a financial background, including stints at Lotus and taxi company LEVC – but now he’s the man tasked with bringing together the multiple facets of the Gordon Murray Group. We asked him for an update on strategy and future products.
Q: The factory is being prepared to start manufacturing T.33 from 2024. Do you already know what comes next?
A: “Actually, we’ve only just started to work on it. It’s project three. T.50s is of course a derivation of T.50, so after T.33 comes the number three. Now it’s time for the preparatory work – packaging and styling, for example. And of course it is more than clear that we will use the V12.”
Q: Gordon actually hinted a while ago that the T.33 might be the last car without even mild hybrid support on the V12. It sounds like the engagement remains strong anyway?
A: “Yes. I mean, we want to use it as much as possible because we paid for its development and it’s unique to us, so we want to get as much use as possible! As for the hybrid, I want to tell you, “We will always comply with the legislation and use the V12. Regardless of whether this results in any derivatives of the technology being used to make this compliant, we will.”
Q: The investment here is significant at a time when the future of the UK as a location for car manufacturing and engineering is being questioned. Does that put pressure on you to grow at a certain rate?
A: “Not at all. I’m not driven by the board saying, ‘I want that sales by whenever, or that profitability.’ Honestly, the thing I talk about the most is what the products are going to be.”
Q: Is it fair to say that with GMA’s exclusive approach to cars, most of the growth will come from the technology side of the business?
A: “Yes, that’s right. It’s not just a department that serves automotive. It’s much more about external customers.”