Supercars, Super Humans
a supercar is only as good as the people who design, develop and manufacture it. Here's a fistful of our supercar heroes...
Il Commendatore was responsible for defining the facets, values and aesthetics of the supercar more than any other individual. Right from the very start of the Ferrari journey, the young Enzo was obsessed with the beauty of speed and the speed of beauty. His most-quoted line is of course “The most beautiful car is the one that wins”… and he is also often cited as saying that for him, “aerodynamics is for people who do not know how to build engines.” Whichever way you choose to read in these enigmatic utterances, the talismanic Italian boss is directly responsible for more stone-cold supercars than any other.
This was probably because he brought the values of the race track to the road. It’s the journey that any company wishing to create a truly incredible road car must take. Ferrari was the first to successfully steer a company through this tricky transition. Through vastly different projects, there’s a common denominator to Ferrari cars. From the carnal curves of the 250 GTO to the angular brutality of the F40; and from the era-defining hardness of the 430 Scuderia to the Enzo Ferrari and its counterintuitive rakes, slopes and scalps. The Old Man understood that mixing fine-tuned mechanicity and passion-provoking aesthetics was the way to make a car truly ‘super’.
The South African-born engineer and designer had the love of speed and mechanics encoded in his DNA. Having grown through the ranks of F1 design and tech with Brabham, he got a job at McLaren in 1987 and straight away began working on the concept that would become the all-time hero that is the McLaren F1.
Murray was able to combine with the renowned racing team’s expertise of execution. That execution included introducing a carbon fibre monocoque to a production car for the first time. The F1 was also the first road car to make real and extensive use of innovative materials like carbon fibre, titanium, magnesium and kevlar in its connective tissue. It even came with gold-leaf reflective material in its engine compartment. All this creativity meant that an extremely high power-to-weight ratio could be achieved with this car. Murray pushed through the idea that such a light car needed to be powered by a naturally aspirated engine, to help with driver control and reliability issues. It was also the chief engineer’s job to broker the deal with BMW’s M-Sport division to produce that devastating engine.
Murray was truly the auteur of the McLaren F1.
The Lamborghini Countach was a design that perfectly evoked what it meant to be a supercar in the 1970s and 80s. Exotic. Fast. Quirky. Expensive. It wasn’t just the futuristic scissor doors which left an indelible mark on anyone who saw a Countach for the first time. It was those off-beat plunging lines; those gaping scoops; those slickly cut louvres. The Countach’s utterly unique lines and dimensions created a silhouette that burned into the heart of anyone who romanced the idea of cars.
And all that came straight out of this man’s head. It was aesthetic that spoke to the dreamers and the speed demons, the kids with the poster on their wall. Gandini had replaced Georgio Giugiaro, who had done initial work on the Miura – an equally sublime, if not outrageous design. But the Countach broke through the soft lines that were emblematic of Miura and other cars of the era – to make a step-change and cement the wedge into the design language. Hail Il maestro!
Ok we know. The Brazilian legend is not a designer, nor is he an engineer or a visionary CEO. But he is a driver. He was possessed of a sublime physical sensitivity and an equally unfathomable emotional intelligence. This did not only manifest in incredibly quick lap times and legendary racing chops. It also meant that Senna was able to ‘feel’ a car’s setup and feed back to engineers with more accuracy and sensitivity than anyone else before or since.
We’re not sure how the deal was brokered, but someone, presumably someone from Honda, invited Senna to Honda’s Tochigi research centre. Honda was of course at the time supplying engines for McLaren’s all-conquering F1 team. The NSX that Senna got to test at various tracks in Japan wasn’t right. The chassis wasn’t stiff enough and the suspension tuning was wrong. Over a period of weeks, Senna convinced the company’s engineers to dial in these elements perfectly.
The NSX subsequently became the car that all other supercars were measured by – especially in the ride and handling departments. Gordon Murray himself claims to have used the NSX as a guide to how a supercar should handle. Nuff said.
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