Gordon Murray designed his brand-new GMA T.50 to be the ultimate driver’s car. The GMA T.50S Niki Lauda cranks up that mission all the way to 11. Though it shares much of its DNA with the ultra-light, ultra-responsive T.50, the T.50A Niki Lauda has been reworked from the wheels up to deliver maximum track-day thrills. Ponder these numbers for a moment: The T.50S Niki Lauda packs 89 fewer ponies than McLaren’s monstrously fast track rat, the 814-hp Senna GTR, but it’s almost 30 percent lighter and can generate 50 percent more downforce than that car.
The heart of the T.50S Niki Lauda is a revised version of the bespoke Cosworth-built, naturally aspirated, 4.0-liter V-12 that powers the roadgoing T.50. In the T.50S Niki Lauda, the engine gets titanium inlet and exhaust valves, a race-car ram-air intake system with 12 throttle bodies, and a straight exhaust made from thinner gauge Inconel. Cosworth also redesigned the cylinder heads, boosting the compression ratio to 15:1 and removing the variable valve timing system used in the road car.
As a result, the V-12 makes 725 horsepower at a screaming 11,500 rpm (redline is 12,100 rpm), with peak torque of 357 lb-ft arriving at a giddy 9,000 rpm, increases of 11 percent and four percent, respectively, over the road car’s engine. More importantly, the 12-cylinder weighs just 357 pounds, roughly 35 pounds less than the T.50 version—and because of the redesigned intake system and cylinder heads, and the elimination of the variable valve timing gear, almost all that weight has come off the top of the engine, helping to lower the car’s center of gravity.
In the T.50 road car, output is transferred to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, as Murray wanted to maximize the interactive, tactile feel of the car. In the T.50S Niki Lauda, though, the emphasis is firmly on ultimate performance, so in place of the stick-shift ’box is a six-speed Xtrac paddle-shift transmission that features a patented gear preselection system. Removing the variable valve timing means the V-12’s torque curve isn’t quite as meaty below the 4,000-to-5,000-rpm range, as in the road car, but the new transmission’s close ratios and ultrafast shift times mean that won’t be an issue on the track, says Murray. “I don’t think you go below about 9,500 or 10,000 rpm on a gear change, so you’re never going to notice.”
Inner Beast: The T.50S’s Structure
The quest to further reduce weight is at the core of the T.50s Niki Lauda—literally. The car’s carbon-fiber monocoque has been constructed using a lighter layering technique than used in the road car. In addition, all body panels are carbon fiber and completely different from those of the T.50, not the least because of the track car’s radical aerodynamic hardware, which includes a front splitter with a central aerofoil section, dive planes, diffusers, and barge boards, and a dorsal fin that leads back to a delta wing that’s almost six feet wide. Murray says the wing’s shape was inspired by the front wing on his 1983 Brabham BT52 F1 racer and is just as effective.
Under the truncated rear bodywork of the T.50S Niki Lauda is a massive diffuser, above which sits the same 15.7-inch diameter ground-effect fan as the T.50. Unlike the road car’s version, however, the fan runs in a single, high-downforce mode, spinning at 7,000 rpm. All those aero goodies endow the T.50S Niki Lauda with up to 3,300 pounds of downforce—1,100 more than the McLaren Senna GTR—at high speed. It’s an impressive number. But not as impressive as the number Murray’s team reached during the car’s development.
“We actually got up to 4,200 pounds of downforce,” Murray laughs, “but we can only package 10-inch-wide front and 12-inch-wide rear tires and Michelin said it couldn’t give us ones in those sizes that could support that mass. Plus, I think it probably it would have been too much for an amateur driver, so we backed it down.”
The T.50S Niki Lauda shares its forged aluminum multilink suspension with the T.50, although the springs, shocks, and anti-roll bar have been revised for optimal track performance and the ride height has been lowered to 3.4 inches at the front and 4.6 inches at the rear. Also shared are the Brembo carbon-ceramic rotors and six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers, with new ducting around each wheel to improve brake cooling during torrid track action. Such is the car’s mechanical and aerodynamic grip Murray says the setup is good enough to generate 3.5 g’s of deceleration under maximum braking.
What Murray won’t talk about, though, is lap times. “It’s pointless, all this business of being fastest round the Nürburgring,” he says. “I don’t care. What I do care about is making the car accessible and easy to run. You won’t need a team of people from the factory to start the bloody thing. Just take it to the circuit, check your tire pressures, start the engine, warm the oil up, and off you go. There’s nothing special to know.”
Just 25 GMA T.50S Niki Laudas will be built, each priced at about $4.3 million plus tax, with production scheduled to start at the end of this year. Three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti is helping with the dynamic development, and owners will get all the assistance they need to help set up the car to suit their own driving style.
“There are no rip-off extras,” says Murray, who notes that some mega-dollar track-day car builders then charge six-figure sums for pit equipment and engineering support. “I hate that, I really do,” he says. “Our car comes with a complete tool kit, all the refueling equipment, jacks … everything you need to run it.” A Trackspeed package, included in the price, offers training for a technician and a day on the circuit with one of GMA’s test drivers.
The Niki Lauda name? It’s not just a reaction to McLaren’s Senna. “The Niki Lauda thing really means a lot to me,” Murray says. “It’s not some gimmick.”
Lauda, who died in 2019, drove a string of Murray-designed F1 cars in the ’70s and ’80s, including the Brabham BT46B, which he took to victory in its one and only race, the 1978 Swedish GP. (The car was subsequently banned from F1 because its fan-driven ground-effects system, similar in concept to that used on both T.50 variants, was deemed illegal.) Over the years, the three-time world champion had become a close friend of Murray’s. “When Niki passed away, I just thought, ‘let’s celebrate the man’,” he says. “And he would have loved the car. He would have absolutely lapped it up.”
You might think that after decades of working at the bleeding edge of automotive performance, for Gordon Murray the GMA T.50S Niki Lauda represents just one more set of arcane engineering problems solved. But his enthusiasm for the car is palpable.
Murray talks of being at Le Mans in 1972 and hearing the 3.0-liter V-12 Matras flat out on the Mulsanne Straight, which in those days had no chicanes and stretched for 3.5 miles. “They revved to 12,000 rpm and I just remember thinking that was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard,” he grins. “If you told me then that I would one day make a car with a V-12 that revved that high, I wouldn’t have believed you. And I can’t wait to drive it.”
Neither can we.
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