Gordon Murray documentary on BBC4: CAR's preview

Published: 06 July 2012

We originally ran this story in March 2012, but the BBC moved the schedule. It's now been confirmed the documentary will run this Sunday 8 July 2012 at 8.00pm (BST) after the British grand prix.

Now this is why we pay our licence fees. BBC4 has shot an hour-long documentary on Gordon Murray which intersperses his extraordinary 40-year history designing some of the greatest-ever road and race cars with the story of his current mission to turn the car world on its head – again – with his radical T25 city car and the i-Stream factories that will build it.

The film has been made by Mark Stewart Productions: Mark is Jackie’s son, and from the moment an early ‘70s Gordon Murray-era Brabham F1 car bursts sideways through a corner, you know you’re in the hands of editors who understand cars. As we saw with Senna, the period F1 footage is sensational and Ron Howard is going to have to work hard to better it in Rush, his forthcoming film about the Hunt-Lauda rivalry in the same era.

Here it helps to balance the rather less exciting footage of modern Murray trundling around airfields in odd-looking prototypes of his new car, but cutting back and forth between F1 and T25 makes the point that Murray is bringing the same utterly unfettered thinking to this little road car as he did to his race cars.

And what thinking! From his first Brabham BT42, designed aged just 27 with its radical triangular section, to the insane BT46 fan car that sucked itself to the track, gave Lauda a half-minute victory yet caused such a furore among the other teams that even Bernie Ecclestone, Murray’s then boss, was forced to back down and withdraw it after one race, to the McLaren MP4/4 that won 15 of the ’88 season’s 16 races in the hands of Prost and Senna: if you ever think that Murray is over-eulogised this film might persuade you otherwise. 

‘Gordon Murray is God’, reads one fan’s trackside banner. But not, perhaps, a fashion god: from the early Bay City Roller-spec tartan trousers to a Sex Pistols T-shirt, Lennon sunglasses and even a pink off-the-shoulder dress for a soap-box race, Gordon’s engineering talent has often eclipsed his sartorial judgment.

I have to declare an interest: I’m in the documentary, very briefly, and just as a talking head. The other contributors are rather more impressive: Bernie and Mario Andretti from Gordon’s racing days, Rowan Atkinson and Jay Leno talking about the McLaren F1, and long-term Murray collaborators like design director Barry Lett who worked with him on the F1 and SLR road cars.

And Murray’s legendarily broad circle of mates was in evidence at the documentary’s BAFTA preview this week. I sat next to Python and film director Terry Gilliam, who gave it his approval, and said he just wanted to buy a T25. Don’t we all. And after seeing this documentary, you’ll want one more than before.

>> How to Go Faster and Influence People: the Gordon Murray Story will be shown on BBC4 Sunday 8 July 2012 at 8.00pm

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features