Few people are revered in the automotive industry like Gordon Murray. The British designer spent decades shaping the evolution of Formula One cars with Brabham and McLaren, working on the legendary MP4/4 that Ayerton Senna drove to his first world championship. But in 1991, Murray took over McLaren’s nascent road car program, and gave the world the F1, the era-defining supercar of the 1990s. With 627 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque on tap, the car could scramble from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds, and top out at an astonishing 231 miles per hour.
But there was more to the F1 than power, and that’s what makes it all the more remarkable. In an interview with Honda about the original NSX, Murray explained what he wanted out of the F1, aside from speed:
To my thinking, the ideal car is one in which I could get in the driver’s seat and be out for a drive in downtown London, and then want to continue straight on to the South of France. A car that you can trust, with functional air conditioning, and retains daily drivability. No offset pedals allowed. No high dashboards restricting your view either. Having a low roof hitting your head every time you go over a bump in the name of aerodynamics and styling is out of the question. It is essential that a supercar be a pleasure to drive, and anything detracting from that must be excised.
In the two decades since the F1 changed the performance car world, Murray has continued to strive for that ideal car, supercar or not. In 2007, he formed Gordon Murray Design and designed the T25 city car, which won Autocar’s 2008 “Idea of the Year” award, and was scheduled to reach production by 2015.
For reasons that are largely unclear, that never happened. But Murray has teamed up with Shell Oil and Japanese firm Geo Technology (no relation to the failed GM brand) to bring the car up to date, and the result is this: the Shell Concept Car.
On the surface, the Shell Concept doesn’t seem to have much in common with Murray’s million dollar masterpiece: At just over eight feet long, the 1,200-pound car gets 107 miles per gallon from its tiny engine, and gets from zero to 60 in a leisurely 15.8 seconds.
But the more you look at it, some clear similarities begin to emerge. The supercar’s signature three-seat layout is reprised, along with split side windows and upward-swinging doors (and roof) that allow for easy entry and plenty of headroom. Like the McLaren, it benefits from a light-weight carbon fiber construction, and has an ultra-slippery drag coefficient of .29, making it even more aerodynamic than the F1 was — that car had a drag of .32.
Unfortunately, the Shell Concept is just that for now: a concept. But with all the design and engineering taken care of, there’s an opportunity for a small automaker to take the reins and have one competitive city car on its hands. Because seriously, between this and a Renault Twizy, which would you rather have?