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Heroes, Stars and the Slog

15th Feb 2013 9:26 pm

My meeting with Gordon Murray at the Cartier Concours d'Elegance in Mumbai


I was predisposed to like the man. Why? Because he took up the challenge of designing an ultra compact city car with the same thoroughness and ingenuity he called upon to create the McLaren F1. His genius can be measured by the wickedly out-of-the-box Brabham F1 fan-car, but to understand the kind of person he is, you have to look at his passion for soapbox races! Gordon Murray. Whattaguy!

He casually sauntered into the motorcycle section at the Cartier Concours d’Elegance. I froze. Regained some control and put on a jerky smile. He noticed, smiled a Hello, and carried on. With a straw hat, dark shades, a floral shirt that hung lose over his faded pyjamas he looked like a guest from the Taj Lands End who had lost his way. He wasn’t and despite his hippy-ish air, he isn’t.

Gordon Murray has a quiet thoughtful air about him. All through our chat, it felt like he’s musing over, prodding and poking at some thought in his head. But, he was never aloof or guarded. “I drove the Veyron. It’s a fantastic machine. But, it lacks the sense of connection.” I felt like giving him a high-five when he said that most supercars today weren’t engaging enough. Has he driven the GT86? No. We’ve begged him too. We hope his wish to make one more supercar comes true and gives drivers goose bumps. Will it outdo the Veyron? No. Murray insists that the McLaren F1’s monstrous top speed that kick started the fervour for headline-grabbing max velocities was unintended. “I wasn’t thinking about top speed when making the McLaren F1. It just happened.” We spoke about the T25, F1 and the Nano. Eventually, the fun had to stop. We were over the moon as the post-interview snap shows quite clearly.

Sir Moss

Stirling Moss. Sir Stirling Moss. What do you expect from an 83-year-old who gave up racing only two years ago? Proud? Testy? Impatient? As it turned out, none of the above. Despite being tired from the long day and many interviews, he patiently and unswervingly answered all our questions.

Why did he give up racing at the age of 81? “I’ve never been afraid of speed. I have crashed, but never been afraid.” He said in a hoarse whisper. “When was it? Yes, Two years ago, I found myself going around another car and scared myself silly.” Forthright.

I immediately warmed up to him when he spoke about F1 today. “It’s so safe and that has taken some of the excitement out.” Later, he sifts through memories of his famous outing at the Mille Miglia in 1955 before confirming, “Yes, I drifted through every corner. For ten hours straight.” His commanding win makes it one of his most memorable races. As we chatted, Sir Moss professed love for the Maserati’s handling, the Ferrari’s build, but rated the Mercedes 300 SLR as the very best. But today, he prefers to stay off the road. 

The Cartier Concours d’Elegance is two glorious days of beautiful automobiles and charismatic people. Manvendra Singh, judge for the two days of the Concours, spends most of the year digging for hidden gems, coaxing owners to share them with the world, and pours in his own efforts to get them polished to the highest standards. It was my first Concours, and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

For a brilliant Saturday, Manvendra Singh, thank you. 


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