BT-52, Pit Road Walk-About – British Grand Prix 1983

BT52 walkabout.sliv.83.signAt the 1983 British Grand Prix at Silverstone the organizers opened the pits and paddock for a short time to spectators who had purchased a “Pit Road Walk-About” ticket.  It was a great opportunity for fans to see the F1 cars and equipment up close.

Gordon Murray Interview: Part One

DK. Can you describe the process you go through in designing a racing car like the BT52 in three months?

G.M. A lot of it is boring. It is difficult to break something like design down into percentages.  A lot of it is drawing on past experience, what you’ve done over the last ten years, what other people have done, being aware of what’s good and what’s bad.  So the more experience you’ve got, the longer you’ve been around racing cars, the more you’ve absorbed over the seasons, the more you draw on.  Its probably subconscious, but its there all the same.

D.K. What’s the not boring bit?

G.M. That’s difficult to define. I generally have a feel about a new car almost right from the beginning. I don’t mind doing lots of different layouts on different concepts.  With this car, the reason we decided to do the breakneck bit in three months was because we thought the new rules were sufficiently different to warrant a completely different aerodynamic and mechanical approach.  Also, again of the boring side, our current car was a bit of a slave in the beginning.  A slave chassis, and it got developed into the BT50, and it need replacing anyway, so we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone and start with an absolutely clean sheet of paper.  And all you do is read through the regulations and go around for a couple of weeks trying to keep everything else out of your mind.  I find the bath is a good place.  I like long soaks, and I drift off.  I’ve had a lot of good ideas while soaking in the bath.

D.K. Do you actually see the shape in your mind?

G.M. Oh yes! If you can imagine all the forces and the bits whizzing up and down, the shape comes.  Although the concept is one thing, the racing car is such a complicated bit of machinery.   You can’t just say, “I want a car that is long and narrow and dart shaped.”  You’ve got to consider where you have the major masses, to get the weight distribution where you want it.  You have to consider access to the gearbox, changing an engine in an hour and a half.  All that has to come into it.

Lying in the bath you might think, “We’ll get rid of the sidepods because we know they generate lift without skirts,” and at the same time you’ve got to be churning over all the other bits and pieces and fitting them together.  That all came to me very quickly in a couple of flashes in maybe a week and a half.  Then what you do is draw full size layouts for access and actually fitting the turbo in position, or the intercooler, or whatever it is.  You find that you can’t do this or you can’t do that.  Then you do another concept, and you develop that one for one or two or three days, and you have branches off your original idea.  In this case we came back to almost our original shape.

The other thing you do is cross check in the wind tunnel.  We spend three weeks in the wind tunnel, and it said eventually the original shape was best.  Before we tested in the wind tunnel, prior to 1978 for instance, we did all the aerodynamic things just by sucking them out of the air, you know, by feel.  You have to put yourself in the car and imagine what’s happening to the air in different areas.  I think that disappoints a lot of people when they find that not much of it is very scientific.  A lot of it is having this feel for what the air does and what the thing is going to do when its cutting through the air at 200 MPH.  It is all very violent and a pretty physical thing when its thundering through the air and changing direction.  It looks nice and sleek and lightweight in the pits.  Afterward you rush off to the scientific back-up and go and test it in the wind tunnel and make sure what you are doing is not nonsense.  A couple of times I’ve thought of a new car that in retrospect would not have worked. You’ve got to balance.  You’d like to rush off and make it because it is so different, and its going to astound everybody.  But you’ve got to stop yourself somewhere and say “ Ok, maybe its too much of a risk, maybe it’s not going to work.”

“Passion and Precision: The Photographer and Grand Prix Racing 1894-1984” By Dale Kistemaker and Kent James Smith. Copyright 1984 by the Long Beach Museum of Art Foundation, the Long Beach Museum of Art, City of Long Beach, Department of Recreation and Human Services, Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts.

No part of this interview  may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Long Beach Museum of Art, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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