21st Century 3 Seaters: McLaren Speedtail, SCG 004, & the GMA T.50

In the first 127 years of the automobile, there were 108 three seat central driving position supercars produced.  Ferrari manufactured two 365Ps as show cars in the mid 60’s and McLaren built 106 F1s in the 90’s.  While there were several other three seat cars produced over the years, they were configured with three front seats in a row with the driver on the far left.  None of these would qualify as a high-performance car.  In the last several years though, there has been an explosion in the number of 3 seat supercars launched.  McLaren led the way with the Speedtail, followed by Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus with the SCG 004S, and most recently Gordon Murray launched the T.50.  As I’ve recently been asked by a few karenable.com readers for my opinions on each one of the three, I’ve tried to capture them below.

McLaren Speedtail

Easily my most vivid memory of the Speedtail was from the 2018 McLaren Winter Ball.  It was the first time I had actually seen one up close.  The Speedtail was unlike any other car I had ever set my eyes on.  The craftmanship was exquisite and the interior looked more like something out spaceship than a road car.  However, it’s Karen’s (Mrs. SSO) reaction to the Speedtail that I remember the most clearly.  As soon as they pulled the cover off, she proclaimed it as being absolutely gorgeous.  Karen immediately asked me if I thought they would allow her to sit in the car and I explained that as it was a prototype, they were only allowing us to look inside.  Once Karen had a good look at the interior, she immediately asked if I thought we might be able to get a Speedtail.  I had to break the news that we hadn’t made the “cut” and that the priority order was current McLaren F1 owners followed by McLaren P1 GTR owners and then the rest of us (I found out later that this wasn’t exactly the case but it’s all history now).  I also reminded her that we did pass on the P1 GTR a couple of times as I had no idea what we would do with it if we did get one.  After a bit more back and forth, I was finally able to convince Karen that there was zero chance we would be able to get a Speedtail and it was time to go take a much closer look at the new 720S Spider.

Having established that both Karen and I did want a Speedtail but didn’t make the cut for one, my view of the Speedtail today hasn’t really changed from when I saw the original concept.  It’s a strikingly beautiful futuristic car who’s smooth lines give it an unmistakable aerodynamic signature.  Of the three current 3 seaters, the Speedtail is the only one designed as a Grand Tourer which gives it a fairly unique positioning.  It is a technology showcase and despite my long term concerns on the health and longevity of the hybrid system battery packs (Why We Sold the P1), I do believe the Speedtail is a car that will age well.  This is a car that will be as “cool” in ten years as it is today.  The 4.0-litre twin-turbo hybrid V8 develops 1,036 bhp which in a car that weights 3,150 lbs allows you to hit 0-186mph in 13 seconds.  While it might not beat a Senna around a track, it certainly will leave it in the dust on a runway or the autobahn.  The fact that the Speedtail has a fair amount of useable luggage room should result in at least a few European owners using their cars more extensively on cross continental road trips. (all US delivered Speedtails are being imported under the “Show & Display” exemption and are restricted to a maximum of 2,500 miles per year).  This sort of usage (vs. being parked in static private collections) will help grow the Speedtails reputation over the years.  When compared to the latest cars from Pagani or Koenigsegg, the Speedtail certainly is far more technologically advanced, similar bespoke build quality, at a significantly lower price ($2.2 million). 

At this point, I believe it’s highly unlikely that we will ever own a Speedtail.  However, it is a car I would love to have the opportunity to drive across Europe in one day. I do believe Speedtails will always be collectable given the low build numbers, futuristic styling, and uniqueness of the center driver’s seat concept. 

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG 004

 

To be fully transparency, we do have a SCG 004S on order and expect to take delivery in the spring of 2021.  We have met Jim & Jesse Glickenhaus a couple of times and for two extremely successful people, its impressive just how humble and down to earth they both are.  What has been totally different to any other car I have ever ordered is the amount of transparency Jim & Jesse Glickenhaus provide on the SCG 004’s development on a daily basis.  For us this is hugely important as much more so than normal, when you are ordering a car from a micro manufacturer, you are betting on the founder’s vision and capability to deliver.  There is a private message feed that all of us who have placed orders have access to.  The Glickenhaus’ regularly post updates and provide information to us well before its public release.  The message feed is a fascinating learning process as different components of the car come together, are tested, improved upon, and discussed.  What is also remarkable is how the Glickenhaus’ are open to feedback from the “Founding” customers. 

 

A bit of background on SCG, they have been around as a race car manufacturer and team since 2010. The big change however came in July 2017 when SCG registered with NHTSA in order to make road-legal cars in the United States. The 004 is SCG’s second car after the multi race winning 003. The SCG 004S/CS is SCG’s first production road car that meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. SCG has several other cars in development and has recently completed building a factory in Danbury, Connecticut.  Of the three current 3 seats, the SCG 004 is the bargain option with a starting price of $460,000, it’s about 20% of the cost of a McLaren Speedtail and 15% of the price of a GMA T.50.

 

What initially got me interested in the SCG 004 was that it would be the first fully road legal three-seater with a center driving position available in the US (the McLaren Speedtail & McLaren F1s have all been imported under restrictive “Show & Display” exemptions).  The base road version, 004S, is built around a carbon fiber tub, with all carbon fiber body panels and is powered by a supercharged 650 bhp supercharged V8 supplied by GM. The 004S will come with a 6-speed manual gearbox and the suspension is inboard pushrod. There is a more track focused version of the 004, the 004CS which will have an extra 200 bhp, 7-speed paddle shift gearbox, center lock wheels and more aggressive aero. To insure driver comfort given the center driving position, SCG has designed in a significant amount of headroom with a fully adjustable Sabelt seat and an adjustable steering column. Excellent visibility is a given with the large wrap around windshield and the cockpit on the road cars should be light and airy with the glass roof. As the 004 is being designed as a race car first and then adapted to the road, servicing should be quick and easy as all the major components are designed to be easily accessible and replaceable. As an example, a clutch change should not take more than one hour. 

 

First deliveries of the SCG 004 are scheduled to start this fall and all 2020 build slots are long sold out but I believe there are still a few late 2021’s still available.  One thing SCG is discussing which will both encourage long term ownership of their cars and support values is to leverage all the lessons gained from the racetrack. These learning will be used to create upgrade packages for the road cars on a regular cadence. Since SCG’s race and road cars share the same chassis, engine architecture, and suspension architecture, many of the lessons from the track will be directly applicable for creating upgrades for the road cars. Instead of planned obsolesce like other supercars, a SCG will continue to evolve and improve with age.  If the McLaren Speedtail is the ultimate continent crushing 3 seat GT, then the SCG 004S is the 3 seat race car for the road that you will want to run up the Pacific Coast Highway or across the Alpine passes.

Gordon Murray Automotive T.50

 

In terms of name recognition in the supercar world, Gordon Murray has to be in the top 3.  Gordon’s recent streamed unveiling of the T.50 has over 100k views on YouTube.  Considering GMA will only be producing 100 T.50’s starting at $3.1 million each, the level of excitement across the car enthusiast world is impressive.  From what I understand, prior to the T.50s streamed unveiling, GMA had around 70 deposits on hand.  Recently I heard that there are now only 5 build slots left and those are expected to disappear quickly.

 

Conceptually this is a car anyone who loves driving should adore.  There is literarily nothing I can find in any of the details on the T.50 that I don’t like.  The T.50 will be built around a 100% bespoke 3.9-litre, 654 bhp V12 engine which redlines at an unheard of 12,100 rpm.  This will also be the lightest V12 ever fitted in a road car.  The T.50 also only comes with a six-speed manual transmission, has a kerb weight of 2,179 lbs. and features highly advanced aerodynamics which work in conjunction with a 400mm rear-mounted fan. Steering is simple rack and pinion with low-speed power assistance, chassis and body panels are carbon fiber with carbon ceramic brakes with Brembo calipers. The body lines are smooth and the T.50 is designed to be useable as a daily driver.  Gordon is calling the T.50, the most driver-centric supercar ever built.  Net net of the three 3 seaters under development, the T.50 is the most versatile.

 

While I revere the T.50 conceptually, I have passed on the opportunity to get a build slot.  Simply put, its more money than I am comfortable with tying up I one car.  To fund a T.50, I would likely need to part with several other cars which I am just not willing to do at this point in time.  In addition, I do have a few other concerns with the T.50s development.  When Gordon built the McLaren F1, he had both the financial backing and technical resources of one of the most successful Formula 1 teams of that era.  While there is involvement of a Formula 1 Team in the T.50s development, Racing Point is not McLaren and given their new relationship with Aston Martin, I would question Racing Points long term interest in a car that is likely seen as a direct competitor to the Valkyrie.  While I don’t know what GMA’s financial backing is, given the size of the deposit being requested on the $3.1 million T.50, it does seem like a lot of the car’s development costs will be covered by the eventual owners. This is not something I am fully comfortable with, especially given the deposit is non-refundable .  As a US based buyer, there is also no guarantee that the T.50 will be granted a “Show & Display” exemption which is critical for its US importation.  You can only apply for a “Show & Display” exemption once production is completed and with the current Covid-19 driven backlog at NHTSA & DOT that could take years to process.  In addition, other than a partnership announced with Canepa in California, customer support for the T.50 looks to be extremely limited and any major issues will likely involve having to ship the car back to the factory in the UK.  What the future vision for Gordon Murray Automotive is also a question given Gordon is already 8 years older than most people when they hit mandatory retirement age.  At the end of the day, I do believe the GMA T.50 will be a phenomenal car for those fortunate enough to be getting one of the 100.

Summary

 

Superficially you would expect the McLaren Speedtail, SCG 004, and GMA T.50 to be very similar in concept and intended use given they are all central driving position 3 seaters built off of carbon fiber tubs.  In fact, they could not be more different.  The McLaren Speedtail is arguably the most advanced futuristic road car today, the SCG 004 is a thinly disguised racecar for the road, and the T.50 is designed to be the most driver centric car ever built with a complete ambivalence to all the normal car tester’s metrics.   If the Speedtail is designed to crush continents, the SCG 004’s goal is to destroy lap times, and the T.50 simply wants to win its driver’s heart.  While the first and the last on the list are basically unobtanium, build slots for the much more reasonably priced SCG 004 are still available.

 

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August 2020

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14 Thoughts on 21st Century 3 Seaters: McLaren Speedtail, SCG 004, & the GMA T.50
    John
    17 Aug 2020
    12:24pm

    I didn’t realise the age of Gordon Murray. In one way you’ve got to consider that this will only add to the rarity of the car as it’s unlikely he’ll be there in 30 years time to repeat the process…

    “Show & Display” mileage limit doesn’t seem too restrictive for a UK car and some opting for insurance would volunteer that limit, but the USA is a big country and that’s not many miles in the US!

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    Simon B.
    17 Aug 2020
    1:40pm

    Alright, let me share my thoughts.

    Mclaren Speedtail – I do like the car’s esthetics, both on the inside and the outside. I am a sucker for the long tail look, I guess, and very few cars if any posses it these days. The interior looks very futuristic as well as high quality, and the roof mounted controls are boyishly cool as well, even if very impractical to use (no peripheral vision and raising your hand so high is tiring).

    I am certain the car will perform well, too. The only thing I am not so sure about is the “1050hp” sleigh of hand. Yes, the “system” power is 1050hp, but with 300hp+ coming from the electric motor combined with a measly 1.6kwh battery, you get the full 1050hp for 40 seconds only. This probably won’t be an issue cruising around with just the occasional throttle, but nevertheless I find the number a bit misleading. If the car was to actually be driven hard, if it was to be made use all of its horsepower, then more often than not you’d be looking at just a heavy 750hp car. It’s quite possible that Mclaren have analyzed the driving habits of their customers and determined that 1.6kwh battery is all the car needs – but if that’s the case, that makes you question how relevant the big horsepower figures were in the first place, doesn’t it?

    The big reason why I can’t get behind the Speedtail, though, doesn’t have anything to do with any of that. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the car itself. The biggest flaw of the Speedtail is that it’s not a bespoke car. It’s a 720s with a Bonneville aero kit, three seats and a battery. As much as I might try appreciating the machine and ignoring the way it came to be, I don’t think I could really be happy owning it, knowing the likely reason for its existence is that Mclaren needed a quick injection of cash. And, to be honest, I don’t like Mclaren’s strategy of 1 engine, 1 chassis, 20 different cars; it probably has a lot to do with how quickly their models lose value. I don’t think there is any chance of that happening with the Speedtail considering the extremely low production numbers, but as far as the long term reputation goes, the place of the car in automotive history, I highly doubt it’s ever gonna be anything more than a footnote.

    SCG 004 – I don’t really have much to say about this car at this point. SCG is a very small manufacturer with zero experience in building road cars and so, naturally, one tends to be rather skeptical. There is a long history of small US car makers who have very ambitious plans, but whose efforts fall rather short. Or, in the best case scenario, produce a decent car but then run out of money shortly after. If all goes well, this could be the modern MT900S – race car turned road car, with a CF monocoque and a GM V8.

    GMT T.50 – Pretty much every car enthusiast’s dream made flesh. Same as you I struggle to find anything on the car that I don’t like. If I had to pick something to criticize, it would probably be the headlights – which make the front of the car look like a 50k V6 sportscar, not 3M 12k RPM V12 hypercar. However, even that is more something to get used to rather than a huge negative, because sportscar is what this fundamentally is. Gordon calls it “hyper GT”, but I think that “hyper sportscar” is a much more fitting term – and the front styling complements that.

    It’s a shame you decided not to buy one, and that I won’t be able to read about your ownership experience, but I can understand your reasons. Well, some of them at least. The lack of a support network and being only able to buy the car under Show and Display rules (and parting with a rather sizeable sum) would make me question my purchase as well.

    On the other hand I don’t really share the development concerns. I would be a lot more concerned with SCG and with how their company is gonna be doing in 10 years, if anything. Racing Point, as far I as know, aren’t really involved in the project beyond having provided a one time use of their wind tunnel. However, I also don’t see why a lack of an F1 team’s involvement should necessarily be considered a negative. As far as “F1 tech” in road cars goes, it doesn’t exist. There is nothing in a modern F1 car that’s remotely similar to a road car. The engines are so different that it will have taken Mercedes over 3 years (and millions of dollars, and the help of an electric powertrain) to make it work. They use sequential gearboxes that are unsuitable for road cars for many different reasons (hence why Xtrac thought it wouldn’t really work in the T.50). The brakes are carbon-carbon, not carbon ceramic like on road cars. The single seater aerodynamics are completely different, even the Valkyrie is much more similar aerodynamically to an LMP1 car than to an F1 car. Etc. When brands tout “F1 tech” being part of their road cars, it’s 99% marketing. I am pretty sure that GMA’s engineers (who were hand picked by Gordon himself after all) are more than capable of rising up to the challenge without needing any external help. And, to be fair, the T.50 is rather more conventional than the long delayed AMG One and Valkyrie projects, and if not less ambitious at least allows you to fail gradually – ie. even if they fail creating the best shift in the world, it might still have the 2nd best shift in the world, whereas in the AMG One the engine either meets the road regs and NVH standards, or it doesn’t. The T.50’s relative simplicity should keep in on time and on budget.

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    Alan Stein
    16 Aug 2020
    9:17pm

    great article thanks .

    I also have a 004 on order. Jim and Jessie
    communication,updates and availability make it a great experience.

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    Mel Jacobs
    16 Aug 2020
    2:36pm

    Wonderful article. Especially good words for the SCG since it is still within reach of the 1%’ers. My order has been in for an 004s for the last 3 years and can’t wait to drive it.
    Best regards from a fellow “founder “

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    Dilusha
    17 Aug 2020
    7:10pm

    This is my favorite car blog now. I truly appreciate all of your insightful and honest reviews and comments. I really liked what you said in your last article about the troubles with the Valkyrie at Aston under Stroll’s new leadership. It’d be a real shame to see an underwhelming car in the end.

    And do you think AMG One’s troubled as well? Does it have anything to do with Moers’s departure? Perhaps next time you could write an article about the One and the Valkyrie.

    Keep it coming! 🙂

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    Crown
    18 Aug 2020
    3:20pm

    I think a comparable car, albeit not middle seat configuration, is the SCG 007…that will be the halo car to bring SCG to mythical status if the team can pull off what they are trying to do (See Shelby, Cunningham, etc. from US racing past).

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