One of the most intriguing aspects of Gordon Murray’s professional career is his willingness to turn his considerable skill to projects of all kinds, many of which are anything but high performance in nature. Indeed, the designer of epoch defining cars like the McLaren F1 and the record breaking McLaren MP4/4 F1 car readily admits that the project that’s brought him most happiness and pride is actually his most real world, the Ox.
It might be powered by a diesel engine from a transit making comfortably under 100bhp, have the aerodynamic properties of a house brick and the handling of an inebriate 10 pints into a pub crawl, but the Ox remains a Murray project of the classic kind, stuffed with innovative design and intelligent thinking.
The idea behind the Ox is as simple as the vehicle itself, namely the desire to provide emerging markets of the undeveloped world with a form of transport that’s practical, economical and hardy. In this it succeeds and succeeds with gusto, making it more than worthy of the Retropower Hero treatment.
Firstly there’s the manner in which it’s constructed and packed, flat-packed within itself. This means that there isn’t a package in the traditional sense, rather that the Ox unpacks and is ready for assembly, something which can be achieved by a trio of people in just under 12 hours – and all without anything more specialised than sockets, spanners and a welder. The way that the Ox fits together is also interesting, with almost every single panel able to be flipped around and used on the opposite side should the need arise, something also true of the suspension arms and the windscreen panes.
There’s more; vast swathes of the Ox have been engineered to be multi-purpose, so the rear benches can double as sand ladders and the glass area removable (it can be used as an impromptu shelter in a pinch). Our personal favourite snippet of Ox trivia concerns the hubs, which can – with the addition of an output flange – be used as a six-speed drive for a pump or generator.
Basic really is the order of the day when it comes to both the Ox’s chassis and engine. The former is pure Gordon Murray and even uses his own iStream concept, one which sees a mixture of steel tubing ands bonded composites to form a ladder type chassis. It’s incredibly tough, hard wearing and ideal for the kind of environments the Ox is likely to find itself in. Power is similarly utilitarian, with propulsion handled by a Ford Transit diesel (also the source of the hubs and wheels). It isn’t quick and it isn’t especially refined, but it gets the job done.
The Ox is two-wheel drive only, though its lightweight and high ground clearance enable it to scamper up most obstacles. Four wheel drive was rejected for reasons of cost, complexity and weight. It can cross most rivers, is impressively capable off road and can be fixed by pretty much anyone with a modicum of mechanical knowledge and a basic tool kit.
We’re not going to pretend that the Ox is a typical Retropower car, because it isn’t. It’s slow, basic, agricultural and barely styled, but then it doesn’t need to be. In many ways it has all the hallmarks of a Gordon Murray classic, with a ruthless commitment to efficiency, ease of use and focus. It might not be quite the engineering tour de force of a McLaren F1 or MP4/4, but the Ox is worthy of the Murray name, not least as he’s on record saying it’s the vehicle he’s most proud of.