When I went to check out Gordon Murray's future car — the ultra-small, environmentally conscious T25 — there would be no test drive. Instead, I was allowed what you might call a test grope.

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Nancy Durham talks with Gordon Murray at his design shop in Surrey England. The T25 car is draped in black cloth at left. (Lindsay Isaac/CBC)

The prototype sits hidden under a black cloth in a secure room at Murray's design headquarters in Surrey, England.

The only people allowed to see it "undressed" are serious investors interested in getting the T25 into production.

I asked Murray, the Formula One design supremo renowned for his McLaren F1, would he mind if I touched it, through the cloth. Amused, he watched as I groped my way around it. I quickly discerned its stubby front from its straight, flat back.

Murray has a professorial air about him. Indeed his publicity people told me he enjoys being called "Professor." A native of South Africa, he was made an honorary professor by Durban University of Technology, his alma mater, in 2002.

Tall, pensive and ruggedly handsome, Murray looks a bit like he stays up all night designing things, which in fact he may do to accomplish all he has done. The T in T25 is for type and the 25 means this is his 25th car.

"I've actually designed 50 cars," he says, understatedly, "but I don't give them a type number until they go into production and the cars are ready-made and used."

Auto revolution

In Murray's view, the T25 is "the biggest revolution in motoring since the Model T."

By this, he is referring to the way the car is made. What makes traditional car production so ridiculously expensive, he says, is manufacturing the body and chassis as one piece.

Because cars go out of fashion so quickly, the whole structure is soon discarded and the process begins again at great cost.

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Gordon Murray created this sketch to give people a flavour of the T25. However, he says he changed some details (the dashboard, for instance) to keep people guessing about the final design. (CBC)

Murray considers the T25's body as just "the bit to keep the rain out." It can be changed relatively cheaply while the undercarriage could last up to 20 years.

Dent a panel on your T25 and you can order a new one online and install it at home yourself with the help of a spanner.

As I groped my way around the car, a picture began to emerge. "It's like a competition!" Murray quipped as I felt through the cloth trying to figure out (There are no door handles, hmmm?) each feature.

I could feel large windows on all sides. This car is going to be fun to look into as well as out of when it gets rolling.

I wasn't allowed to reach inside but I was told it does have a steering wheel,  although "it's not in a conventional place."

Guessing game

Still, I wondered, why so much secrecy? If you were to lift the veil, I asked Murray, "would I see the secret right away?"

"You would with this particular car," he replied.

"Give me a hint."

And so he did. "The internal layout is absolutely unconventional. You don't get in and out of it the normal way. You don't sit in it the normal way. You don't load children into the children's seat in a normal way. You don't load luggage into it in the normal way. And certainly the shut lines on the body would give that away."

Aha! So the shut lines — those gaps between car doors and other panels — are a clue. I'm thinking we might not enter this car from the sides. He smiles but won't confirm.

Will the top open and unfold backwards or towards the front, becoming a gangway for entry?

And what of the "organic" materials that this car is made from? The structural parts are "a by-product of agriculture," Murray says. "So it's not stealing land from crops. It's a part of agriculture that people normally throw away."

"So," I mused, "it's something that might go into viscose or some cotton-related thing?

"Yes, yes. It's a by-product."

"Coconut?" I wondered.

"It's similar. It's a fibre technology like coconut but it's much more common throughout the world."

Pick your platform

The T25 is about 30 centimetres shorter and 20 cm narrower than the latest smart car in the world today. "But, crucially," Murray adds, "it's 200 kilograms lighter. That's where we get most of the gains in fuel consumption."

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Gordon Murray racing his IGM Ford at the Roy Hesketh Circuit in Pietermaritzburg, SA in 1967. (Courtesy of Gordon Murray Designs)

The T25 runs on gas — though it can be modified to work as an electric or hybrid car.

Murray regards electricity as "the flavour of the month." Twenty years ago, he says, "we were all going to be driving hydrogen-powered cars and then five years ago it was going to be bio-fuel powered cars." He now sees a place for electric but points out battery technology still has a long way to go.

As I arrived at the back of the car it suddenly dawned on me that this vehicle is something like a tiny station wagon.

"You're dead right," Murray says. "I can tell you it's an MPV [multi purpose vehicle] and it has six different layouts." Murray says it takes 30 seconds to transform the car for what you want to use it for, whether it is hauling luggage to the airport or fitting it out with safety seats to drop off the kids at school.   At the end of my visit, Murray lifted the veil just a little to reveal a tantalising glimpse of a shimmering, shocking emerald green body. Lovely colour.

I had a peek at a rough and tumble looking black tire and a neat. round prominent headlight.

I left there with Murray's words ringing in my ears. "This will change the way we make cars, the way we buy cars and the way we use cars for a long, long time to come."

That sounds like my kind of car. Sight unseen, I think I want one.