Road impressions: Gilbern Invader

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Just recently I seem to be bumping, metaphorically rather than literally, into a considerable number of Gilbern owners for one reason or another. They all seem to be extremely happy with their purchase from the sole Welsh manufacturer, the recent letter in our correspondence from one such Gilbern enthusiast being fairly typical. Soon, I too, was to discover the pleasures of Gilbern motoring after a phone call from the arch-Gilbern enthusiast of all, Mr. Emil Rossner, who offered to lend me his smart Invader, which is the latest V6 Ford powered model. Mr. Rossner had good reason for he is the man who runs the Ace Motor Company which is tucked away down in Radley Mews, W8, close to West London Air Terminal. He sells over half of all the Gilberns that are made and also offers tuning kits for the cars which have been developed by Piper.

“Our” road-test car turned out to be Mr. Rossner’s own personal transport which also gives him some sporting entertainment up the hills—Gilberns are like that. It is an Invader to the latest specification, has been sprayed a delightful shade of electric blue which is a worthwhile extra at £11, and has an engine which has been breathed upon by Piper down at Ashford in Kent.

Styling is always such a personal thing and I have always liked the looks of the latest Gilbern, and earlier ones in their time, the present shape being somewhat reminiscent of the Alfa Romeo GTV.

Once in the driving seat one feels immediately at home although actually adjusting the seat is a different matter and a passenger managed to pull completely away the adjustment lever on his side. The inside trim and carpets are to a good standard and one is confronted with a walnut facia which contains a full range of instruments and a pleasant if rather creeky steering wheel with central horn push. The overdrive switch was to the left and operated the opposite way to normal which proved rather difficult but had the rather unusual advantage of being so placed that it could be operated by one’s knee. The car can be tailored to one’s individual stature and Ace were happy to alter the pedals for me while the gear lever can be cranked forward to a greater or lesser extent until it suits one’s personal likes. Incidentally the Gilbern is fitted with an exceptionally nasty throttle pedal incorporating a cheap alloy part which broke while we were doing acceleration runs.

The Invader is a four-seater although offering very little room behind the seat occupied by any long legged-driver but, neither does a BMW 1600/2002. However a run of over 100 miles was accomplished with three up without any complaints from the passengers apart from the brio with which the Gilbern was being conducted. There is also a reasonable but not vast boot.

The standard specification of the car includes several extras one would not expect to find including some nicely styled finned alloy wheels, halogen head lights, additional side indicators and American specification flashing-warning system. Another item we hardly expected to find were the electric windows and these instilled rather more confidence that those found on Lotus models which always give the impression that they are about to stick up or down. There is a ten-gallon fuel tank which has a two-gallon reserve only reached by operating the tap which is in the boot.

Lifting the bonnet one finds the Ford V6 engine nestling quite happily without being cramped. Unlike the earlier Scimitars this is not festooned with radio suppressing plates this item being dealt with in the firewall. This particular engine has been the subject of considerable attention by Piper and was even tested on the dynamometer. Originally it gave 124 b.h.p. and this has now been upped to 148 b.h.p. giving maximum torque of 182 ft. lbs. at 3,500 r.p.m.

It features Piper’s head modifications to their VGY specification, a new 5FG6 cam, the inlet manifold is polished and matched to the head, the standard carburetter is re-jetted, there is an uprated oil pump and baffled sump, and the engine is balanced. The parts for this job come to around £85-90 and there is a labour charge on top of that and special Gilbern alloy rockercovers are on their way too.

Initial reaction on first moving off in the Invader is good for the steering is positive and one soon has a feeling of confidence in the car. We put a good mileage on the machine and were soon thoroughly enjoying its excellent performance and handling. The Invader does, of course, have a separate multi-tubular steel chassis which some readers may have seen displayed at the Motor Show and it is certainly very strong. The suspension at the front is independent by coil springs, wishbones and anti-roll bar, while at the rear there is a live axle on coil springs, twin trailing arms and a Panhard-rod which gives good location. Spax adjustable shock absorbers are fitted. The front track is 4 ft. 6 in. and two inches narrower at the rear while the wheelbase is rather short at 7 ft. 9 in.

The Piper tuning produces some urge and once on the open road the Gilbern proved to be a delight to drive. If there is any criticism it is that the car is not perhaps as stable at high speed as it might be; compared with the editorial Scimitar GTE at any rate. However, this might be able to be remedied with altered tyre pressures. The gearbox is derived from the one used in the Zodiac and as such is robust but is not a particularly fast change. But the positioning of the lever in the Gilbern is excellent and helps to make the change smooth.

The steering utilises a rack and pinion system from Cam Gear and this is also very pleasant. Earlier Invaders were reckoned by some to be a little heavy at slow speed although this has now been altered. There are just under three turns lock to lock which helps to make it positive without being super sensitive.

Braking comes well up to standard thanks to the Girling 11 1/2 in. discs at the front and drums at the rears which are power assisted and the car pulls up straight and true without great pedal pressure. However, several fierce applications at the end of our acceleration runs had them smoking a lot so harder linings may be worthwhile for really hard driving.

The handling, while not in the Lotus Elan class, leaves little to be desired and on the Dunlop radials the Gilbern gripped the road and when pushed to the limit behaved predictably with a fair bit of over-steer if induced. One could chuck the car about very aggressively and my two passengers, who came on a trip through the back roads of Cheshire, were surprised by this fearing, on several corners, we were about to fly off into the hedgerows when, in fact, there was quite a bit in hand. However we did bottom occasionally although this could have been remedied by altering the shock absorber settings.

Tuned V6 Ford motors always sound so much nicer than the standard ones and this was undoubtedly true of this Piper unit and is possibly further advanced by the special Ace Motor Company stainless steel exhaust system which represents excellent value at £55 if an owner intends keeping the car for any length of time. The engine in the test Gilbern is being used as a development unit and different cams have been assessed. The one fitted when he tried the car was perhaps a shade too racey for town driving but gave excellent performance higher up the range. Our figures taken at Silverstone show a negligible improvement over standard up to 60 m.p.h. but then the car really starts to get up and go reaching 100 m.p.h. in an impressive 24.8 sec. The top speed is certainly over 120 m.p.h. and we reached 107 m.p.h. in overdrive third. The speedometer proved to be only fractionally slow while fuel consumption will vary considerably depending on how one drives the car but 22-23 m.p.g. would represent a figure if the car is driven with any urgency although better could be expected if a lot of 70-80 m.p.h. motorway work was on the route.

Our lasting impression of the car was undoubtedly favourable and if one has a leaning towards the slightly unusual but fairly luxurious sporting model from a smaller manufacturer, the Gilbern should definitely be on any short list. The Ace Motor Company in particular would no doubt be happy to provide a demonstration. One final word is about the price—in component form the Gilbert Invader in standard form costs £1,767 or fully built-up and tax paid it sells at £2,236—not a cheap car by any means. There is also the Estate version which we look forward to trying at a later date.—A. R. M.

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