When the Ginetta G4 was introduced at the 1961 Racing Car Show, it won immediate approval. It was as if you could buy a bargain-price Lola Mk 1 and use it either on the road or the track. Since it is still being made 34 years later, it has joined an elite of cars (Morgan, Marcos, Lotus Seven) with which the sporting motorist has had a long love affair. One has also heard of ‘Ginettas’ being built in America and the Far East — when a car is being faked, it has really made it to the top.
More than anything else, the unbroken thread in the Ginetta story has been the G4, and the latest G33/34 models are modern interpretations of that theme.
When the G4 was introduced, however, Ginetta was just one of several firms which had sprung up in the late 1950s to supply special builders and which, in the early 1960s, tried to become manufacturers. Tornado, LMB, Ashley, Falcon, Cheetah and Heron are among those who tried, and are now just footnotes in history.
In the 1950s the Walklett brothers, Bob, Douglas, Ivor and Trevers (not Trevor), ran an agricultural engineering business in Woodbridge, Suffolk. They were all motorsport enthusiasts, and Ivor built a special based on a Wolseley Hornet which, in retrospect, became known as the Ginetta G1.
The brothers offered their first car, the G2, as a kit in 1957. It was one of the more sensible Ford-based kits and it offered a reasonably competent mechanic a chance to build a sportscar in the Lotus Six idiom for about £250 (the basic kit cost £156). Using a spaceframe chassis to which aluminium panels were attached, making for a stiff structure, it had a split axle i f s conversion and the remote gear change was mounted on the dashboard. Unlike many of the kits offered in the late 1950s, this was one which could actually be finished by the home builder, and about 100 were sold by 1960.
Just as the G2 was a well-conceived kit, so the G3 of 1960 was a well-conceived fibreglass body which was also sold as the ‘Fairlite’. The chassis followed the G2 pattern, and the body came complete, unlike most bodies sold to special builders. The wheel-arches and the boot were built in, the doors fitted, there was a proper scuttle and the standard of finish was high. It was not everybody’s favourite shape, but it had integrity and, like its predecessor, it was a practical proposition.
Although the Walklett brothers had not taken the world by storm, they had established a reputation for sound engineering and a clear understanding of what the customer wanted. That is why, when the Ginetta G4 was first shown, it was taken seriously.
It had an attractive fibreglass body which owed a little to the Lotus Eleven, and the scuttle was bonded to the spaceframe for extra rigidity. Front suspension was by coil springs and double wishbones, while the live rear axle was sprung on coils and was located by trailing arms and an A-bracket. With an efficient body, a stiff chassis, and a weight of about 980Ibs, the G4 offered outstanding performance for a car fitted with a 997cc Ford 105E engine.
Within a year you could buy a complete kit for £499, which is roughly what a Mini cost. For an extra £16 you could have a 1340cc 109E engine (a Cosworth-tuned 109E cost an extra £116) and full weather equipment came at £20. Writing for Motor Sport, Mike Twite gave the little car a rave review. It was a little cramped, sure, and perhaps choppy on rough roads, but the dynamics were excellent, it was enormous fun and the hood did not leak even in torrential rain. At the time you were advised to wear oil skins in a Lotus 7, which was more expensive although it had the kudos of the Lotus badge.
Of course, the Seven has gone on to sell in its thousands, to the hundreds of G4s, but that is largely because it is now used as a weekend fun car. We tend to forget that the Seven Mk I sold only about two a week.
At the time it was comparatively rare for people to own weekend cars and since the G4 was soon available with a hardtop, it was the best dual-purpose car for the enthusiast whose budget would stretch only to one vehicle. Not only that, but G4s won races — their wins and championships are too numerous to list. They continued to win races in categories such as Modsports long after they qualified as Historics — and they have been highly successful in Historic racing as well.
By 1962 Ginetta had grown sufficiently for the brothers to abandon their agricultural engineering business and to move to new premises in Witham, Essex. Until 1969 the G4 would form the backbone of the company, and the brothers’ attempts to break into other markets were thwarted. They essayed several single-seater designs, but none was successful. Adrian Reynard bought a Ginetta FF1600 and it spurred him to design his own car.
The G10 sports car of 1965 was promising; it was attractive and had a Ford 4.7-litre V8 engine since it was aimed at the American market. As Chris Meek demonstrated in British racing, it could be superior to the AC Cobra, but since the SCCA would not homologate it as a production car it could only run in Group 7 against Lolas and McLarens. That killed the model stone-dead as customers cancelled their orders.
It was re-engineered as the G11 with an MGB engine, and MG also supplied other components including doors. Great things were predicted for the G11, but BMC found it a problem to provide the parts — on one occasion, after a long delay, 12 left-hand doors arrived. With a supply line like that, surrender is the only option, and the model was dropped. A more successful car was the G12 which was essentially a mid-engined G4, a sportsracing GT intended for engines between one and two litres. It was successful in racing at a national level in 1966, and about 50 were built, but it fell behind because it could not accept the wider tyres which were coming in.
For years the G4 was Ginetta ‘s staple, but it appeared under a number of designations so it might be useful to list all the variants. You will find a different story in some sources, but this has been prepared by Ivor and Trevers Walklett.
G4, Series I, 1960-5. Original round-tube spaceframe. From 1963 there was an improved interior, with carpets, and revised rear bodywork which added 8 in to the overall length, but which improved luggage space. A BMC rear axle replaced the Ford unit because it offered a wider variety of ratios and saved 40 lb. Among the options were front disc brakes and a hard top.
G4R (R for ‘racing’), 1964-68. Four-wheel disc brakes, a lighter body, and independent rear suspension by coil springs and double wishbones. The latter became an option for road cars and was used on the mid-engined G12.
G6, 1963. Three ’round tube’ G4s modified to accept DKW three-cylinder two-stroke engines at the request of Albrecht Mantzel, a noted DKW tuner and the second ‘M’ in Peter Monteverdi’s MBM Formula Junior cars. They were bought for competition and one ran in the 1964 Nurburgring 1000 Kms.
G7, 1963. Prototype based on Series 1, with a rear-mounted five-speed ZF transaxle (not Hillman Imp as widely reported) built with hill climbing in mind and to explore the effects of different weight distribution.
G5, 1964. A G4 ’round tube’ with a 1,498cc Ford engine. This caused confusion so, after about a week, the model was renamed the G4 1500. With a tuned engine it was capable of 117 mph and 0-60 mph in 9.4 seconds, similar figures to the Austin-Healey 3000 which was twice the price.
G4 Series II, 1965. New square tube spaceframe, which was stiffer yet easier to make, and Triumph Herald front suspension. The windscreen was more sharply raked and there was a new front bumper treatment and pop-up headlights.
G4 Series III, 1966-69. New legislation affected the height of headlights and so this version had manual ‘pop-up’ lights.
Production of the G4 ceased in 1969. The Walkletts had designed the G14, which had a tubular backbone chassis, as a possible replacement, but the prototype was not completed. Instead, the success of the Imp-engined G15, introduced in 1968, diverted the company’s attention as it sold at a rate of four or five a week until VAT was imposed in 1973. Unlike some makers, Ginetta did not cease production on the imposition of VAT, but continued to make G15s at a reduced rate. Production ended in 1974 as a result of a combination of circumstances including VAT, the OPEC fuel crisis and the three day working week.
Ginetta went through hard times in the 1970s, and production dropped to about 30 cars a year, most of them the fully assembled G21, a GT car which usually had a 1725cc Sunbeam Rapier engine. A number of designs were essayed but not put into production, and by any sensible standards Ginetta should at this point have folded. That it survived was because it was unusually self-sufficient and, by then, it had sold so many cars (about 1500) that it was able to survive on spares and rebuilds. When kit cars enjoyed a revival in the 1980s, however, Ginetta entered that market with great success.
In 1981 the G4 concept was revived as the Series IV, (briefly with ‘frog-eye headlights and then with pop-ups). Ivor Walklett is emphatic that it was loosely based on the earlier cars and was not a direct development. For a start it had a box-section chassis frame reinforced with folded steel so that it could accept larger engines. It was 3 in longer and 2 in wider than a Series III, which made for a roomier cockpit, an important point since it was being offered as a current model and not as a nostalgia car. The 1600cc Ford Kent engine was standard, but 1300cc and 2-litre Ford engines were options. What was extraordinary was that when a car was offered to road-testers, they could still rave about it — a 20-year old concept which was still crisp and fun.
In 1985 came the G27, a development of the G4 Series IV with Triumph Vitesse front suspension and independent rear suspension using shortened Jaguar fixed-length drive shafts (and inboard rear brakes) with Ginetta lower wishbones and radius arms. It was created to overcome a blanket ban in kit car racing imposed on the G4 series.
A wide variety of engines could be fitted, up to the 3.5-litre Rover V8, and, while most were sold as kits, the factory could supply fully assembled cars. A Mazda-engined G27, entered by the works and driven by Mark Walklett, of the rising generation of the family, was very successful in British kit car racing.
Finally there was the G4 Series V fitted with trailing arm independent rear suspension and a Ford final drive unit.
In 1989 the brothers were ready for retirement and they sold their company to a consortium under Martin Phaff, with Ivor staying on as technical director and a (ten per-cent) share holder. At the time there was a sportscar boom, and Ginetta introduced the G32, a mid-engined coupe which used many Ford Fiesta components, and which had Type Approval. One thing which the new owners did not buy was the secret of the name; only members of the Walklett family know why Ginetta was chosen, and they are not telling.
At first things looked to be going well for the new company, and the announcement of the G33, a modern expression of the G4 idiom, seemed to indicate that the company would expand. The G33 embodied all the traditional values: performance, style and a keen price, and it was widely admired. Unfortunately, soon afterwards there was a downturn in the economy and in the sports car market, and, worse, the G32, which was meant to be the company’s mainstay, found itself begging comparison with Toyota’s MR-2. While road testers praised the Ginetta’s dynamics, they damned its build quality and finish.
Had it been a component car, it might have survived. It was less expensive than the MR-2, had a fibreglass body, and replacement parts were cheap — if you can buy a used example, it is a bargain. It was not, however, good enough in detail to compete as a fully-assembled car in the showroom.
Before long, Ginetta was in financial trouble, partly because the G32 was not the success it was hoped it would be, partly because of the sudden fall in property values (most of the company’s debts were secured against the value of its factory), and partly because of a deal with a Japanese company, Waryhouse of Tokyo, to supply G4s and G12s as ‘revived classics’. This did not work out as Ginetta had hoped.
The story here becomes complicated, and the Walkietts and Martin Phaff have different perspectives on it. We have spoken to both parties and the following, we hope, is a neutral description of the position. Ginetta sold the rights of the G4 and GI2 to Waryhouse and was contracted in return to supply the cars. Ginetta’s financial difficulties (in 1992) meant it was unable to do so. When Ginetta went under, Ivor and Mark Walklett became free-agents and, together with Trevers (who is relieved to be no longer in retirement), they established a company called Dare (UK) Ltd as a design consultancy to service other makers. Waryhouse, which owns the rights to the G4 and G12, then asked Dare to supply cars for sale in Japan, where they are sold as Ginettas. The Walkletts established a factory near Colchester capable of making 100-200 units a year and, recently, Dare (UK) Ltd reengineered both models.
In January 1993, Ginetta Cars Ltd was bought by a consortium of (mainly overseas) distributors. It continues under Martin Phaff and its mainstays are the G27, G33 and G34. In essence, the G33 is an evolution of the G4/G27 line, designed by Ivor Walklett, but it is larger. Intended as a dual-purpose car, it can be bought as a component car or fully-assembled. Engine options are the Rover V8, or normally-aspirated or turbo versions of the Cosworth Sierra engine. The G34 is a stretched version of the G33 built in Sweden as a Type Approved car using components supplied by Ginetta with Volvo running gear. Purely a road car, it can be imported into Britain.
Martin Phaff tells us that Ginetta expects to build about 120 cars this year. Dare (UK) Ltd builds Ginetta G4s and G12s for the Japanese market only, but we understand that a radical new design from Dare will be announced within the next 12 months.
Regardless of who owns Ginetta, the remarkable thing is that it has survived nearly forty years, during which time hundreds of small makers have come and gone. For most of that history, the G4 concept has been the backbone of its success. It was right for the enthusiast in 1961 and it is still right. Regardless of who is making what, under which name, and for whom, that’s a fair definition of a classic.
Ginetta Cars Ltd, Unit 12, Amos Road, Sheffield SR9 1BX. Phone: 01142 610099. Fax: 01142 610077.
Dare (UK) Ltd, Prince Albert Road, West Mersea, Colchester, Essex C05 8AN. Phone: 01206 382987, Fax: 01206 385855.