Only two Gilbys were ever built, an 1,100 cc sports car and a 1½-litre F1 car. Both were well designed, attractive, and prepared to the highest standards, yet in terms of absolute success, they merit no more than a footnote in motor racing history. What the project represented, though, is much more important. They were among the very last cars to be built and raced by a privateer with the object of taking on, and beating, the best which the established teams could produce, and the motivation was the sheer pleasure of racing.
The patron of the team was Sid Greene, and to understand the Gilby story we have to go back to a day in January 1925 when Sid was knocked off his bicycle by a bus and lost his left arm. He was 16, an apprentice engineer, and a bit of a lad. The accident devastated him for months and he would mope about his widowed mother’s house, not stepping outside. Then a friend more or less forced him to go out and that brought him round. From then on he set himself ever more difficult tasks, beginning with tying his own tie and shoe laces. He says now, “I suppose it was the making of me. I became twice as determined to succeed in everything”. He worked hard and he played hard.
He transferred his apprenticeship from engineering to draughtsmanship and was exceptionally good at that, for he was soon earning enough money to pay for an MG Magnum Magnette and, later, an Aston Martin International which, pre-war, he raced at Brooklands, Donington, anywhere. As a sign to himself that he was not beaten, that his lost arm was a challenge and not a handicap, he refused to have any of his cars specially adapted. Instead, he would steer with his right hand and would simply lean across to change gear when necessary. With a chuckle, he still likes to recall the look on hitch hikers’ faces when he’d stop for them in, say, an Aston Martin DB4 and they’d look at his one arm and the manual gearbox and hesitate. . . .
Rejected by the Army in 1940, Sid brazened his way into the RAF – as a pilot. Sqn Ldr S. G. “Wingless Wonder” Greene flew Spitfires, made several “kills”, and was decorated. His is an achievement which surely ranks with that of Gp Capt Sir Douglas Bader, though he will not talk about his flying days except in terms of humorous anecdotes.
In 1946, he went into partnership with Monty Gilby to establish a small engineering company with a capital of £500. Though the company was called Gilby Engineering, Sid was the major shareholder. He introduced the latest machinery and canvassed for orders. Soon his customers included Armstrong shock-absorbers, CAV, Frigidaire and Ford. By 1960, a workforce of 250 was employed with the factory running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sid Greene appeared to have arrived and there was not a motor racing enthusiast who did not know of him, and Gilby Engineering.
Born in 1908, Sid began racing in 1930 and continued until 1953. In the meantime he also became an entrant, Stirling Moss won the 1961 British Empire Trophy in Sid’s Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica (now owned by John Aldington) and he also gave drives to Ivor Bueb, Mike Hawthorn and Jim Russell. It was, however, his partnership with Roy Salvadori which brought him to the fore as an entrant.
Salvadori began racing the Gilby Engineering 2-litre Maserati A6GCS sports car in 1953. The following year Sid took delivery of the first private Maserati 250F (number 2507, which is currently owned by the Hon Amschell Rothschild) and it was soon a familiar sight in Formula Libre and minor F1 races, picking up many places and winning in 1955, both the Glover Trophy at Goodwood and the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Aintree.
The cars were painted in dark green (which is not British Racing Green, for there is no such colour, any shade of green being the British racing livery) with a BRDC badge on the nose and the words, “Gilby Engineering Company Limited” painted discreetly in white. Sid recalls: “I got into trouble with the BBC over that. ‘Do you realise, Mr Greene, there are 14 million viewers watching our car race, and you are advertising!’ it makes you laugh when you look at them today. But I dug my heels in and never did remove the lettering.” You get the impression that when Sid digs in his heels, his heels stay dug in.
Gilby Engineering was not, anyway, a sponsor, rather Sid Greene was patron. His motivation was not to sell more components for fridges or shock-absorbers but to be involved in racing for fun and to see good drivers do justice to good machinery. Talking to him today, you still warm to this sense of humour and zest for life even though, in recent years, he’s taken a few hard knocks.
While Salvadori carried the Gilby banner with the 250F and, later, with a Cooper-Maserati 2½-litre F1 car, it was always understood that he was keeping the top drive warm for Sid’s son, Keith. As soon as he was seventeen and had acquired a driving licence, Keith made his competition début in a centre-seat Cooper climax 1,100 cc sports car. That was in September 1955.
The advent of the Lotus XI the following year, took away Cooper’s supremacy in the class but Keith managed to come second in the BARC Championship, establishing a growing reputation. It’s as well to remember that, until the advent of Formula Junior which became strong around 1960, the 1,100 cc sports car class in the late fifties was the recognised step for the young driver with his sights on better things, a rough equivalent of F3 today. Keith stayed with Cooper through 1957, learning his craft, before switching to a Lotus XI the following year. In 1958, he again was runner-up in the BARC Championship and was one of the first men to lap Goodwood at over 100 mph. He even raced his father’s F1 cars occasionally in minor events.
Now one of the most respected team managers in the business, he is currently in charge of the GTi Engineering Porsche 956 Group C effort, and says: “Dad was keen to see in me what he couldn’t do himself, because of his arm. At race meetings, I’d have more people around me than Stirling Moss.” When Sid Greene went racing, everybody went racing, and he would arrange coach trips and tickets for his employees, friends and neighbours, an open-handed and generous man.
For 1959, Keith’s main effort was to be one of the new Lotus 17s though he also drove a Porsche Carrera and a Lotus Elite (“Flimsy? I reckon our car got more strength from its paint and polish than from what little fibreglass there was!”). The Lotus 17 was Chapman’s first hiccup as a sports car designer and was soon seen to be no match for the new Lola Mk 1 which Eric Broadley had put in production. Indirectly, it led to the creation of the Gilby cars.
“The Lotus 17,” recalls Keith, “was a real red herring. The front suspension used to flex, giving terminal understeer.” The problem was that Chapman had produced his own version of the McPherson strut, which he called the Chapman strut. When the car turned into a corner, side loads flexed the dampers causing them to lock solid. The car went into understeer until the front end lost adhesion, the dampers unlocked, the front wheels bit and the understeer rapidly became oversteer.
At this point, Len Terry comes into the picture. Len remembers: “My first job in motor racing was with Lotus, I was one of the line of practical engineers Chapman always employed to translate his inspirations. I’d built and raced my own 1,172 cc sports car, the Terrier Mk 1, and it had been quite successful, so I was asked to make more. In 1959, Brian Hart had a Terrier Mk 2 and he cleaned up in the 1,172 cc class and Colin Chapman was not amused to see a car, designed by an employee, beating all his cars. Eventually, he had to present Brian with the Colin Chapman Trophy, but in the meantime, he’d presented me with the Order of the Boot.
“I knew Keith and Sid, seeing them around the circuits and, having worked on the design of the 17, I could see a way of converting its front end to coil spring and wishbones. Sid took me on as a designer but Chapman had arrived at the same conclusion himself and was soon converting 17s”.
Sid now had a racing car designer on his staff with nothing to do and it gave him the opportunity to realise a dream: his own car driven by his own son.
Keith is still a character and, in his younger days, was a real chip off the old block. He’d been given a garage to run, Midway motors, at Stamford Rivers, near Ongar but was not the most dynamic garage manager. When not out shooting with friends, he’d indulge his passion for his new toy, a kart. The trouble was, he’d run it around the forecourt, in and out of customers at the petrol pumps. “I’ll report you to the manager!” “I am the manager!”
Midway Motors became the team’s headquarters and Sid employed a new mechanic to look after the car. The mechanic was Peter Ashcroft who is currently Competitions Manager for Ford of Great Britain. Peter had long been interested in motor racing and the job with Gilby was his chance to turn a hobby into a career. Like everyone else connected with the team, he recalls those days with affection.
The team gofer was a 16-year-old apprentice called Terry Hoyle who stayed for a year before moving onto Cosworth Engineering and who is now a leading builder of rally engines. Terry’s main memory of the early days of the Gilby is: “Endless long nights!”
Len Terry’s first important design which he can call completely his own, was a conventional, front-engined sports car powered by a 1,098 cc Coventry Climax FWA engine which was de rigueur for the class. As with most sports cars of its day, it used Morris Minor rack and pinion steering, while power was transmitted via a four-speed Austin A35 gearbox (with Lotus ratios) and a BMC differential housed in a Gilby casting.
The space frame which, including stressed bulkhead, contributed just 56 lb to the total weight of 830 lb, was particularly stiff and strong – its strength being put to the test dramatically in its third race. Front suspension was by coil spring and wishbones while the rear followed Lola thinking in that the articulated, but not splined, driveshafts acted more or less as the top wishbones, with bottom wishbones and coil springs and dampers which were pivoted on top of the hub carriers to prevent flexing. Nine inch Girling disc brakes were used all round, mounted outboard at the front, inboard at the rear.
The car was clothed in a pretty aluminium body, made by Williams and Pritchard, the front end treatment being inspired by contemporary Abarth record breakers, while the high rear end was inspired jointly by the Costin-bodied Lister-Jaguar and the BRM P25 F1 car. The Gilby-Climax broke no new ground but was a carefully considered design. Keith now says: “I don’t think I ever drove it to its full potential but I suppose it was very nearly as good as the Lola and a great deal better than anything else”. It was also a car which gave no development problems.
In its first race at Goodwood, Easter Monday, 1960, it retired with a failed oil seal. Next time out, at Aintree, it took third, beaten only by two Lolas. Then, at Silverstone, in a support race at the International Trophy Meeting, disaster struck.
Going flat out through Abbey curve on the first lap, Keith had to avoid two rivals having an accident. The car went along a ditch for 87 yards, then flipped and went a further 27 yards upside down – and seat belts were not fitted. Keith was saved from serious injury by the fact that the car had been built around him, the high tail, and the strength of the frame. He suffered minor cuts and a headache and was racing another car the following weekend. On examination, the space frame was shown not to have broken or bent a single tube, though a new frame was ordered from Arch Motors, as a precaution.
Keith had other driving commitments for the car’s next two appearances and Peter Arundell took over. At Snetterton, on July 10th, in the pouring rain, Arundell first came home second, to John Bakaert’s Lister-Jaguar in the unlimited sports car race then with the weather even worse, won the Formula Libre event. In the meantime the organisers had to be convinced that the car really was only 1,100 cc before giving it a class win in the sports car race. At the British Grand Prix Meeting, at Silverstone, Arundell brought the Gilby home second in the 1,500 cc sports car race but complained of lack of power. Investigation revealed a faulty cylinder head which caused the engine to lose 15 of its 90bhp.
That cured, the team finished the year strongly with Keith back behind the wheel. By the end of the season, he was even able to beat his arch-rival, Alan Rees, who had a very fast Lola, and the tally for the year reads: 15 starts, five wins, two seconds, four thirds, a fifth and two DNF. By any standards, it was a successful season for a single new car in an established and highly competitive category.
Nobody seems to know who next bought the car, though some of MOTOR SPORT’s erudite readers will doubtless fill in all the gaps in its subsequent history. For the past five or six years, though, it has enjoyed an active and highly successful racing career in France (with occasional trips back across the Channel) in the hands of its present owner, Lionel Aglave, who runs it with a 1,100 cc Ford-Cosworth MAE engine.
By the end of the 1960 Keith had had some F1 experience with the Cooper-Maserati and the decision was taken to build a GP car for the new 1½-llitre formula. Again Len Terry set to work and came up with a conventional, pretty and trouble-free car.
At first the car was fitted with a 4-cylinder Coventry Climax FPF engine, giving 158 bhp, mated to a 5-speed Colotti gearbox. It had a light (59 lb) spaceframe made mainly of round and square ¾ in steel tubing, triangulated around the cockpit, with a detachable top member in the engine bay. At the front end, 10¼ in Girling discs were mounted outboard and coil spring and double wishbone suspension was used. At the rear, there were double wishbones, the leading edges of which formed twin radius arms and the 9½ in Girling discs were mounted just inboard of the rear hub carriers, making for short driveshafts. The engine was angled 18 degrees to the right, Cooper electron wheels were employed and the total weight was around 1,000 lb.
There were three fuel tanks, one of seven and a half gallons mounted over the driver’s legs, a tank of similar size was on the nearside of the cockpit while a six gallon tank (smaller to accommodate the gear change) was located on the offside. The aluminium body had a shark-like appearance at the front, with the air vent for the radiators being under the nose. The total cost of the car was in the region of £5,000.
Peter Ashcroft recalls the first test session at Goodwood. “Keith was scratching around quite slowly, lapping at about 1m 35s, while the F1 lap record was 1m 28.8s. We persuaded Bruce McLaren to try the car and within five laps he was a tenth off the record – and that was straight out of the box. It bucked us all up, we knew we had a good car.”
Shortly afterwards, the car was also driven by Jack Fairman, who then conducted track tests for the now-defunct magazine Motor Racing. He wrote: “(The Gilby has) no vices at all – which is almost too much to expect of any racing machine first time out.”
The team did not have enough money to tackle a full GP season, and so concentrated mainly on British F1 events, with the odd trip abroad. From seven starts, the best results were fourth in the Lewis-Evans Trophy at Brands Hatch and sixth in the Danish Grand Prix at Roskildering. They did, however, make the start of the British Grand Prix where Keith qualified 23rd (of 30) and finished 15th. The only other driver to race the car in 1961 was David Piper, who came 11th in the Oulton Park Gold Cup.
The 1962 season got away to a promising start with three fourth places in the first three races: the Brussels Grand Prix, the Lombank Trophy at Snetterton and the Lavant Cup at Goodwood. The car still used the four-cylinder Climax FPF engine, though now with a 6-speed Colotti box. More and more runners, though, had V8 Climax and BRM engines and then the car slipped down the finishing order, though Keith did take third in the Naples GP at Posillippo in May.
Eventually, they were able to take delivery of a BRM engine and the chassis was modified at the rear to accommodate it. Work was still in progress on the car in July, so they had to miss the British GP. It was ready, however, for the German GP in August, the only World Championship race it started that year (failing to qualify at Monza) but, in the race, the front suspension collapsed – the one chassis failure of either car in three years.
Len Terry recalls: “The engines BRM sold their customers were much less powerful than the ones the works used, and ours was the worst of a poor bunch. I reckon it gave hardly more power than the Climax which it replaced.” The season was rounded off with a seventh in the Mediterranean GP at Pergusa and retirement in the Oulton Park Gold cup due to an oil leak in the gearbox.
Off the track, though, there had been other developments. Gilby Engineering had been taken over by another firm and the new owners were not interested in motor racing. Sid Greene remained in control of a subsidiary which hit bad times and collapsed a few years later. Now is not the time or place to sift through the whys and wherefores – everyone you speak to has a different explanation. From the point of view of motor racing, the team disbanded and there were no more trips to the races for all Sid’s employees and friends.
The F1 car was sold to Ian Raby and he continued the tradition of concentrating on the smaller events, with the occasional World Championship race attempted. His best finish was third in the Rome GP at Vallelunga. It then passed into other hands and was discovered, by club driver, Ian Bax, doing service as a sand racer in Jersey, fitted with a Buick engine. Bax bought the car and is slowly restoring it as a long-term project.
Len Terry had already left and eventually returned to Lotus where he played a major role in the design of the Mk 25 and Mk 33 Grand Prix cars, and the Mk 38 Indy car which Clark drove to victory in 1965. Spells with other teams followed, then he left racing to become a freelance engineer and is currently designing at 1920s-style panelled delivery van for a firm in Nottingham.
Keith Greene continued in sports cars for two more seasons, before hanging up his helmet at the age of 26. He says now, “in 1961/2, looking around the scene, I’d mentally placed myself in the top 20 drivers, but then I realised I wasn’t going to be as good as I hoped I’d be.” Most of his life since then has been as a team manager for, among others, Brabham, Gordon Spice and Rondeau. He was designated to guide the 1983 Ford C100 project, until it was cancelled. The man who rang to break the news was his old chief mechanic, Peter Ashcroft.
Len Terry, Peter Ashcroft and Terry Hoyle all say that Keith was a very good sports car driver whose neatness and consistency would have served to carve him a career as a long distance sports car driver. They feel, and Keith agrees, that he was not quite a Grand Prix driver.
Sid Greene does not share that view and feels that Keith could have made it into one of the works F1 teams after Gilby were forced to quit.
Speaking to Ian Bax in May of this year, he reported that the space frame has been nearly restored and the car will eventually be fitted with a Coventry Climax engine, as it was for most of its races 20 odd years ago. Ian regards rebuilding the car as almost a sentimental trust and intends never to sell it.
He keeps in touch with Sid who will be celebrating his 76th birthday in August, and sometimes visits him to chew over the old days. The reason for Ian’s commitment to the car is simple: as a schoolboy, he was one of those who Sid used to take to the races to share his pleasure in the sport. – M.L.
Racing History of the Gilby F1 Car
With Climax FPF engine and 5-speed Colotti gearbox
Driver: Keith Greene
3.4.61 Glover Trophy, Goodwood ................11th
22.4.61 Aintree200 ......................................13th
3.6.61 Silver City Trophy, B/Hatch............... DNF
15.7.61 British GP.Aintree ...........................15th
27.8.61 Danish GP, Roskildering ...................6th
23.9.61 Oulton Park Gold Cup .....................11th*
1.10.61 Lewis-Evans Trophy, B/Hatch .........4th
With 6-speed Colotti gearbox
1.4.62 Brussels GP, Heysel ........................ 4th
14.4.62 Lombank Trophy, Snetterton .......4th
23.4.62 Lavant Cup, Goodwood ................ 4th
23.4.62 Glover Trophy, Goodwood ..........7th
28.4.62 Aintree200 ..................................10th
12.5.62 Int. Trophy, Silverstone .............15th
20.5.62 Naples GP, Possillippo .................3rd
11.6.62 Crystal Palace Trophy ................7th
With BRM V8 engine
5.8.62 German GP, Nürburgring ................DNF
19.8.62 Mediterranean GP, Pergusa ..........7th
16.9.62 Italian GP, Monza ..........................DNQ
Driver: Ian Raby
15.4.63 Glover Trophy, Goodwood ............ 7th
11.5.63 Aintree200 ....................................DNF
11.5.63 Int. Trophy, Silverstone ..................8th
19.5.63 Rome GP, Vallelunga ....................3rd
20.7.63 British GP, Silverstone ...................DNF
28.7.63 Solitude GP .....................................NC
4.8.63 German GP, Nürburgring ................DNQ
11.8.63 Kanon loppet, Karlskoga ...............9th
8.9.63 Italian GP, Monza ............................DNQ
21.9.63 Oulton Park Gold Cup ................... DNF
* Driven by David Piper