How it is Made : How it Goes
The Gilbern GT should be well known to regular readers of Motor Sport, because we described a visit to their factory in June 1963 and published road-test reports on the M.G.-B-engined version in January 1964 and January 1965.
Since those days the Gilbern has been restyled, and re-powered with the 3-litre V6 Ford engine. It remains, however, a fibre-glass-bodied four-seater which, since the demise of the Kieft, is the only car built in Wales. The factory is at Llantwit Fardre, a few miles from the industrial estate at Pontypridd in Glamorgan, along the Rhondda Valley, which could hardly be more Welsh.
At this little factory on the virgin soil (or mud) of Wales, on the former site of Red Ash Colliery, some 55 to 60 people are employed, turning out three Gilberns a week, which justifies the Company’s claim that this is an exclusive car. The move to the present works was made nine years ago, from the original site above a slaughter house in near-by Church Village. The idea behind the Gilbern was that of German-born Bernard Friese, who has had long experience of working with fibre-glass. Giles Smith admired his early design of sports coupÃ© and the Company was formed, the name being composed of GILes Smith and BERNard Friese. The first Gilbern had a supercharged Austin-Healey Sprite engine and later M.G.-A and 1,098-c.c. Coventry-Climax power units were used. Then the M.G.-B engine was adopted, for the Gilbern 1800 GT.
The works had been erected by the partners themselves, in 1959, production commencing the following year. By 1962 the output had risen to 52 cars, increasing to 100 by the end of 1965. Owing to the location of the works the labour force is recruited largely from amongst the mining fraternity, which has not only proved very satisfactory but has the full approval and assistance of the Board of Trade.
Two years ago it was apparent that Gilbern’s faithful followers wanted rather more power under the bonnet, four seats, and a bit more luggage space in the boot. So Mr. Friese designed the Genie, which appeared at Earls Court in 1966. Experiments with a V4 Ford engine had been promising but there was no compunction about specifying the smoother and more powerful V6 Ford power unit when this was available. Mr. Friese managed to make a full if compact four-seater, in contrast to so many so-called 2+2 bodies which are frequently 2+1s, without exceeding an overall length of 13 ft. 3 in. Four people, providing they do not expect saloon-car back-seat spaciousness, can travel not too intimately in a Gilbern Genie for long distances with more than a modicum of comfort.
The works, where, incidentally, one of the original miner-employees is still on the pay-roll, consist of a three-bay building in which the bodies are sprayed and the cars assembled, with a servicing bay for customers’ cars which require attention and where Gilberns assembled from kits are inspected before any guarantee is issued, and, opposite, the body-building factory.
The body construction is conventional, top quality resins being used, and the roof area being of double thickness. One body is built a day, the shell being carried across to the main factory for spraying. New spray booths are being erected, which will soon enable four bodies to be treated at the same time and will give more chassis assembly space. The whole area is very compact, so that it is no hardship to lug the chassis and bodies across the floor to where they are required.
Rather than quote the number of coats of paint applied, Gilbern prefer to tell you that each body, after being very thoroughly rubbed down, receives 1Â¼ gallons of primer and then 1 gallon 5 pints of top coat. Any colour can be had on payment of an extra 10 gns., and some very odd shades have had to be matched at the request of the customers. The present trend is for bright and unusual shades; Lime Green, Marigold, Silver Grey, Cherry Red and Dark Blue Gilberns were seen at the factory.
The body shell, which suggests Italian styling, is riveted to the chassis frame after bonding to ensure that it is weather-proof. The basis of the Gilbern is a rigid multi-tubular, ladder steel frame of square-section tubing. This is built up on a master jig, with CO2 welds, and then removed for additional welding of inaccessible points, after which the body is attached to it. Suspension and steering are jigged to the master jig to ensure accurate alignment, impossible with a monocoque structure.
Rear suspension is by Armstrong adjustable long-stroke struts to Gilbern specification, whereby the spring coils vary to give a dual-rate action, the struts being mounted on additional rubbers. The M.G.-C back axle is cut about to adapt it to the Gilbern Watts-linkage and dual trailing radius-arm suspension system, and it has the lower (3.34 to 1) of two available axle ratios, in conjunction with overdrive, only one Genie having been supplied without overdrive. The limited-slip differential is by ZF.
The front suspension makes use of M.G.-C parts but in conjunction with coil-springs instead of torsion-bars, Gilbern’s own fabricated steel lower wishbone and an Armstrong M.G./Morris top wishbone, the front hubs and Lockheed disc brakes being as on the M.G.-C, with a Lockheed Saab-type dual master cylinder. The steering has a standard Cam Gears rack, as on an M.G.-B, but with special tie-rods. The road wheels are stylish 5-stud aluminium-alloy ones to Gilbern’s own requirements, using 5.s-in. wide rims.
The chassis frame has been designed for rigidity rather than light weight; it scales 170 lb. bare. The rear-end is especially strong, to look after the typical Genie Owner, who is likely to want to trail a boat and fill the boot with heavy ancillary equipment. This steel frame, not the fibre-glass body shell, takes such loads as the door hinges (which are easily adjustable), safety-belt anchorages, bonnet catches, etc. Radiator and the dual fuel tanks, which are interconnected with plastic tubing, with a simple reserve arrangement within the boot, are made locally.
Gilbern trim the bodies themselves and make their own seat frames, this work being done at a Cardiff sub-assembly depot. The window frames are of brass, quality chromium-plated, by the suppliers to Rolls-Royce Ltd., and the Genie now has A.C.-Delco electrically-operated windows. A Bradex fire-extinguisher, made at White Waltham, is fitted as standard.
The Ford engines are delivered by road and Gilbern Cars Ltd. have their own Ford articulated transporter, on which two kits at a time are dispatched to dealers.
The financial set-up is that earlier this year Ace Industrial Holdings Ltd. of Cardiff (who make amusement machines and are diversifying into the field of electronic language laboratories through their subsidiary, Modern Teaching Systems Ltd., and central-heating radiators by Roath Heating Ltd.) took over the Gilbern assets. The Directors of the parent Company are M. M. Collings and M. J. Leather, and Roger Collings, who formerly owned the 1913 Zust and now runs a Vintage 4Â½-litre Bentley, manages the Gilbern works. (The Sales Manager has a 3-litre Bentley.)
The aim is to increase production to five cars a week and to appoint reliable distributors throughout the countryâ€”last April there were three distributors but this should soon be increased to 20. The little factory in Wales is being improved to facilitate the production flow. Apart from the three extra spray booths, offices are going up, there is to be a small reception area, and the stores has been enlarged. The labour force was more than doubled, to the aforesaid figure, this year.
Gilberns are supplied in kit form, to obviate purchase-tax, and the makers are scrupulously conscientious in assembling only those components permitted under this scheme. Even so, they claim that ordinary enthusiasts, working in the home garage, can complete Genie assembly satisfactorily in one day, or even more quickly, using ordinary tools. The engine mountings are slotted and it is claimed that accurate jigging ensures trouble-free going together. The Genie kit sells for Â£1,447 and the assembled car for Â£1,917, inclusive of purchase-tax. With the fuel-injection engine and limited-slip differential, this is increased by Â£200.
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On the road the Gilbern Genie is fun. The car I took for test was a fuel-injection PI 130 demonstrator, with some 4,500 miles on the odometer. The injection system suffered fromâ€”or made me sufferâ€”mild flat-spots, so no acceleration figures were taken. But there is no disguising the fact that the Genie is a very fast car from A to B and on to C. This is largely because it hangs on so well on corners, thanks largely to the very rigidly located back axle and because the gearing is such that full use can be made of the available, very effective acceleration without taking the engine anywhere near the red sector of the Jaeger tachometer (6,000 to 7,000 r.p.m.) in the ordinary way of enthusiastic driving. As engine speed mountsâ€”and nothing much happens under 3,000 r.p.m.â€”there is some resonance from the twin tail-pipes when accelerating, and the suspension sets up a good deal of noise over rough going, when the ride is then lively and choppy, with some shake and mild plastic-rattles or drumming from the body; for the clients who are attracted to the Gilbern this is probably comment rather than criticism.
The Genie is a genuine, if close-coupled, four-seater, access to the well upholstered and formed back seat with deep side arm-rests being by folding forward the front-seat squabs, after release catches have been operated. This back seat is more spacious, and there is more headroom, than those in most so-called 2+2 coupÃ©s, and those who occupied it expressed themselves as comfortable; a passenger of average height, hatless, has just sufficient head clearance but long legs find plenty of parking space. Access is restricted, however, unless the front seats are set fully forward.
The front seats are also comfortable and the driver is effectively held in place. They follow the precept of a shallow, not flabby, cushion and have padding in the correct places. The squabs recline fully. The front occupants are separated by a wide transmission tunnel and console, the pedals biased to the right. All the main items amongst the minor controls are on a Smiths’-style instrument panel, not on the console, this panel being in black leatherette like the rest of the interior, with much crash-padding. Indeed, the console carries only the Britax emergency “flash-all-four” warning-lights emergency switch, the Bosch-type switches for o/s and n/s electric window lifts (these function quietly and very rapidly), the two quadrant levers for the KL heater, a Radiomobile radio, and flick switches, with warning lights, for the air-extractor fan and the over-ride for the cooling-system electric fan, should the engine heat up in heavy traffic, and, finally, a cigarette lighter. The radio refused to get me the 1 o’clock news and it speaks from the back of the body, the front/rear speaker change-over knob consequently being locked out of use. The bonnet is released by the usual under-facia knob, which has to be pushed back before the closed lid will lock. The bonnet lid on the test car was slightly distorted, not closing quite flush with the scuttle on the n/s.
The other flick-switches, each one labelled, are in a line on the facia panel, operating, from left to right, fog-lamp, spot-lamp (Lucas Quartz Halogen, mounted above the front bumper, and normally covered), panel lighting, heater fan, lamps, washers and two-speed screen wipers, these last two being slightly bigger than the rest. Above this row of switches are a Jaeger clock (which gained 5-min. in a week), oil gauge and water-temperature gauge (normal reading, 80ÂºC).
The driver is confronted by a Jaeger 140-m.p.h. speedometer with trip and total mileage recorders, an ammeter, a Jaeger electric tachometer reading to 7,000 r.p.m., a fuel gauge and various small warning lights. I found, sitting fairly close to the steering wheel, that its three drilled metal spokes tended to partially obscure the speedometer and tachometer dials. The headlamps’ full-beam light reflected in the windscreen. The latter is very easily remedied, but not the former. Another dislike was the considerable thickness of the leather-gaitered rim of the small (15 in. dia.) steering wheel. The horn-push, embellished with a “G”, is in the wheel centre (it sometimes didn’t work), and slender stalks operate, left-hand, lamps dipping, right-hand, turn-indicators, which have side repeaters, and headlamp flashing. There is a courtesy-action interior lamp on the o/s door pillar, which for a time refused to extinguish itself, and later lit up unasked.
Two main early impressions of driving the Gilbern Genie are of the badly placed gear-lever and the rather heavy but very taut and precise, “man-size”, feel of the steering, which is stiff about the straight-ahead position. The Reliant Scimitar suffers in the same way from a gear-lever which is set too far back for average-height drivers who like to sit at anything less than full-arms-stretch to the steering wheel. It is unavoidable when retaining the normal Ford V6 engine and gearbox but setting the power unit back in the car. On the Gilbern the gear-lever is cranked forward, so that it lies towards horizontal in the 1st and top-gear positions, and very close to the hand-brake, in the latter location. This means an awkward back-handed action when shifting from 3rd into and gear, and the spring loading across the gate is very stiff, the lever movements somewhat long, while unless care, or time, is used, entry to and tends to baulk. Not a nice gear-change! It became particularly tiring when 3rd/2nd changes were required in something of a hurry, over the notorious (but soon to be straightenedâ€”alas) Abergwesyn-Tregaron mountain road! Fierce attacks on the gear-lever then sent its knob spinning like a top to the end of the threads.
The o/d flick switch is mounted on the front of the gear-lever itself. At first this seems a neat arrangement, which it is, but as changes into and out of overdrive are often required without a change of gear, a long and inconvenient movement of the left hand is involved. The Gilbern tends to be slightly too high-geared, so that much use is made of the quiet 3rd gear, and 2nd is needed for fierce acceleration from low speeds.
Reverting to the steering, this is geared 2.87 turns, lock-to-lock, in conjunction with a reasonable turning-circle, so the action is quick; there is good castor return and very little shake at the wheel, although exceptional road irregularities severely jolt the driver’s wrists. The column is said to be adjustable for height but I couldn’t see how. In return for rather stiff, but well-damped, suspension, cornering power is of a notably high order, with no perceptible roll, the back axle feeling really tied to the chassis. Understeer is not pronounced unless near-the-limit changes of direction are made, with ample urge and wheel-grip in 2nd gear for breaking away the tail, the normal cornering characteristic being pleasantly neutral, tending to oversteer under power. Over rough Welsh roads the car bottomed perhaps once, when an early Lotus Elan would have grounded, the spare wheel tray and silencers being decently clear of the ground. At times power came in rather suddenly, the tail coming round, but in general the Genie must be rated a very fast-cornering, stable car. The test car was on 165 x HR15 Dunlop SP Sport radial-ply TL tyres.
The disc/drum brakes on the test car did not deserve more than the term “adequate” and were spongy; they suffer from lack of a servo. Night motoring was not enhanced by the two Lucas sealed-beam headlamps on full beam, although they were excellent, dipped. The interior of the car got pretty warm, the small black Ford/Rootes-type facia ventilators not sending in much cold air. Using the extractor fan, which also demists the big back window if it is used as soon as one enters the car, helped, except that it is infernally noisy, although it is a measure of the interior cacophony that it is inaudible once the Genie is going fast. There was also some wind roar from the region of the n/s screen pillar. There are big quarter-lights in the doors, while the side windows can be opened as vents.
Acceleration is impressive, in a rather all-or-nothing fashionâ€”the Ford engine gives 141 (net) b.h.p. at 4,750 r.p.m., and the Tecalemit-Jackson fuel-injection into the manifolding probably increases this to some extent, and the Genie, ready for the road, without occupants, but with approximately four gallons of fuel in the tanks, scaled 1 ton 1 cwt. 1 qtr. 14 lb. As to petrol consumption, I did one test, driving as hard as advancing years and some regard for other traffic allowed, over the aforesaid mountain road, and recorded 13.2 m.p.g. of National Super. In general running the car returned 18.7 m.p.g. The range down to reserve was 217 miles, after which I could see no way of bringing in what was left in the tank. Apparently the engine isn’t intended to be topped up with oil, because the inaccessible dip-stick catches up on a projection, reading “empty” until this is discovered, and the filler, in one of the plated valve covers, is obscured by a mass of control cables. As far as this permitted me to check, a pint of oil was needed after 645 miles. The engine started with some hesitation, without much use of the cold-starting control but popped back occasionally. Eventually, this control pulled out from its anchorage.
Equipment embraces dual anti-dazzle vizors with vanity mirror, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, plenty of window area, strut-supported boot-lid and bonnet panel, the latter lined with tin-foil, red reflectors on the trailing edges of the doors, pile carpets, normal interior door handles and metal “grabs”, Britax safety belts, a lidded ash-tray ahead of the gear-lever, wrap-round, rubber-tipped front and back bumpers, a very good swivelling map-lamp, a small lidded, but unlockable, cubby-hole with a strong magnetic catch, and simple pockets in the doors. The pendant pedals (with metal treadle accelerator) have generous pivot surfaces and are retained by quickly-detachable washers instead of split-pins, to facilitate servicing operations, such as replacing hydraulic reservoirs, which require their removal. The wide transmission cover leaves little “parking space” for the left foot. There is the usual back shelf, below which the previously mentioned extractor fan is mounted. You step down into the car, over wide door sills. The capacity of the dual fuel tanks is 14 gallons, with two gallons in reserve (but see above), but if was inadvisable to let the tank run entirely dry with the fuel injection system. The small quick-action fuel filler is well placed on the top sits of the tail. The boot is not very large; the spare wheel is under the floor. The boot lid has external hinges, and a big, lockable, T-handle.
The Gilbern Genie, the Car From Wales, faces tough competition from the bigger manufacturers, but offers an exclusiveness they cannot share. It has sold to professional people who want something different and who even enjoy driving down to the Cardiff area for servicing and routine attention (five points to grease, every 3,000 miles). If you are a home mechanic you are getting a Â£2,000 car for less than Â£1,500, and whichever way it comes the Gilbern Genie is an individual creation but one which I regard as a sports four-seater saloon, not a Grand Touring car. (The term GT has in recent times been loosely applied and I think should be reserved for ultra rapid, very comfortable, quiet, long-range motor cars with impeccable handling qualities, and a 300 to 400 miles fuel range.) The maker’s address is Gilbern Cars Ltd., Llantwit Fardre, Near Pontypridd, Glamorgan, and the London Agent is Ace Motor Company, 20/23, Radley Mews, London, W.8.