First in a new series: a British marque celebrates its half-century by reintroducing the car that was a smash hit in the ’60s
By Richard Heseltine
Same old, same new. For the last 50 years, Ginetta has been as much a staple of the average British national race meeting as listeria burgers and biohazard porta-potties. Somehow the marque has weathered the vagaries and machinations that claimed so many rivals, be it the imposition of VAT, the three-day working week, more than one fuel crisis, as many recessions or generally falling foul of fashion. It gamely hangs on in there, winning in every conceivable discipline from 10-lappers to hillclimbing, endurance rallying to autotests. And now this resurgent – and for once well-funded – brand is enjoying a conspicuous renaissance thanks to a bewildering array of one-make series and is gunning for international GT glory.
And how are the new keepers celebrating the marque’s Big 5-0? By reintroducing the last Ginetta ever to succeed as a GT – the G12. But then you could argue that it never really went away. For a brief period in the mid-to-late ’60s, this delicious little sports-racer won as it pleased, then enjoyed a secondary career in historics, only to return as a road car – more than once. And this autumn, you’ll once again be able to land one: this hardy perennial is making a comeback under the Ginetta Heritage moniker. Now that’s staying power.
What is remarkable is that Ginetta progressed so quickly in period. Famously established by the four Walklett brothers, the firm was one of several that emerged out of the ’50s ‘specials’ boom. Unlike a great many others, it survived the following decade by straddling the road and race car markets, the G4 in particular acting as a bedrock as the Witham minnow embarked on a raft of new models – everything from Formula 3 single-seaters to Cobra-inspired muscle cars. The G12 simply picked up from where the G4 left off.
“It was a natural progression,” claims designer Ivor Walklett. “I was interested in the racing side and we’d already done well with the G4, especially with our works driver Chris Meek. Of course all racing drivers want more power, want to go faster, but it became increasingly difficult to get the power down. G4s don’t weigh very much, and we tried to solve the problem of gaining greater traction by going over to independent rear suspension. That worked, the G4R proving to be very successful, but it was obvious that there was only so far we could take it. If we were going to carry on winning, we really needed to take the design in a different direction.”
Widely touted as the first-ever British mid-engined GT car to be produced in volume (Chris Lawrence got there first with the Deep Sanderson 301…), the G12 arrived in 1966. Bearing more than a little family resemblance to its siblings, Ginetta’s brave new world featured a tubular steel spaceframe with centre body/cockpit section bonded to it for extra strength, with removable one-piece sections front and rear. The front suspension comprised proven Triumph-derived uprights and double wishbones (with camber adjustment courtesy of rose-joints on the upper items) and coil springs. Out back, the rear end featured the classic arrangement of single upper transverse links with lower reversed wishbones (again with rose-joints) and radius arms, and coil springs. Anti-roll bars were fitted fore and aft with Triumph Spitfire-sourced Girling disc brakes being mounted outboard on all four wheels – usually 6in or 7in Minilites. Steering was by rack and pinion. Nothing too remarkable to its make-up, then. Its immediate success trackside, however, was anything other than ordinary.
“It was magic right from the start,” says Walklett. “We did a bit of testing and it was obvious we had something special. When we first started on the project, we hadn’t really thought about what was going to power the G12, and it was Willie Green who instigated using the 1-litre single overhead-cam Cosworth SCA ‘screamer’ [see column, p127]. Larger engines could be fitted [John Burton managed to shoehorn in a Martin V8], but we really were incredibly successful with that little ‘four’.”
He’s not wrong, Green and Meek in particular winning more often than not in the latter half of 1966 and into ’67. Hitherto victorious Divas and Lotus Elans 26Rs were beaten hollow, Motoring News going as far as to enter its own championship with a car for editor Mike Twite and Motor Sport proprietor’s son Ian Tee. The Worcester Racing Association also fielded three cars, John Bamford famously surviving an epic accident at Oulton Park in August ’67 by the expedient of ‘doing a Masten Gregory’ and departing through the roof – while the car was still moving. At the end of the season, Paul Ridgeway had claimed the 1150cc class of the MN series, with seven G12s divvying up the 1150cc-1650cc category, while Peter Creasey claimed the big-capacity prize in his 2-litre Coventry Climax-equipped example. Overseas, a number of G12s found success, and not always on the circuits, Walter Fluckiger being the scourge of Italian exotica on Continental hillclimbs aboard his unique G12 barchetta.
But it couldn’t last. Chevron’s B6 soon got the upper hand, and Lotus fought back with the intermittently triumphant 47. “You have to remember what racing was like back then,” says Walklett. “Development was rapid; incredibly so. It seemed like tyres were getting wider each month and everyone was playing around with aerodynamics.”
Ginetta responded midway through ’68 but the G16 never repeated the G12’s winning ways. Essentially a larger, stiffer development of the outgoing car, with a much lower overall frontal area, the works car was the bane of Ivor Walklett’s life: “John Burton had the first one and put in a 1.6-litre Cosworth FVA F2 engine which was an absolute gem: he held lap records at Snetterton and the Silverstone Club circuit and we ought to have followed his lead. Instead BRM’s ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson convinced us that we should buy his 2-litre V8 for the same money. On paper it sounded great but the tolerances were wrong and we had a constant misfire: it never ran on all eight cylinders. We lost a lot of time trying to sort it and that hurt development. The G16 was criticised for not being as good as the Chevron but by that time we were pushing on with the G15 road car and racing was becoming a distraction.” Just eight G16s were made. Ginetta historian and author Trevor Pyman estimates 28 G12s were built in period, infinitely more since the model returned in 1989. And by then it was aimed squarely at voracious Japanese collectors with racing being of secondary importance. “Oh, those cars were much better made,” laughs Walklett. “I can still remember being asked to put in adjustable seat runners. I was a bit incredulous!”
Fast-forward to the present, and both models are tempting propositions for historics. Marque stalwart Spadge Hopkins thinks so, having competed in Cloth Cap events in the ex-Burton chassis number one: “It’s great fun if not as flattering as a G4 although it’s quicker in the right hands. The G12 is ideally suited to the Ginetta Heritage series and the newly-formed UK Historic Sports Racing & Prototypes one-hour races. I expect cars powered by Lotus engines will go well in Orwell Supersports, which has a new twin-cam class. As for the G16, the factory’s efforts were diverted in period but the likes of Ted Williams are putting that right these days.” The Bristolian veteran won July’s HSCC Guards Trophy at Pembrey.
“Of course there aren’t that many cars to go around but I’d expect to pay at least £50,000 for a G12 with history, and £75,000 for a G16.” And parts supply? As the co-founder of Ginetta Heritage, the answer isn’t too great a surprise. “We can supply one hundred per cent of a G12, and that includes chassis, suspension and panels. Just don’t expect a detailed parts list or an off-the-shelf service quite yet!”
Ultimately, either Ginetta would be a left-field choice, but the appeal is obvious. The new regime is making huge strides in establishing the marque as a global player – a week doesn’t go by without at least half a dozen Ginetta-related stories being splashed in the motor racing weeklies – but it’s also making an appropriate fuss of a sometimes glorious past. If it were us, we’d love a G12 in Gold Leaf colours: the factory had reputedly tapped the coffin nail manufacturer to sponsor a three-car Le Mans bid in 1967. The gig headed south when a certain Anthony Bruce Colin Chapman gazumped the deal…
“I raced one”
Though remembered more for his exploits in historics, Green was an accomplished GT racer back in the ’60s. Especially when armed with a G12
“The Ginetta helped create a reputation, no doubt about it. It was a nice little car although it frightens me to recall that I first raced one 42 years ago! I was just 23 years old when I bought mine.
“Originally I’d placed an order for a Lola T70 but then decided against it. Instead of having my deposit returned, I received a 1-litre Cosworth SCA ‘screamer’. I then took that to the Walkletts and asked them to build me an F2 car. That never materialised but instead I got a nice little sports-prototype.
“I did my first race in September 1966 at Silverstone and wiped the floor clean with everything in the 1150cc class. I did 23 races in that car and won 21 outright. I remember doing one race at Snetterton when Bob Bernard was out in his 7-litre AC Cobra: he couldn’t believe that I could stay with him on the straights!
“Ultimately, the G12 was never as good when fitted with the Lotus twin-cam engine. I think that extra power exposed the chassis’ weaknesses. It flexed quite a bit and the Chevrons simply moved things on. In 1-litre trim, though, it was great fun and very quick: I never changed the gear ratios from the day I bought it to the day I sold it. I didn’t need to.”