Road Impressions

The Ginetta G21S

British enthusiasts have always been fortunate in having a handful of small, specialist sports car manufacturers to offer them a more individual, usually higher performance alternative to the relatively mundane, massed-produced sports cars of (mainly) British Leyland origin. "Poor men's Porsches", one might call them, for one can be sure that the majority of buyers of such specialist British cars aspire to the several times more expensive German marque. Unfortunately such manufacturers have sprouted and withered over the years like leaves on trees, yet through all the ups and downs of these specialists (I do not include such as Lotus and Reliant, who have large capacity production lines), and possibly unique in not having gone through the almost compulsory bankruptcy phase, since the first G1 in 1957 the four Walklett brothers, Bob, Trevor, Ivor and Doug, have continued to turn out their excellent little Ginettas from Witham, in Essex and, latterly, until recently, Sudbury, Suffolk.

In common with the big manufacturers the Walkletts have felt the pinch of rising prices and a fall-off in trade because of last winter's fuel and subsequent economic crisis. Sensibly they have rationalised, rather than struggle on to possible disaster, by dropping the pretty little Imp-engined G15, disposing of the consequently uneconomically large Sudbury factory and returning to the Witham factory, where the Ginetta story began, to concentrate on production of the new Chrysler 1,725-c.c.-engined G21. An expected bias towards fuel economy has led them to confine production of a 3-litre Ford V6 engined version of the car to special order only. One might well ask, "Why drop the G15?" when thoughts of economy are uppermost. Bob Walklett regretfully retorts that with the current cost of materials and components he could not sell the GI5 for less than £1,600, a price which he feels would be scorned by the potential purchaser of an (albeit 100 m.p.h.) 875-c.c. car. It may have survived had not VAT come along earlier to stifle the "kit car".

The G21 is far removed from that "kit car" idiom of a few years ago. It is refined, practical, well-finished, seems properly screwed together and is extremely attractive, the recipient of continual admiring glances. Behind the wheel it feels very much like a Lotus Elan, with similarly inspiring handling and tenacious road-holding, yet it has more room, is more comfortable, quieter, feels much more solidly constructed and has no "doughnuts" to wind up in the driveshafts. Nevertheless it contrives to weigh only 15 cwt., so with the 95 b.h.p. DIN of the optional Chrysler Holbay Rapier engine installed (which adds the "S" suffix to the G21), as in the test car, instead of the standard 79 b.h.p. Rapier engine, it is definitely in the high performance class, accelerating from 0-60 m.p.h. in about 8.5 sec. with the test car's 3.7:1 final drive ratio or, according to the Walkletts, in 7.8 sec. with the optional (and, I decided, preferable) 3.9 to 1 ratio. Maximum speed is in the 120 m.p.h. region.

A substantial chassis frame constructed from square section steel has a central back bone so that in Elan style the driver is, perhaps unsociably at times, separated from his passenger by the resultant deep centre console. The one-piece, glass-fibre body, moulded by the Walkletts, must be very effectively attached to this stiff chassis, for the G21 is commendably rigid, exhibiting none of the scuttle/body shake to which I have become accustomed with my be-chassised TR6. Talking of Triumphs, the Ginetta has their ubiquitous coil spring and wishbone front suspension and Alford and Alder rack and pinion steering, in this case of GT6 type incorporating 1/2-in. thick front discs instead of the Herald/Spitfire 3/8-in. ones employed on the G15 and the Elan. I confess it took me quite a while, and full throttle acceleration over a bumpy road, to realise that a live rear axle is employed, a Rapier example to which the Walkletts have attached twin radius arms each side, a Panhard rod and Armstrong coil spring/damper units. The Rapier's drum rear brakes are retained, the handbrake being self-adjusting and its lever nestling, Chrysler Arrow style, to the right of the driver's seat, avoiding contretemps with the backbone chassis.

Perhaps because the Chrysler cars it normally propels are not particularly inspiring, the 1,725-c.c., four-cylinder engine has been ignored previously by the specialist manufacturers. Yet it is a particularly rugged unit and in Holbay form, as used in the G21S, packs a fair amount of punch. Its valves are operated by pushrods from a single camshaft, so it makes no pretence at sophistication, but it has an aluminium cylinder head and breathes through two twin-choke 40 DCOE Weber carburetters. This five-bearing unit is mounted behind the front axle line to help weight distribution and drives through the Rapier's 8-inch diaphragm clutch and four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox, in the case of the G21S this being fitted as standard with an electrically operated overdrive operating on third and top gears, an optional item for the ordinary G21. Engine accessibility is excellent, the one-piece bonnet being hinged at the front in E-type style and removable completely by undoing two bolts and the Lucar connectors in the wiring. Neither of the bonnet handles, one each side, is lockable, but ought to be.

This Ginetta's beautiful glass-fibre body, described best in the photographs in which can be seen its frontal resemblance to the G15, is matched by an attractive interior. The facia and door trims are of extruded plastic, which would not be attractive were it any other colour but black, and the vinyl covered top of the facia has two small cowls, the right hand one of which stops reflections in the standard laminated screen (available tinted, as in the test car, for an extra £12.50) from the Smiths, blackfaced, 140 m.p.h. speedometer and 8,000 r.p.m. tachometer, the latter red-lined at the Holbay unit's recommended limit of 6,500 r.p.m. Grouped in the centre are gauges for fuel, water temperature, oil and battery condition. The heated rear screen, another standard fitting, panel lights, heater fan, side and headlights, adequately fast and effective two-speed wipers and the electric screen washers are controlled by rocker switches, the last two being a trifle masked by the steering wheel, so that a column stalk would have been appreciated. As it is, this Ginetta makes do with Chrysler's steering column shroud, containing a stalk for flashers, horn and steering flasher/dip on the right and overdrive switch on the left. I resented the position of the latter switch which makes it impossible (without employing a third hand) to use overdrive third as an intermediate ratio between direct third and direct top as I am able to do with the right-hand overdrive stalk of my TR6 (which now boasts overdrive on second gear too, used advantageously with the above switch to fill the gap between direct second and direct third). The pedals are well placed and spaced, except that the left foot is prevented from resting anywhere except under the clutch pedal by the steering column, peculiarly cranked over to the left. Elan owners' left feet should already be accustomed to finding a home in similar circumstances.

The cloth-trimmed and softly-padded bucket seats look the part, but until I grew accustomed to them I found them to be too short in the cushion and provide insufficient shoulder support. They recline, but the back-rest comes insufficiently far forward to facilitate loading things into the spacious, smartly carpeted (like the rest of the flooring) area behind them. The Walkletts make no pretence about the G21 being anything other than a two-seater, but in practice there is adequate space for a couple of small children, the floor including indents for their legs. This is necessary extra luggage accommodation, for the boot will accept little more than a medium-sized suitcase, the rest of the space being purloined by the underfloor 11-gallon fuel tank, filled through a big, Monza-type fuel cap, and the 5-1/2 J x 13 in. alloy spare wheel, shod with its fat, 185/70 Dunlop SP Sport tyre. Returning to the interior, its focal point is a Mountney, real-leather covered, shiny alloy steering wheel with a really thick rim, just what I like. Good ventilation through eyeball sockets and heating is provided by the same Smiths heater fitted in the GT6 but in this unbiased car controlled by Chrysler quadrant levers. Good ventilation or not, I don't like such compact, fixed-head two-seater cars without sunroofs to relieve the claustrophobia, and the test car was thoughfully provided with £55 of optional Weathershield sunshine roof. It also had a Philips radio and a separate Philips stereo unit, extras of course, but the facia "glove box" which Bob Walklett laughingly says will just about hold one lady's glove, graces every G21. Apparently it cannot be moulded any deeper in the process used. Avenger glove pockets are fitted on the doors, on which also the window winders are fitted in deep circular indents designed for barking knuckles. Presumably electric windows could be fitted at a price, for the 3-litre version has them as standard.

The Holbay engine was a little restricted in its ability to rev by the high overall gearing, which had the advantage of making the car very long-legged in the 23 m.p.h./1,000 r.p.m. overdrive top and gave unnecessary maximum of over 60 m.p.h. and over 90 m.p.h. in second and direct third gears. Performance was splendid, but would have come more easily with the optional lower final drive ratio, when the almost Ford-standard gear change would have come more into its own. The proper Chrysler air-filter muted the Webers, wind noise was moderate with the roof closed and high-speed cruising became a pleasure. The engine started easily from cold with a few pumps on the throttle (though a choke was fitted), but carburation was a trifle lumpy and over-rich slow-running jets dirtied the plugs in traffic, not noticeable until the open road was reached, when a misfire over 5,000 r.p.m. took some clearing.

Handling was superb, fairly neutral, tending towards very enjoyable oversteer on the limit, instantly controlled by the very quick steering, a real Elan feature. The ride too felt very Elan-like, the spring rates being quite soft, so that the ride was good for a sports car, yet roll was very moderate. The live rear axle could judder minutely during hard standing starts, but there was no tramp or wind-up as such. Bad bumps taken at speed occasionally caused the rear suspension to bottom, however, though stability wasn't impaired and ground clearance presented no problem. I would dismiss a rear-end vibration at over 90 m.p.h. as the result of a balance weight lost from the propshaft or the wheels, for an associate who drove the same car earlier in the year recalls no such criticism.

This well-shaped, lightweight car recorded 22.2 m.p.g. in conditions which included British Grand Prix traffic jams, city commuting and high speed enjoyment, so something approaching 30 m.p.g. could be possible. Mechanical repairs should present no problem with the aid of Chrysler and Triumph dealers and as for specific Ginetta problems, I doubt whether any other motor manufacturer can provide the same type of personal service the Walklett brothers are known for at West End Works, Witham. That could be an added advantage of owning this very professional and effective specialist sports car, which sells for £2,598 in the G21S form tested, or £2,196 as the straight G21, the latter quite amazingly now occupying the niche of the cheapest specialist sports car on the market.—C.R.