Ginetta G4

One of few cars eligible for both contemporary and classic racing, the little G4 has been a useful track tool for almost half a century
By Richard Heseltine

There is something vaguely heroic about the Ginetta G4’s reluctance to play dead. It just keeps on coming back, strutting its not inconsiderable stuff. This shapely tiddler was conceived in the 1950s, arrived in the early ’60s and never really left, with variations on the theme tackling everything from 10-lap clubbies to endurance rallying. At a time when most of its rivals are already four decades into a career lull, you can still buy a G4. But it’s not as though it was ever eye-poppingly inventive first time around. Not really. There was no Chapman-esque experimental leap or boundary-pushing here.

There didn’t need to be; it just worked. Famously run by the four Walklett brothers for much of its 51 years, the marque came into being after the youngest, Ivor, built a ‘special’. Based around the remains of a pre-war Wolseley Hornet and said to have resembled a Maserati 4CLT, it came to a sticky end after connecting with a tree stump in his parents’ driveway.
Unbowed, Ivor and his siblings pushed on with the G2, a ‘clubmans’ roadster using Ford E93A parts, the brothers offering it as a sideline to their Suffolk-based structural engineering business. A modest success from 1958, it was superseded two years later by the G3, an orthodox glassfibre-bodied kit car, with bare shells being offered under the Fairlite banner. And then came the G4.

“Actually it was designed before the G3,” counters its co-author, Ivor Walklett. “It’s just that it was a lot more complicated to produce. The G3 was easier to build so that came out first. The G4 was always intended to be a road-going racing car, and we had initially planned on using a 750cc, four-cylinder Coventry Climax engine. Lotus did well with it at Le Mans but it never made it into serious production, so we had to look elsewhere. We talked to Standard-Triumph but ultimately went with the Ford 105E unit which had only just been introduced. Originally, the G4 was going to have an aluminium monocoque of sorts; barrel-sided with tubes bent around a former, as with aircraft, with ally sheet surrounding the tubes and a simple drop-down door. This idea was dropped after we realised that quite a few customers would want to use G4s purely as road cars. Instead we opted for the more conventional glassfibre body, spaceframe chassis arrangement.”

Introduced in late 1960 and officially unveiled at the following January’s Racing Car Show, the G4 instantly found favour. Underneath the pretty glassfibre outline sat a round-tube spaceframe with the central body section bonded on complete with floor, footwells and bulkheads, the one-piece front end flipping forward for access to the 997cc ‘four’. Front suspension was by double wishbones and coils, the Anglia-sourced live rear axle located by trailing arms and an A-frame with coils.

Fortified by positive ink, the brothers swiftly dropped the engineering work to concentrate solely on building cars, moving to a new factory in Witham, Essex. First among developments was a hardtop, the Lotus Eleven-like rear end being junked in late 1962 in favour of an eight inches longer, more rounded arrangement that dispensed with the tailfins. This became known as the Series 2 edition (although most S1s were subsequently converted to this configuration, just to confuse matters), the same year also seeing the implementation of the 1.5-litre Cortina GT unit (the 1340cc Cosworth-tuned 109E engine having been a previous option). Dubbed the G5, it was outwardly identical to the lesser-engined model and proved baffling to punters and the Walkletts alike, so the tag was soon dropped in favour of G4 1500. Further revisions included the adoption of the Austin A40 rear axle in place of the previous Ford item due to the larger number of ratios.

By this time, the Ginetta G4 was proving a front-runner at national level. For the 1964 season, factory driver Chris Meek requested independent rear suspension to get more power down so Ivor Walklett devised a new arrangement that retained the A40 diff but with twin tubular wishbones, coil springs and dampers either side. It was an instant success, the Lotus twin-cam powered works G4R (‘R’ denoting IRS) taking eight wins and six second places that season.

Among Meek’s rivals for the following season was John Burton. Having dabbled in sprinting and rallying, this sports car stalwart embarked on his circuit career in 1965 aboard a G4R. Unusually, his was powered by a Martin engine; essentially a Ford block with a three-valve cylinder head. “The G4 was going rather well on the circuits, especially those with the independent rear suspension,” he recalls. “It also seemed good value in kit form, which is how I ordered mine. I had it built by Lewis Douglas-Osbourne, the brother of British hillclimb champion Alistair Douglas-Osbourne, whose father ran Apex Motors in Stourbridge, Worcestershire.

“Starting out with the Martin engine was a risk since few people were running one,” he continues. “However, it proved to be reasonably reliable. Having 175bhp – Ted Martin’s figure – in a very light car was a lot of fun. My first race was on the Club circuit at Silverstone: unfortunately I spun at Maggotts and ended up in a ditch, slightly damaging the car. However, I was then able to buy some second-hand Dunlop race tyres and on those I won my next race – also at Silverstone – against the quick guys, including Bob Rose in his Marcos-Volvo.

“We had quite a lot of success with the G4 but I suppose some of the most memorable races were at Castle Combe where we used to have great battles with Ron Fry’s Ferrari 250LM; real David and Goliath tussles. The crowds used to enjoy seeing our little red car go up against the mightily powerful Ferrari and, although we never beat him, we got quite close! He was a genuinely nice guy, and I remember having a drink with him before one race – squash of course – and suggesting that he let me lead into the first corner to make it more exciting for the spectators. He agreed, but unfortunately for him he gave me rather too much of a lead and it wasn’t until late on in the race that he got past.

“The G4 was a lot of fun to drive and it put many more powerful cars to shame. If it had any weaknesses, the driveshafts weren’t really strong enough for the amount of power and torque to which they were subjected. It was also quite cramped inside for anyone over 5ft 10in, and my helmet kept hitting the roof until we put in some roof padding. Apart from that, it was delightful.”

As long as you weren’t the one making it. “The round-tube chassis was so difficult to fabricate,” Walklett recalls. “Each chassis was made up of more than 300 individual pieces so the time spent making the frames was enormous.” So, from late 1965, the move was made to square tubing, still with the centre section bonded to the chassis, with the internal exposed chassis tubes being dropped. A stressed transmission tunnel afforded additional strength. The rear A-frame was now mounted to one side of the car’s centre line and bolted via a Rose joint to a fabricated bracket on the axle tube rather than the differential housing. Up front, upper and lower wishbones made in-house substituted for Triumph Herald items.

By this time, Ginetta had embarked on a raft of new models from F3 single-seaters to V8 coupés, sales of the G4 gradually ebbing over time. The Walkletts responded in the latter half of 1966 with the S3 edition that, among other revisions, did away with the existing front end, largely due to Construction and Use regulations, the height of the headlights being borderline legal at best. A new arrangement with exposed pop-ups, a la Lamborghini Miura, did nothing for its looks. The next year, the model was dropped. Around 300 chassis numbers had been allocated.

Except the G4 wouldn’t die. In the early ’80s, the tag was dusted off for a new roadster that was substantially different beneath the skin, the original template being revived during the following decade due to sustained nagging from Japanese enthusiasts. A batch of 30 cars was made in the early ’90s using the original tooling before Ivor Walklett was asked to manufacture the car through his DARE concern after the rights to the model were acquired from Ginetta’s then-incumbent, Martin Phaff. More recently, this enduring sports car has been offered by marque authority Spadge Hopkins of Ginetta Heritage.

The car’s appeal is obvious, claims the affable G4 racer. “It’s still very competitive. Look at Dave Randall [in the HSCC Historic Road Sports series]. He’s got 125bhp – or rather 125 legal bhp – and he’s beating Morgan Plus 8s and TVRs. At the start of each race Dave gets swamped but he out-brakes them into the corners time and time again. In the right hands, a G4 is pretty much unbeatable, although you have to take the roof off to get the weight down. They’re eligible for a lot of different things too, with the Lotus Twin-Cam-engined cars being allowed into the Classic Sports Car Club Swinging Sixties series and our own Ginetta Heritage races.”

However, demand is outstripping supply. “It used to be that quite a few ModSports G4s would surface, but that just isn’t the case any more. There’s nothing around. You’re looking a minimum of £25,000 to buy an original car, more for one with decent history. Most of the interest in our Continuation Cars seems to be coming from overseas: right now we’re doing a car for Belgium, another for Australia.”

There can be few cars which compete both in classic and contemporary classes. Fewer still that run at the front, but the G4’s continued existence is viable for the simple reason that it was so right to begin with. Anyone who’s been to a British race meeting in the last 40 or so years will have seen a G4 winning and there’s no reason why it should stop any time soon. As Burton aptly puts it: “The G4 is one sweet racing car; a real giant-killer.”

*****

"I rallied one."

Peter Davis
This racer switched disciplines in 1982 on entering his faithful G4 in the Himalayan Rally…

“Over a pint I asked my friend Roger Mugeridge if he would like to do a rally: initially I’d planned on doing the Peking to Paris but the dates kept getting pushed back so we looked at the Himalayan instead. Roger said ‘why not?’ so I set about preparing the car, replacing the suspension Rose joints with rubber bushes and fitting a 1.6-litre Ford pushrod engine with a reduced compression ratio to cope with the low-octane Indian petrol. I can still remember getting off the plane in Bombay. Roger turned to me and said: ‘You know, I never really believed we would be doing this!’ We knew nothing about rallying. We had a wad of route books and Roger asked me what they were for…

“At the start we were flagged off an elevated ramp by the vice-president of India. Realising the Ginetta wouldn’t make it, I asked if we could go around. They said ‘no’ so we had to lift up the car’s nose to get it onto the ramp. The crowd was falling about laughing. Later in the rally we got stuck in a sandbank on the Notdwar stage and were out. The following year I returned with a new co-driver, Jim Crowley. We covered 2500 miles and finished 21st. By 2003, LAC64E had done more than 4000 racing and 16,000 rally miles in 23 countries. Since then I’ve competed on the Carrera Panamericana.”