Ginetta: Episode 2


Ginetta boss Lawrence Tomlinson is one of life’s achievers. Whether he was running a car manufacturer or making pastries you get the impression that everything would be done methodically and with a strong understanding of the sector.

While much of his financial success is down to his background in care home businesses, his work at Ginetta is perhaps where he belongs – aged 15 he went to Huddersfield College to pursue his passion and study engineering. From there he was picked up by Wellman Bibby, the transmission specialists who then sponsored his engineering degree at Bradford University. It was while he was at Bradford that he was head-hunted by Holset Engineering. Up to that point he was destined for a life as an engineer.

Tomlinson, on the left of the back row

After importing water ski boats and classic cars for a short period he bought his parents out of their care home company. Once LNT Construction was established in 1991, the business was soon expanding and LNT Software was launched. This was closely followed by the purchase of LNT Solutions (which now creates climate protection systems for transport).

No doubt, as with almost all successful businessmen, he’s made some enemies on the way (RBS for one following his government report criticising the bank…), but I can speak only as I find and he’s always been open about Ginetta whether it’s good news or bad.

“I took Ginetta over 10 years ago now,” he comments, “and it’s a very different place now. It’s sat within the LNT Group, which is financially very strong, so that’s nice. It has always been a 10-year plan to make Ginetta financially stable and while we’re not going to get massively rich, we’re just about cash neutral and we’ll be making money in a short period of time.”

Ginetta? Making money? It is indeed an odd world that we live in. The British manufacturer has always been the plucky underdog, plagued by financial ruin throughout its near 60-year history. It worked financially when the Walklett brothers first launched the company, but since then it has lurched and lunged from bankruptcy to buyout.

However, turning a company like Ginetta around, as Tomlinson and the team have, requires huge investment. “You need to get the proper jigs, the proper tooling,” says Tomlinson. “It’s painful and you’re always going to spend a lot of money in the first five or six years. If you don’t, you end up making some cars on a one-off basis.”

In more recent years Ginetta has been creating the equivalent of Haynes workshop manuals for all of their cars so that every car is built to exactly the same specifications and in the same way. It sounds simple doesn’t it? But take into account the 2000 or so components that go into each model and then how many processes are needed to fit those together…

“Ginetta has been quite successful quite quickly,” says the technical director Ewan Baldry. “A lot of the guys are so busy building cars they don’t have time for anything else. It means we had a few idiosyncrasies – one builder would do something one way, the other would do it differently. You might think that’s quite nice because it gives the car some character, but it does give you issues further down the line.” Problems with panel fit and various third-party products let Ginetta down and masked much of the solid engineering underneath.

I remember when I ran the office Lotus Elise 111S and we needed to get a new cover for the roll bar. It was just a flimsy bit of fibreglass, but it held the rear window in place so was quite important if you didn’t want to hear a worrying ‘clunk’ every time you went near the brake pedal. We duly ordered it at huge expense (I seem to recall a bill for over £300) and when it arrived it didn’t fit. Not because it was for the wrong model of car, but because it needed to be made to fit… For a period this sort of design fault seemed to plague all British manufacturers, but Ginetta is now emerging from its growing pains.

Down in the parts assembly area I’m shown how a set of G40 uprights are built up, ready for them to be put onto a car. As I’m torqueing up a set of nuts I’m warned I’ve got a washer on the wrong way round. “They’re stamped out of a sheet of material,” says Phil Addison, “and as they’re punched out there’s a smooth side and a rough side. Always have the smooth side as the one you can see. It’s a cosmetic thing. It might not look much in your hand, but when it’s all put together you do notice them.” As I said, it’s not the Ginetta many of us grew up with.

Later that afternoon I find myself bolting the uprights onto a car (don’t worry, if you’ve just bought a blue G40 and are about to go on track with it my work was fastidiously checked…). In the next bay along is a GRDC G40 (essentially a road-going G40 that can be raced in the Ginetta Racing Drivers’ Club) and then 10 metres away is a G55. If you want to get into GT racing it’s hard to ignore Ginetta as a route to GT3 and beyond.

“The Ginetta racing ladder is one of the things we’re about,” says Tomlinson. “It’s that and the enjoyment factor for a reasonable cost. We’re also not just bringing juniors in, with the GRDC class we’re introducing a lot of drivers who never thought about GT racing. From there they can do GRDC Plus and then you’re looking at GT4.”

Tomlinson is adamant that Ginetta isn’t trying to steal existing drivers away from other manufacturers because if someone wants to race a Ferrari or an Aston Martin, they probably won’t want to race a Ginetta. It’s a fair point, but the cost of racing a G55 has no doubt ruffled a few feathers at other manufacturers of GT racers.

“The problem with GT racing,” continues Tomlinson, “is that a lot of gentlemen drivers come in, jump in a GT3 car and scare themselves. At Ginetta you can come in at the bottom, in a G40, and soon start driving that to its limits. You then move up and soon start driving the next car to its limits. I had the most fun ever on a Kawasaki ZXR400 because I could ride that bike to its limits. If I was on a Fireblade, f***ing hell… I never would have got that that to its limits, I would have killed myself.”

There are a surprising number of BTCC drivers who have raced Ginettas (Rob Austin, Dave Newsham, Adam Morgan, Tom Ingram, etc.) and a large part of the British GT grid has done as well. Whether you like Ginetta or not, it has helped a huge number of careers.

In Britain we’re very bad at keeping car manufacturers alive and very good at kicking the ones that do stay around. However, with its mantra of using British suppliers and products and providing affordable racing, Ginetta should be celebrated. It’s not without its problems, but then that’s been true for every British manufacturer since the dawn of the motor car…


You may also like