6 January 2014

Survival rate of rare Gordon-Keeble astounds

Whole project collapsed in 1966 after lengthy labour dispute forced company into receivership after building only about 100 cars

There are three cars that I would like to own before my time is up.

The Welsh-built Gilbern GT1800, a Gordon-Keeble and most of all, I would like my 1962 Alvis TD 21 DHC back.

The Gordon-Keeble story began in 1959, when John Gordon, who was the Managing Director of the struggling Peerless/Warwick Car Company, met Jim Keeble, an engineer and spring/racing car constructor familiar with American V-8 engines. At the time Keeble had been asked to build a Corvette-engined Peerless car for USAF pilot Rick Neilson.

Gordon and Keeble formed a partnership and decided to fit a Chevroler small block 4.6-liter V-8 into a purpose-made Keeble-designed chassis. Gordon traveled to Turin to request that Bertone design a new body with slightly angled twin-headlights and to be called the Gordon GT. This would be aimed at the Aston Martin, Jensen and Facel Vega clientele.

The chassis was comprised of a one-inch-square, tube spaceframe, with a De Dion rear axle and four-wheel disc brakes. The chassis was finished in early 1960 and transported to Italy for the coach builder Bertone to fit the Giorgetto Giugiaro-styled steel body.

By the time the car was ready for production four years later, the name had appropriately been changed to Gordon-Keeble. In the meantime, Gordon had taken the prototype to Detroit for Chevrolet President Ed Cole and engineer Zora Duntov to test drive.

They were so impressed with the car they agreed to supply the 327-cu.-in. Corvette engine, gearbox and the full support of the GM dealership network in the U.S. to distribute the cars. An aluminum body was made, from which the molds could be produced for a fiberglass body, which was much cheaper to produce and could be built in England by Williams and Pritchard, one of the foremost specialist fiberglass firms. In the event, they only made the first dozen bodies, before highly skilled local Southhampton craftsmen, fresh from employment at Supermarine and Vosper Thornycroft, took over.

The entire project collapsed after a mere 82 cars had been completed. And all because the steering-box supplier, Adwest, suffered a lengthy labour dispute resulting in unfinished cars sitting idle. The entire workforce was laid off unpaid and Gordon-Keeble went into receivership. Two of the car dealerships that sold the Gordon-Keeble stepped in, and with Jim Keeble again at the helm, finished off a dozen previously incomplete cars, and made from scratch a further six examples, before the new company went the way of its predecessors.

The survival rate of this collectible car is very impressive. With a mere 99 examples being built between 1964 and 1966 the 90 percent worldwide survival rate is quite remarkable. The pictured car belongs to a collector in British Columbia.

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