True Brit!…or as close as we can get to it – Part 2, Ginetta
While ‘austerity’ does seem to be a ‘modern phenomenon’ (especially enunciated in a Scot’s accent), writes Iain Robertson, a number of independent carmakers commenced trading in the post-WW2 period of British austerity, such as Ginetta.
In a list that is almost as long as your arm, amid a pungent reek of curing glassfibre and either metal welding, or woodworking, a plethora of small volume car-builders worked from domestic garages, from below railway arches and from outlying disused RAF airfield buildings to provide a car-hungry, 1950s customer base with affordable transport. Some of them were significantly better at the task than others and they would survive, despite changing legislation, the impact of safety bodies and the omnipresent spectre of environmentalism.
One of those survivors was Ginetta. Founded in 1958 by the four Walklett brothers, Bob, Ivor, Trevers and Douglas, in Suffolk, its first product was called Fairlight, which was a glassfibre bodyshell ready to attach to a Ford 8hp, or 10hp chassis. It cost a princely £49, or a month’s salary to an average working man. With a model-naming policy as adventurous as Audi, the firm’s first but never productionised model was the G1. It was followed by around 100-off examples of G2, a tubular-spaceframed kit-car, with an aluminium body, designed to take Ford mechanical components.
Both G2 and G3 were designed with racing in mind but the G4 of 1961 was the firm’s first multiple-use road car. It was exciting enough to draw a huge amount of attention to the Suffolk firm and subsequent G10, G11 and G12 race and road-going larger models earned respect from competitors. In 1967, taking the Hillman Imp rear-engine installation as its inspiration, the very pretty G15 model was introduced. Glassfibre was used for the body, attached to a tubular chassis, which meant that it could make excellent use of a tuned Imp engine (itself an 875cc derivative of a Coventry-Climax fire-tender unit). It was also Ginetta’s first fully Type-Approved sportscar.
A larger G21 model of 1970, more conventionally front-engined, with rear-wheel-drive, used either a Hillman Hunter engine, or a 3.0-litre V6 from a Ford Capri. Ironically, the fuel crisis of 1974 stymied the car and ended its 80-off production run.
By 1988, aided by a government grant to revive work potential for British Steel employees, Ginetta relocated lock, stock and barrel to Scunthorpe. Little more than a year later, with the brothers seeking to retire, they sold the company to Sheffield entrepreneur, Martin Phaff, who was also a long-time fan of the brand. Sadly, Martin over-extended himself with production of the G20 and G33 models, although he managed very successfully to kickstart the Ginetta racing championship, which would follow a model established by another British small-volume specialist, Caterham Cars.
Lawrence Tomlinson, a Leeds-based engineer and racing driver, rescued Ginetta in 2005, through his company LNT Automotive, which retains the rights to the brand. Production was relocated to Leeds two years later, along with a remit to produce 200 cars annually. Simultaneously creating the new G50, powered by a 3.0-litre, 304bhp V6 engine, the car’s instant success in the GT4 racing class helped it to become a best-seller for the firm. However, Mr Tomlinson had bigger plans in store.
In 2010, he acquired the Somerset-based Farbio sportscar company, rebranding its F400 mid-engined sports model as the G60. Later that year, an entirely new and safer G40J model was introduced to replace the former G20 racing car. Since then, it has formed the basis of the Ginetta Junior race series for teenage drivers that provides thrilling support races for the British Touring Car Championship series. To suggest that it has been successful is almost an understatement. The Ginetta race series is a world-wide phenomenon that is enough to maintain brand buoyancy and earn enough profit to fund other new car projects. As a breeding feeder series for younger racing drivers, its achievements are unparalleled and an association with Blyton Airfield, in Lincolnshire, means that it has a priority stake in the venue as a valuable training centre.
In 2011, a 380bhp version of the G55 model provided a step-up formula for G20J racers, also operated as a support programme to the BTCC and leading into an even higher-powered 4.3-litre V8 version for international GT3 racing. In many ways, Ginetta is reflecting what Lotus carried out in its early days and also Ferrari’s long-standing tradition of making road cars in sufficient quantities to fund its racing programmes.
At the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Ginetta unveiled its first 600bhp production supercar, Akula, in strictly limited-edition form (20 units annually) it sells for £340,000 and 60% of the allocation already had buyers prior to its reveal. With the firm’s G58 Prototype (Le Mans style car) generating additional publicity for the marque, Ginetta’s future looks to be in great hands.
True Brit conclusions: As with Morgan, a single-mindedness controls Ginetta’s status as a race car business that sells road cars. While its progress as a stalwart of the Great British sportscar scene has not avoided ‘trouble’ over the years, it has ridden out the worst of the pitfalls and looks exceptionally strong at present. Its attention to detail is appreciated by ISQA and its quality stance. Part 3 will look at another British automotive success story, McLaren.
‘Make Quality Count!’