From bankruptcy to bankruptcy

The badge chosen for the car company was certainly eye-catching, ironically depicting one of the slowest of all animals, a turtle.

The history of the Gordon-Keeble sports car is partially linked to another British Marque, Peerless, founded in 1957 by two entrepreneurs: John Gordon and James Byrne, aided by the contribution of Bernie Rodger, who took care of the sports car’s design for the newly-established marque, which remained active from 1958 to 1960. After its bankruptcy the car reappeared under the name of Warwick, with Bernie Rodger in charge, and it remained alive until 1962. Only one of the two founders, John Gordon, after his short adventure with the Peerless, founded Gordon, in company with engineer Jim Keeble in the former factory of the defunct marque in Slough.

The car was developed on the space-frame used for the Peerless GT, in which was mounted a Chevrolet Corvette 4600 cc V8 engine producing 290 bhp, as suggested to the two engineers by USAF pilot Rick Neilson. Convinced of the viability of the project, the two engineers commissioned Bertone to take care of the design of the sports car. The project was carried out by the young, barely 21-years old, Giugiaro, who designed an elegant 2+2 coupé body with unmistakably characteristic design.

The first prototype, with an aluminium body mounted on the well-established one inch square tube frame, was displayed by the Italian coachbuilder at the Geneva Motor Show in 1960, with the name Gordon GT. The car had four-wheel disc brakes, front independent suspension and a De Dion rear. The interior was beautifully finished and gave the car a refined high-quality appearance. That same year the prototype was tested by Autocar magazine and their verdict was more than positive.

Subsequently Gordon took the car to America to show it to the president of Chevrolet, Ed Cole, who was very impressed with it and was very helpfully involved with the newly-established manufacturer. Cole, in addition to providing engines and gearboxes for the car, made his network of official Chevrolet dealerships available to sell the British sports car, a great achievement for Gordon. Despite the best intentions and excellent reception, the Gordon GT disappeared into oblivion for four years, until 1964, when it was once more presented at the Geneva Motor Show as the Gordon-Keeble GK1. John Gordon had long since abandoned the project and his place had been taken by George Wansbrough; Keeble, however, was still there.

The badge chosen for the car company was certainly eye-catching, ironically depicting one of the slowest of all animals, a turtle. The Gordon-Keeble differed in one major way from Bertone’s Gordon GT in that the bodywork was built in glass-fibre in England by Williams & Pritchard Ltd., rather than in aluminium, to keep costs down. There was certainly more economy in the interior, the fine leather being replaced by plastic, making its appearance much less luxurious than in the original prototype. These choices were made by Wansbrough in his efforts to make a profit, but the car had to be made in some quantity in order to keep the launch price at a reasonable level.

Despite their efforts, the car was priced at £2798, not exactly cheap considering a Jaguar E-Type could be bought for £2000. Mechanically, instead of the 4600 cc Chevrolet engine, which was no longer available, they opted for another Chevrolet engine, the 5400 cc V8 combined with its 4-speed gearbox. Production proceeded for about a year, but was interrupted by a strike at the Adwest factory which produced and supplied the steering boxes, causing huge losses for the small builder who, overwhelmed by the financial crisis, collapsed. Just 91 examples of the GK1 had been built.

In 1966 the company was taken over by Harold Smith and Geoffrey West. Renamed Keeble Cars Ltd and with production moving to Sholin, Southampton where it continued until 1966, a further 7 GK1s were built. After the acquisition the two entrepreneurs again renamed the company, now I.T. (International Touring). The following year chassis no. 99 was registered and in 1971 the one hundredth car was assembled.

But the story was not over yet. The project was taken over by American businessman John De Bruyne, who presented the same car but with revised front and rear bodywork at the New York Auto Show in 1968 under the name of Grand Touring. This time, however, the story faltered and the end came for the troublesome adventure, which had perhaps deserved a far better fate.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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