The cars we loved.
What do you get when you mix a butcher with an engineer? Why a car company, what else? That’s exactly what happened when Giles Smith (a butcher) and Benard Friese (a German engineer) got together and started Gilbern Sports Cars Lt. The name Gilbern is a blending of their first names. The Glamorgan based company was one of the few car companies ever to come out of Wales (if not the only one). Only two distinctly different lines were ever produced (one being a concept), the main bread and butter product was the Gilbern GT and the line of cars that succeeded it (Genie/Invader). One of the most interesting of these was the Genie. The Genie replaced the Gilbern GT, a car that could be bought in parts and pieces as a kit, or a completed ready to drive product throughout the 60’s. In 1966 the larger and more refined Genie was available as a complete car with no assembly required for about £ 2,000 (around $3,000 USD).
Speaking of parts and pieces, the Genie was a simple car with components from other established carmakers. 2.5 and later 3.0 litre V6 engines came mostly from the Ford Zephyr while other components came from the MGB. The larger engine was the same one that would go on to fame in the Capri in Europe. The Genie was very much a grand tourer in the English tradition with wood grain interior with a vinyl covered dashboard with center console. The Genie could be fitted with luxuries like power windows, but most cars were rather spartan where options were puffy luxuries were concerned. Rot proof fiberglass bodies protected against rust while MGB wire wheel added a touch of old world charm. Later Genies would come standard with an all new light weight alloy wheel that would become one of the car’s defining features.
The rear wheel drive design was sturdy. The suspension was quite conventional with coil springs and trailing arms. The Genie handled well despite permitting a certain amount of body flex from its spaceframe construction under extreme performance. When shifted deftly, with the four speed manual, a 0 to 60 time in the low 10 second rand could be achieved. As a Grand Tourer, the Genie could cruise comfortably to its top speed of 115 mph. Designed by Trevor Fiorea, the Genie evoked a cross between the Alfa Giulietta and Volvo 140.
The relatively low production numbers of less than 200 cars were due to the small scale production set up that favored hand assembly and attention to detail for the well-heeled customer. The company was weary of ramping up large production too quickly and taking on new debt to do so. Eventually the company was bought and a few times from 1968 to 1972, leading to its closure in 1973. Gilbern’s were sold mostly in the UK, but US based cars do exist. Gilbern did have a US dealership, but it is unknown how many cars were registered in America. More customers were in Europe thanks to a Dutch based importer.
The small scope of sales did not dampen interest in racing Gilberns. Independent teams would race Genies and later its replacement the Invader on various courses throughout England. Some cars were even stuffed with Chevrolet V8s! The straight forward mechanical nature of the Genie (and all Gilberns for that matter) made them popular with those who raced them and as a bonus resulted in many road worthy cars still on the road (relative to the small number produced). In a testament to their simple robust engineering and durability, Genies were still raced being raced well into the last decade. Gilbert cars currently have a small, but hardy fan base who maintains a owners club in England. We can only hope that more butchers and engineers would meet resulting in cars this interesting.