Lost Marques: Gordon Keeble

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Gordon Keeble

Gordon Keeble

Gordon Keeble

 1964 - 1966

John S. Gordon

Many new car manufacturers sprang up in the euphoric days of the late 1950s and early 1960s when demand always seemed to outstrip supply and the public would buy almost anything on wheels. It was into such an atmosphere that the Gordon-Keeble was born, but the company planned not to attack the mass market but to go for the well-entrenched specialist manufacturers like Bristol, Jensen and AC. That they failed, but failed gallantly, is one of the tragedies of motoring history.

John S. Gordon had previously been managing director of Peerless Cars, who built a Triumph-engined four-seater. He sold his interest in this company and the Peerless eventually became the short-lived Warwick GT. Gordon had plans for a much more ambitious machine which duly appeared in 1960. The Gordon GT, as it was called, was a large four-seater, with an attractive coupe body designed by Bertone of Italy and power from a big Chevrolet V8 engine.

This was by no means the first time the combination of a big, lazy US engine in a European chassis had been tried but, in this case, the specification of the chassis was unusually sophisticated. Designed by Jim Keeble, the car had a multi-tubular steel frame using square-section tubes. At the front, the car used double-wishbone independent suspension in conjunction with coil springs and telescopic dampers while a de Dion rear axle was fitted at the rear. This was located by parallel radius arms and a Watt linkage with suspension by coil springs and telescopic dampers.

Girling disc brakes were fitted on all four wheels and steering was by Marles worm and wheel. The power unit of the first model was a standard 4.6-liter Chevrolet V8 giving about 230 bhp, but more powerful versions, ranging right up to 350 bhp were to be made available. Power was transmitted through a single-plate clutch to a four-speed Warner gearbox and on via a short propeller shaft to the chassis-mounted Salisbury differential.

When displayed at a Continental motor show, it attracted a good deal of attention, and is even rumoured to have tempted a plagiarist who copied the body for the Iso Rivolta. With its steel body, the prototype was too expensive to build in small quantities and the design lay fallow for several years until it was decided to build it with a glassfibre bodyshell.

A factory was acquired at Eastleigh near Southampton and production began in January 1964. The bodywork was made by the firm of Williams and Pritchard, the chassis being built up at Eastleigh and the body fitted later. With the passage of time, the 4.6-liter V8 was no longer available, so the basic engine was a 5.3-liter unit with hydraulic tappets, a single four-choke Carter carburetor and a compression ratio of 10.5:1. In this trim, it gave 280 bhp at 5000 rpm and 360 lb ft of torque at 3200 rpm.

The Warner gearbox was standard, but a three-speed GM automatic gearbox was an option. The only other major change was an increase in size of the disc brakes to 11.38 in at the front and 11.06 in at the rear, a brake servo being a standard fitment. The car was now called the Gordon-Keeble GK1 and it was catalogued to sell on the UK market at the very low price of UK£2798. Sales began to go well, but the price was not an economic one and in 1965 the price was raised to a more realistic £3626.

However, the car required an enormous amount of hand finishing and was still not a money making proposition and in May 1965 the company went into liquidation after around ninety cars had bsen built. This was not the end of the Gordon-Keeble because a car-sales company, Harold Smith (Motors) Ltd, who sold quality cars in London, took over the assets of Gordon-Keeble Ltd and announced that production would resume. They were as good as their word for cars soon began to appear once again, the only major difference being yet another higher price tag, this time at £3989. This was later increased to £4058, taking the car into a much more competitive range where it was up against cars like the Aston Martin DB6, Bristol 409, Iso Rivolta and Mercedes-Benz 300SE etc.

The De Bruyne Motor Car Company Ltd

The design was improved, the much criticised heating and ventilation was modified to give better cooling, wider 5 in wheels were fitted to take Avon Turbospeed tyres and the gear lever was repositioned nearer to the driver. Sales continued at a low level into 1967 when the company was acquired by a US Businesman named De Bruyne. He started a company called the De Bruyne Motor Car Company Ltd, with headquarters at Newmarket and exhibited the GK1 at the New York Show along with a futuristic new mid-engined car using much of the suspension and other running gear from the GK1.

The 5.3-liter engine now gave a claimed 300 bhp and was mated to a five speed ZF gearbox, all of which added to the performance. Unfortunately, that was the last ever heard of the de Bruyne which faded away without another single car being built. It seemed that the remaining Gordon-Keebles would gradually disintegrate until they remained a memory but faithful owners retained them and, in the early 1970s, Jim Keeble, who had originally designed the car, set up in business to maintain, overhaul and sell the cars.

A remarkable number survived and prices of the better ones began to escalate to the sort of price originally asked for a new one in 1964 - then after 1980 they would reach for the stratosphere. The Gordon Keeble had all the hallmarks of a classic masterpiece - it was rare, and for the era there wever very few four-seater GT cars capable of reaching 140 mph, accelerating from 0-100 mph in 16.6 seconds, handling impeccably and offering a very high standard of luxury. Longevity was assured courtesy of the practically non-corroding glassfibre body.
Gordon-Keeble GT
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