Ginetta Keeps the British Sports Car Flag Flying
These are anxious times for many of Britain’s low-volume sports car makers, hit hard by the high cost of manufacturing and spiralling development costs to keep abreast of the latest regulations.
Some long-standing names have fallen by the wayside lately, notably TVR (at least for the time being) as well as Marcos.
It’s nice therefore to report that one marque, Ginetta, seems to be bucking the trend and investing in the future. Its owner, LNT Automotive, has just opened a new 80,000 square foot factory in Leeds, Yorkshire. Guest of honour at the ceremony last week was former Formula 1 World Champion, Damon Hill.
Ginetta is admittedly not the most famous name in motoring, but is a good example of that traditional British tradition of muddling though, having been through good times and bad many times before, only to keep re-emerging.
The company was founded back in 1958 by the four Walklett brothers to manufacture cars designed mainly for racing, and that emphasis still applies today. Ginetta is one of the most important makes producing cars specifically designed to introduce talented young drivers to motorsport.
Introduced in 1961, the Ford-engined Ginetta G4 model proved a major success on the track and as a fun road car throughout the 1960s. Such was its impact that it was then subsequently revived as a kit car in the1980s, in an unsuccessful attempt to fill the gap left by the demise of traditional British roadsters, and it has more or less lived on ever since.
From the late 1960s the company also began to develop more civilised closed coupés, notably the Hillman Imp-based G15, of which around 800 were made, and the pretty little G21, an attractive GT of the 1970s powered by Sunbeam mechanicals. This latter car suffered badly from the mid 1970s fuel crisis, meaning Ginetta failed to follow rivals like Lotus and TVR upmarket, preferring instead to stay in touch with the budget and track end of the sports car market.
In the 1980s Ginetta lived hand-to-mouth producing Ford-derived kit cars, leading on to the mid-engined G32 and the very attractive G33 with its Rover (ex-Buick) V8 engine. The company changed hands several times and production ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of the owners.
Today, as it gears up to celebrate the marque’s 50th anniversary in 2008, the future is looking bright for Yorkshire-based Ginetta, which offers a promising line-up of cars which owe much to the spirit of the original G4.
The minimalist G20 has only a wind deflector to protect its driver and passenger from the elements, although a GT4 coupé derivative does offer all-weather protection. They cost around £16,000 ($32,000) as road car and feature lightweight fibreglass bodies and 1400cc Ford Zetec SE engines. These Ginettas are perfectly road-legal, if hardly the most practical everyday cars, with comfort sacrificed in the interests of handling and performance.
Understandably, therefore, they are still best known as track cars. The little Ginettas compete in various one-make championships including one for drivers between 14 and 16. There is also a GT4R version designed specifically for rallying.
The company’s ambitious plans for the future are shown not just by the new factory but with the development of a brand new G50 300bhp lightweight race car. This has already sold out of its initial 26-car run.
Confusingly, as a result of the chequered history of the brand, the Ginetta heritage and name also lives on in two models produced by a separate company based in another part of England. DARE (Design and Research Engineering), based in Essex, sells an updated Ginetta G4 and a closed version, the G12. DARE has links to some of the Walkletts, whose family lost control of the original company in 1989.
Both these vehicles offer more traditional styling than the “rival” Yorkshire Ginettas, but are in much the same spirit.
Two companies in the same country producing different versions of a car with the same name sounds a little like a recipe for disaster, but in these small niches of the market it seems to work well enough.
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