In the village of Llantwit Fadre, near Pontypridd in the Rhondda valley, South Wales, one of the very few cars ever made in Wales was about to be born. Two men, with widely differing backgrounds, would make it happen.
Bernhard Friese was an ex-prisoner-of-war. When WWII ended in 1945 he decided to make his home in Wales rather than return to Germany. He married his Welsh girlfriend and settled down. He resumed his pre-war career as an engineer and prospered. Friese counted among his friends the local butcher, Giles Smith.
The two men shared a common ambition to build sports-cars. Friese, apart from his skills as an automotive engineer, had much experience in working with glass-fibre. He had already designed and built his first car. They came to a decision on how to realise their ambitions. They joined forces and formed a company, but what to call it?
GILes and BERNhard simply became `Gilbern`. They used Freise`s car as a basis for the Gilbern GT, which would be sold as a `kit-car` with all components being supplied new by Gilbern.Progress was slow but they made headway.
In 1968 the company was bought by ACE Capital Holdings, a gaming machine company. Giles Smith withdrew from Gilbern and was replaced by Mike Leather and Maurice Collins who became joint-managing-directors.
In 1970 ACE Holdings was taken over by the entertainment giant Mecca, who had no interest in building cars. Subsequently Mecca sold Gilbern to Maurice Collins. In 1972 Collins sold his shares to Mike Leather. Gilbern continued until purchase-tax (VAT) was applied to kit-cars in 1973. This meant that the Gilbern now became quite expensive. The addition of PT and the resulting collapse of the kit-car market meant that they would have to build the cars themselves and increase the price of the cars accordingly. They correctly judged that the exercise would be pointless. Gilbern therefore closed the factory doors in 1973.
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
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