Thursday 24th January 2019,
Inopian

Gordon-Keeble 1963 – 1967

In 1959 John Gordon and Jim Keeble came together to form Gordon-Keeble Cars. The original factory was in Slough, Berkshire but production moved twice, first to Eastleigh, near Southampton and finally to Southampton itself. The intention was to have another `go` at building a 2-door, 4-seater GT saloon, to succeed where Peerless and Warwick had failed.

Gordon-Keeble began with a space-frame chassis designed by Peerless. The suspension and braking system was as Peerless/Warwick and the engine was a short-block Chevrolet V8 4.6 litre. Gordon-Keeble engaged Bertone of Turin to design and build the body. In the 1960s Turin was the world-centre of car design and Bertone was at the top of the tree. Bertone`s `ace-in-the-hole` was a young designer called Giorgetto Giugiaro, a genius rising above his fellow artists at the tender age of 21 years. He had several wonderful designs already in his portfolio and would go on to achieve true greatness. The prototype rolling-chassis arrived with Bertone.

In only 27 weeks they had built an aluminium-panelled body onto it and had it ready for the Geneva Motor Show in 1960. It was named `Gordon GT` and was the star of the Bertone stand, everybody loved it. The styling was reminiscent of the Lancia Flaminia with slanted twin-headlights which later reappeared on the Triumph Vitesse designed by Michellotti. The tail-lights were raked forward as was the wing-line. It was a superb and inspired design.

After the show the prototype returned home to Slough. It was decided that a glass-fibre body-shell, in the same design, was economically preferable. There now followed a long period of delay and frustration due to industrial action in the Gordon-Keeble supply-chain.

Gordon-Keeble sent the prototype to Detroit for an evaluation by General Motors. GM was very encouraging and supportive. The directors promised to supply Gordon-Keeble with 1000 engine and gearbox units. Not just any old engine either! The engine GM would supply was the latest Corvette 5.4 litre short-block V8 with the correct 4-speed manual gear-box included.

GM also promised to retail the car through it`s massive chain of outlets in the US! This was an excellent result, surely now they would succeed! Now re-named Gordon-Keeble, the first example rolled off the line in 1963. Unfortunately the supply problems continued, at on time Gordon-Keeble were in the invidious position of having 16 cars ready for sale but lacking steering-boxes. The supplier, Adwest, had been plagued with strikes and finally Gordon-Keeble were forced to buy-in steering-boxes from Marles. By the time the cars were ready to ship the damage done to GK proved too great. The cash-flow dried-up and the factory closed in 1965. Only 90 cars had been sold.

Later in that same year the company was taken over by Messrs. Smith and West and renamed Keeble Cars. Production resumed but only 9 cars had been completed when the company closed for the last time in February 1966. As a post-script to a very sad story, one more Gordon-Keeble was built from remaining parts in 1971. Total production of this beautiful super-car stood at 100. Why did it fail?

Pricing was, and is, a problematic subject in car manufacture. We have already noted that Peerless and Warwick got their calculations horribly wrong when they priced their cars at around £1600 when an `Etype` Jaguar cost £2000. Gordon-Keeble went from the sublime to the ridiculous by pricing the hand-built Gordon-Keeble at a lunatic £2798!

Costing a car is painful but simple. What the maker has to do is get his scribes to cost every component, right down to cable-ties, nuts & bolts, insulation-tape, oil and grease. After conducting a `time and motion` study he knows how many hours of work it takes to build a car. He then adds the number of worker`s hours to the other costs and ends up with a `cost-price`. He calculates delivery charges and all the little things that most people forget. He now has the `final cost-price` of his product.

To this figure he adds the `profit-margin`. This needs to be in the region of 40% because the sale price will be discounted when the car is sold. This is not `rocket-science`. At less than £3000 the Gordon-Keeble, a hand-made specialist car, stood no chance of making money. A realistic price for the car in 1965 would have been around £6000. Bristol and Aston-Martin had proved that if a car is good enough the motorist will pay the necessary price, whatever it is.

It was a sad end to a period of excellent car-manufacture. The cars were desirable, popular and well-made. They were finally defeated by their costing mistakes.

Specifications;

Chassis used was the Peerless-designed space-frame using 1inch steel box-section.

The Body-shell was of one-piece glass-fibre moulding from original Bertone design with two doors and four seats featuring twin headlights in slanted formation. Twin 11 gallon (Imp) switchable fuel-tanks were used. The Gordon-Keeble had a huge boot with luggage-space for four passengers.

Power-train;

We’ll focus on the better version which was the GM engine from a Chevrolet Corvette 5.4 litre, 90 degree V8. The engine was an overhead valve with hydraulic cam-followers and a 10.5:1 compression ratio, and 4-barrel Carter carburettor. Twin SU electric fuel pumps. Net power figures; 300 bhp with 360 ft/lbs torque. Clutch was of GM 10 inch single dry-plate with heavy-duty diaphragm spring. With these accessories the Gordon-Keeble could make a top speed of 145 mph and 0-60 in 6 seconds. Very impressive even for today’s standards. The fuel consumption of 20 mpg (Imp) also wasn’t too bad for a 5.4 litre Chevy engine.

Gearbox;

A Warner GM 4-speed synchromesh manual gearbox was used. Gear-shift lever was slanted to the left, making the gear changing in a right-hand-drive car a little strange.

Suspension;

Front; Coil and wishbone with Armstrong telescopic dampers. Rear; deDion tube with Salisbury telescopic drive shafts, located by Watt`s linkage and trailing-arms. Coil-springs with Armstrong dampers. Steering by Marles worm & wheel. Wheels were Dunlop steel, 15” x 5J, centre-locked, with 3-eared knock-on caps.

Brakes; Girling discs. Twin hydraulic circuits, divided front and rear, with twin servos.

Interior and electrics;

Positive-earthed with 57 a/hr alternator. Full `aircraft-style` instrumentation with a wood-rim steering wheel, leather upholstery and electric windows.

Gordon-Keeble 1963-1967
 
 
Body Type2+2 seater Fixhead 2 door coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Brakes
FrontDiscs
RearDiscs
Dimensionsmminches
Length4813189.5
Width172768
Height139454.9
Wheelbase2591102
Cargo VolumeBig enough for 4 passanger
Engine4.8 L Chevrolet V8 OHV (1960 Gordon GT concept)
CylindersV8
Displacement4638 cc283 cui
Power174 Kw233 bhp4500 RPM
Torque407 Nm300 ft. lb3000 RPM
Power/weight199 bhp/t
FuelPetrol
Top Speed225 km/h140 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph7.8 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Urban16.517.1
Extra-urban10.128
Combined12.822
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight1168 kg2575 lb
Engine5.4 L Chevrolet Corvette V8 OHV (1963-1967)
CylindersV8
Displacement5354 cc326.7 cui
Power224 Kw300 bhp5800 RPM
Torque488 Nm360 ft. lb3000 RPM
Power/weight209 bhp/t
FuelPetrol
Top Speed233 km/h145 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph6 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Urban18.315.4
Extra-urban10.526.9
Combined14.120
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight1436 kg3166 lb
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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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.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

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