A Brief History of Ginetta Cars
GINETTA Cars Ltd was founded in 1958 by the four Walklett brothers, Douglas, Trevers, Bob and Ivor – all of whom were motorsport enthusiasts, but they were already in business as agricultural engineers. The youngest brother, Ivor, like so many others in the 1950’s designed and built himself a Lotus Six style special using Wolseley Hornet parts. This showed such promise that the brother’s decided to produce a kit that would take Ford components, as an addition to the existing fabrication business. This was known as the G2 and around 100 were built between 1958 and 1960. The G2 became the G3 in 1960, now with a fibreglass body and again sold in reasonable numbers.
By 1961, Ginetta Cars, as it was now known, and in particular Ivor Walklett came up with the concept of a practical sports-car that could double as an effective weekend racer. The pretty and ultra light-weight G4 established the Company’s reputation and led to an expanded business in new premises at Witham, near Chelmsford in Essex. G4 production continued until 1969 but later re-appeared as the G27.
The 1960’s were a highly prolific period for Ginetta, and saw the development of the G18 an G17 single-seaters, and a still-born F1 design, the G20. The 4.7 litre Ford V8 engined sports car, the G10 appeared in 1965 to rival the AC Cobra, but was killed off by homologation difficulties. It went on to become the somewhat tamer MGB-engined G11. In 1966 as the G4’s racing career was coming to an end the mid-engined G12 was introduced, and became the GT car to beat for several years. It was later joined by the larger G16.
By the late 1960’s the Company turned back to road cars and in 1968 produced the Hillman Imp powered. G15, one of the prettiest coupes ever built. Such was its relative success that production was transferred to a larger factory at Sudbury in Suffolk. More than 800 were made before the oil crisis of 1973 and the closure of a purchase tax loophole brought production to an end in 1974. The G15 was followed by a larger sister car the G21, again with Rootes power units. As with the G15 this car was “Type Approved” for series production as completed vehicles, rather than component or “kit” builds. Around 150 were built up to the end of 1978, and led to the G23 and G24 which, however did not go into production beyond a few prototypes. They did, however evolve into the G25, G26, G28, G30 and G31 “kit cars”, and the slimmed down business relied on them, a revised G4 and the GRS Tora utility to maintain itself.
By 1986, the Walkletts had decided to return to the “big league” with a fully Type Approved mid-engined 2-seater coupe, the G32, which had evolved from the earlier G25. The G32 was well received and plans were laid to relocate to a new factory in Scunthorpe to accommodate the full potential of this ground breaking new design. However in late 1989, the Walklett brothers decided it was time to retire and accepted an offer for the business from a consortium led by Sheffield businessman Martin Phaff. Ivor Walklett, however remained as Technical Director.
Once the euphoria of acquiring the business had subsided, it became clear that life would not be easy for the new owners; Toyota launched their own mid-engine sports car, the MR2 at a price that Ginetta could not match, and production and Type Approval problems loomed, delaying the launch of the G32. Returning to volume production was proving troublesome, and sales targets for the new car were now in doubt. Following the success of the TVR Griffith it was decided to produce a high performance roadster based on the venerable G4, which had now become the G27 kit car. By stretching and widening the car, and using Rover V8 power and Ford Sierra running gear, Ginetta produced the G33 in a matter of months, and it was launched at the 1990 Motor Show, to great acclaim, leaving the G32 and its convertible sister in the shade.
But problems at the factory mounted, and cash was running short. In a bid to raise much needed cash, a deal was struck to put back the “heritage” sports cars in to production and supply them to Japan. Now increasingly cash-strapped the company was attempting to supply the G32, the under-developed G33 and the classic G4 and G12…..
But what did for the company came out of the blue, and those of a nervous disposition should look away now!
In 1992 the British government, struggling to maintain the pound sterling in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, finally gave up and as interest rates reached 15% Chancellor Norman Lamont announced that the UK would leave. The pound slumped against all the major currencies. Ginetta’s bankers, Barclays, had (for obscure reasons connected to its income stream) denominated its borrowings in yen, and as the company’s debt soared overnight, called in the Receiver.
After 45 years Ginetta was sunk; but Martin Phaff, just three years into his tenure, had other ideas……….
Some of what happened next appears below.........................
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............................Martin Phaff was not prepared to accept the loss of the company at the end of 1992, and managed to convince a number of dealers (who had already invested in the brand) to raise the cash to buy the business (stock, goodwill, rights and the remaining plant and machinery – the factory unit had been sold separately) from Cork Gully.
The much slimmed down business was re-established in an old steel stock shed in Rotherham early in1993. There was a clear demand for the G33, but no working capital, and the decision was taken to go back into production of the G27 kit car, after an abortive attempt to do the same with G33.
Each of the new dealer/shareholders had his own idea of where the company should go, but Swedish director Ingmar Engstrom, whose Swedish company had done much of the chassis development work on the G33, and developed the Cosworth turbo version, before the receivership, believed that funds could be found to further develop and manufacture the car in Sweden…….
Martin Phaff sold the G33 rights, jigs, fixtures and moulds to new Company created by Engstrom called ACAR, the contract providing these would return to Ginetta Cars in the event of its failure.
In January 1993 the Company (actually whilst still in receivership) was approached by Frank Boulton with his proposals for a “Cobra for the nineties” (see Rocket 44!)
Ginetta Cars was free to offer Boulton and his US consortium a G33 based car, and work began on a proposal to submit to GM subsidiary Oldsmobile. In the end the Rockett 44 project came to nothing;
Ingemar Engstrom persisted with his attempts to have a revised G33 built at Uddevalle but in the end failed, and the Company he created, ACAR, went out of business and the manufacturing rights and assets returned to Ginetta Cars in the UK.
The money generated from the G33 rights sale to Sweden went into improving the G27 kit car. A new derivative of the G27, to be sold as low volume Type Approved car, the G44, and with the benefit of the G33 crash test which was deemed transferable, was developed and using Ford 4 cylinder engines and power train but the project stalled through lack of funds, although the new body moulds were later to benefit the on-going G27 kit car.
In the meantime it occurred to the Board that the improved G27 would make the basis of a low-cost one-make race series. If successful this would provide the opportunity to sell complete cars that would require the minimum of build time since they would be stripped to the bare essentials, and in particular would not require expensive homologation or Type Approvals, or warranties, at least in the conventional sense. One-make racing was already crowding the motorsport calendar, with TVR Tuscans, Caterhams and Rover 200 Coupes, but the view from Brian Horner (Ginetta publicist and progenitor of the Tuscan series), Autosport’s Marcus Pye and the BARC was that there was room for one more at club racing level. The BARC agreed to organise a race series as a support event to the National GT championship. The price of the G27 race car was to include race entry fees, race overalls, race support and guest hospitality, at the time a unique package at Club motorsport level.
The G27 and before that the G4 had been raced extensively, and there was a body of knowledge, in particular with Duncan Cambell, to specify a rugged and competitive racing sports car, from the Ford parts bin. A combination of the Mondeo 16V 1.8 engine on Weber carburettors, Ford Trannex gearbox, Escort rear axle with LSD, gave 150bhp with an all up weight of 795kg. The regulations allowed for only minimal deviation from the standard specification, and a controlled, interchangeable ECU.
Duncan Campbell built up the first prototype in record time, and interested parties were invited to a number of test days, the first of which was at Mallory Park and the car was well received by the Press and potential customers. Several anxious months were spent trying to square the circle of firm customer orders, in sufficient numbers to stage a race, and the cash and resources to build the cars in time. As it turned out a total of twenty cars were built that for that first (1996) season, of which sixteen might have made the first race at Snetterton, and thirteen actually did. The first race was highly competitive and paved the way for many close races to come.
Since the motoring press had been supportive of the Bridgestone Ginetta Championship, as it became known, it had been planned to have a spare “works” car at each meeting for journalists to compete, although they were not eligible for championship points. Some had a point to prove which resulted in some exciting racing which required a steady stream of replacement body panels!
The use of journalists in the spare car proved effective in raising the profile of the fledgling series, and by the second series the spare seat was being filled by celebrities from the whole range of the world of entertainment, who, whilst less aggressive, further raised interest in the race series and Ginetta Cars.
Ginetta was now being seen by many, particularly young people, not as a “kit-car” company, but as a racing car company, and not for the first time in its history – during the 1960’s Ginetta was offering the G17 for Formula 3, the G12 in sports and GT racing and the G4R, also in sports car racing, as well as the G10 V8 SCCA sports car.
Opportunities in motorsport now presented themselves, from within and outside the Company. The G33, sadly no longer in series production, had actually been built in reasonable quantities, from its launch in 1991 and the suspension of production in1994. In fact the total build from all sources came to the “magic” 100 units required by the RAC MSA for homologation in UK national GT racing. On this basis a prototype G33 GT was built up by Richard Issitt at Motorsport Classics with Cosworth Turbo engine as GT3 car. This project was overtaken by other events, but clearly had great potential in the GT3 category.
Now with a foot in the GT racing door, Ginetta was approached to back a proposal to take the Company into GT1 and possibly beyond, based on the former Ford/Rousch Maxum GTP car that had been abandoned by Ford in 1987. This was an exciting project that failed to materialise through lack of external funding. The car was designated G40 GTR and the Ford Mustang Cobra engine required for homologation was to be the Ginetta G40 GT.
The success of the race series did not reflect well on the profitability of the Company, particularly since the on-cost of race hospitality and support had was considerably more than originally expected.
The strategy to build the Company profile was working, but at a cost that was unsustainable and by the summer of 1997 creditors were beginning to circle once again. Despite investment from new investors Chris Trippett and Fred Brown in the preceding couple of years, and in the absence of further funds the Board, after discussions with Cork Gully proposed a CVA – a creditors voluntary arrangement – which are often successful when creditors believe in the Company and believe that it is their best chance of recovering some or all of their money.
The CVA was “successful”, but Ginetta Cars, or rather Martin Phaff, now briefly without premises, had become one-man-band!
The G27 continued and its fortunes were revived by the one-make race series in 1995. The G27 was superceded by the Richard Ashby-styled G20, and used in the race series, and was also a very effective track day car.
The G40 GTR project eventually ran out steam because sufficient funding never materialised. The assets of the Zakspeed/Maxum were never acquired.
In the meantime, the Ginetta Race Championship continued to evolve, and was no longer a series for hobbyists, but was now seen as part of the process of entry into professional motorsport, with the Ginetta Junior Championship (for drivers aged 14 to 16 years). The Ginetta Junior Championship used the Ashby styled development of the G20, the G40 coupe.
Martin Phaff had done the hard work, almost single handed, and his health suffered as a result. It was time to find a new owner for Ginetta Cars.
When Martin was approached by Lawrence Tomlinson, who had cut his racing teeth in the Ginetta Championship, with a view to acquiring the Company and taking it forwards with the capital it needed, the Board and shareholders agreed more or less unanimously that it was the right thing to do. The business was moved to its new headquarters and goes from strength to strength, but that is the subject for another history!
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