This week for this article I am going to talk about a rare tortoise! The Gordon-Keeble was a limited life high performance 2+2 developed and manufactured in Britain during the 1960s. It had a limited life due to cash flow problems that meant that the company was liquidated before production and sales really took off.
The Gordon-Keeble was the brainchild of John Gordon and Jim Keeble. During the late 1950s, Gordon had founded the short-lived Peerless car company and Keeble was an enthusiast engineer and racing driver. The Peerless sports cars were based on Triumph TR components with 2 litre motors and Gordon was asked to slide in a larger US motor to make the car go quicker. This was the fashion for low volume high performance cars with many developed such as Facel Vega, Bristol, Jensen and the slightly later ACs, TVRs and Sunbeams following suit.
Gordon and Keeble first got together with the idea of taking a Peerless with a 2 litre and modifying it to take the larger motor. Keeble was insistent that they start afresh and so commissioned a new steel bodied 2+2. They called it the Gordon GT with styling by Giorgetto Guigiaro who at the time was a young designer at Bertone. They used a 4.6 litre Chevrolet engine as Keeble had been driving a Corvette at the time.
This was the early 1960s and Britain was at the forefront of automotive technology. Colin Chapman had been building lightweight sports and racing cars using a very strong space frame chassis. The GT took this concept for strength and weight purposes.
The car took a mere 4 months to design, build and test with Bertone undertaking the construction and was first shown on their stand at the 1960 Geneva Motor Show and was an instant success. The car was given to the press to test and the results were outstanding – they couldn’t have got better PR if they tried.
So the two partners took the car to the US and showed it to the President of Chevrolet, Ed Cole. He was the man responsible for the small block Chevy motor that was fitted to the Corvette. The execs loved the car and agreed to supply 1,000 5.3 litre, 280hp V8s and gearboxes a year and gave Gordon-Keeble access to the Chevrolet dealer network.
To reduce weight further and to speed up production, the steel body was replaced by a glass fibre version. The car was now renamed the Gordon-Keeble GK1. Production was set to go when supply chain difficulties started to impede the business.
One of the problems that they encountered was that the UK suppliers had difficulty with the torque produced by the engine – remember most cars built had much smaller, less powerful motors. The other problem was more serious; it was the start of the decline of the UK industry through industrial action. A company called Adwest was contracted to produce the steering boxes. They suffered a prolonged strike that meant that Gordon-Keeble had a batch of cars they couldn’t sell because they had no steering!
With cash flow difficulties from a relatively high price and a lack of supply, the company soon went into liquidation after only 91 cars were built. Production was moved to a new factory with new management in 1965 – both Gordon and Keeble had resigned, and a further 7 Gordon-Keeble ITs were built before that incarnation, known as Keeble Cars also went down. The IT in the name stood for International Touring, they thought GT for Grand Touring was overused!
Another company, Keewest then took over the servicing and built the final 2 cars, making 100 in all. 95 are known to have survived and be running today. In 1968, John de Bruyne, described as an American entrepreneur in many reports, tried to restart production under his name and apparently showed two revised cars at that year’s New York Motor Show along with the de Bruyne Grand Sport coupe – although this also appears to have been a false start. de Bruyne was not American, although he did live there – he was the English born son of Dr Norman de Bruyne, the chemist who formulated the Araldite glue product. He now runs a hotel in the UK called Anstey Hall.
These cars are rarer than hens teeth and you will probably never see one – especially if you live outside Europe! There is though, an exclusive owners club – they will never get over 100 true owners and you can visit their web site at www.gordonkeeble.org.uk and see the cars and read an original road test from the mid 1960s.
To close this article, why did I call it a rare tortoise at the beginning? It’s because the logo was a tortoise in a Lotus like design with a yellow background and the winners laurels surrounding the animal. It was a running joke that they chose the tortoise being a slow mover because in its day, the only car to beat the Gordon-Keeble was the E-type Jaguar! There is another story that a pet tortoise wandered into the original photo shoot – one can only think about how meticulous the photographer was if a tortoise could get in a photo!