(first posted 12/8/2016) The complete list of Welsh automobile manufacturers is not exactly overly long, but perhaps the best known is Gilbern. That is not to say it is a household name, or something one would expect to find in Southern Alberta. The story of how this low-volume marque came to be is quite interesting, however. Founded in 1959, Gilbern got it name from a butcher and an engineer. That’s not to say its engineering was butchered, although its entrails are something of a hash.
Giles Smith was the butcher and Bernard Friese was the engineer; the first part of each of their names was combined to create the name Gilbern. But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Smith, the butcher, was keen on acquiring one of the many fiberglass special sports cars of the time period. After meeting Friese, the engineer with experience in fiberglass, they undertook building a scratch-built one-off car instead. The first car was built in an out-building behind the butcher shop and after favorable reactions, they concluded it could go into series production.
After a handful of cars were built, it was decided the car should be sold in kit form to take advantage of the favorable tax laws of the time. Unlike other kit cars, the Gilbern was truly complete, with the owner only having to fit the major mechanical components such as engine, gearbox, rear axle and exhaust. Very quickly the out-building behind the butcher shop was outgrown and Gilbern moved to a more suitable industrial site. The early cars were fitted with either a 948cc Austin A-series engine or 1098cc Coventry Climax four cylinder engine. An optional super charger could be fitted to the A-series. Most of the other greasy bits were sourced from the Austin A35 parts bin. Later 1.5L and 1.6L MG A engines became the norm before the MG B 1.8L replaced it also triggering a name change to GT1800. Other mechanical improvements were added over the production run of the GT. The car started off with steel wheels and leaf sprung rear suspension before transitioning to wire wheels with trailing arm rear suspension.
The GT model was more of a sports car, but in 1966 a new model replaced it, the Genie, which was a larger, 2+2, grand tourer. It was equipped with either a 2.5L or 3.0L Ford Essex V6. Tecalemit-Jackson fuel-injection could be fitted to the Ford engine but it is unclear how many were fitted with it (at least one demonstrator but likely very few others). A handful had an Austin Healey 3000 rear axle but most were fitted with a MG rear axle to cope with the greater power of the Ford engines as well as the car’s larger size. The rear suspension is coil sprung with trailing arms rather than the MG’s crude leaf spring suspension. Front suspension used some MG components (early cars with MG B and later ones MG C) but with coil springs. Steering was sourced from the MG B.
The early cars like our example were fitted with MG B wire wheels. If original the wire wheels make this car one of the first thirty to forty Genies made.
The Gilbern was not a inexpensive car so the interior was comfortable and well finished.
Customers could order any color of paint they wished for only a modest cost extra and while many left the factory in very unusual hues this example has a lovely but understated silver. Which is likely a re-spray, so we can’t be sure what color it originally was.
A Monza gas cap adds a bit of sporting style.
A personalized license plate gives curious onlookers a hint at the car’s identity. Like many low volume vehicles the tail lights were sourced from a more common vehicle, in this case a humble Ford Thames van.
While a handful of Gilbern’s were sold in the US this one is a more recent import and it sports right hand drive.
Later Genies were equipped with light alloy wheels. The 2.5L variant was also dropped in 1968. A total of 197 Genies were produced between 1966 and 1969.
At the tail end of the Genie run Gilbern was taken over by the ACE Company. The Invader was developed as a successor to the Genie. Released in 1969 the Invader featured a stronger chassis to combat complaints of the Genie’s chassis being prone to developing cracks. Additionally larger brakes were fitted while the Ford 3.0L remained as the engine. While looking very similar to the Genie the Invader was more upmarket and outfitted with electric windows and a walnut dashboard. 1971 saw a minor update to a MkII specification but the MkIII of 1972 saw a swap to Ford Cortina suspension as well as an uprated version of the familiar 3.0L engine. The body while similar looking was lower and wider. The car was now only available in fully built rather than component form.
An estate variant of the Invader was also available. Production wrapped up in 1973 and 603 Invaders of all variations were produced. The high price of the Invaders led to low sales volumes and the Gilbern went through several owners before closing its doors in 1974.
While Welsh cars are not well known outside car enthusiast circles but the Gilbern is probably the most famous. An attractive fiberglass body, proven mechanical components with a torque rich V6 add up to an appealing product. Not a bad result for a butcher and engineer.