I drifted off to the Brooklands museum in Weybridge in late April to see the British Marque’s day. It was handy as at 1 o’clock I could drift over to Mercedes-Benz World to watch the Azerbaijan GP in their cinema.
As with any car-related event at Brooklands, the place was packed with cars and with those who wanted to look. The first was rather good, the second meant waiting for some time just to ensure there were just a few people in photographs. The exhibitors were a friendly bunch, only too willing to talk. It was a pleasant day.
One thing which became rather obvious was what we, as a country, had lost over the years with regards to choice of manufacturer. Whilst there are still a number of kit car makers remaining, the number of specialist manufacturers has dropped considerably in the time represented by the exhibits.
In the 60s to 80s there were a load of manufacturers producing cars that were just about affordable for someone earning a salary, so very affordable to a wage earner second hand. One car I looked at with intent to buy when I was in my 20s was a Rochdale Olympic.
It was one of the first fibreglass monocoque cars to be built. The Lotus Elite beating it by some time. It was rather pretty. I read about it in Motor Sport magazine where it was driven rather than tested. I found a road test in a Motor or Autocar magazine and I was sold. I found one for sale and really liked it. It had a Riley 1.5 twin carb B-Series engine, so it was a little nose-heavy, but not as much as the Riley 1.5.
My father, whom I took along as devil’s advocate, found some cracks in the fibreglass shell and while I was investigating whether it was terminal, the car was sold. Not to be outdone, I found a Gilbern GT, one of which was at Brooklands.
The one I saw had been in a front-end collision and the fibreglass repair had been performed with more enthusiasm than expertise. It was a pleasant care to drive, but not very far. Gilbern later produced the Genie, then renamed it Invader – much more macho. The latter had a 3-litre Ford V6. The company then produced an estate version, the name Invader Estate sort of muting the tone. Why not ’State Invader? That would have been cool. I had a friend who bought one but he had a lot of trouble with it.
At the same time Ginetta were producing cars in kit form and readymade. The Imp-engined G15 was delightful to look at and extreme fun to drive. Not only could I fit in it, but my size 12s could operate the pedals. Heel and toeing was not so much possible as difficult to eradicate. It was a brilliant design. Much later, I had a G32. Again brilliant fun to drive.
Somewhat pricier was Lotus. Their Europa, at least with the Renault engine, was perhaps deserving of more power. It got it with the Lotus twin cam. I had a police colleague with one of these. It was intended to replace the Lotus 7 and the interior décor reflected this, being all but absent. A remarkable car. I would still love to have one.
For some years I had a Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5. It was powered by the Ford 3-litre V6, although mine had the 2.8 as an upgrade. It was heralded as the practical family man’s car but it was nothing of the sort. The road holding did not live up to its image, but I loved it.
Also around at that time was the TVR 3000M. I so nearly bought one. I really regret not doing so. The lack of opening access to the boot made my wife put her foot down. There were two examples at Goodwood.
One thing which let down many of the specialist car manufacturers of the time was the poor interiors. They just imported them directly from any car that had one that nearly fitted. Not so TVR.
Perhaps the quality of the later interiors, and nobody did it better, were why the company lasted as long as it did. They were always wonderful places to be. If you want to know why TVR went bust, despite the beautiful designs and class-leading interiors, see my new book, to be published in May. See When Wheeler Sold TVR.
If you are in, near or around London, take a trip to Brooklands on one of the show days. They are always worth the effort.