The UK car manufacturing industry has been defined by various brands over the years. Many manufacturers have been unable to cope with demand, disappearing into the annals of history. One of the shortest lived UK based car manufacturers was Gilbern. Arguably the only Welsh car manufacturer, Gilbern was founded in 1959 and went out of business in 1973. The company only produced a few cars, but Gilbern is still a historically important manufacturer.
Gilbern was set up by Giles Smith and Bernard Friese, the latter being a German engineer with experience in glass fibre. Friese had built a one-off car for himself, with the two using it as a basis for the first Gilbern vehicle.
The partners set up in a small workshop in Church Village, Pontypridd. Production started slowly, but the company eventually moved to a new location at Red Ash Colliery. The cars were only available as kits to begin with, but Gilbern soon produced complete versions.
The first car to be produced was the Gilbern GT, made in 1959. It came with a 948 cc BMC A-Series engine with an optional Shorrocks supercharger. The chassis was built around square steel tubing and Austin A35 front suspension. Later versions came with a B-Series 1500 or 1600 cc MGA.
Another memorable car was the Gilbern Genie, which appeared at the 1966 London Motor Show. Motorists could choose between a 2.5-litre or 3-litre Ford Essex V6 engine. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders accepted Gilbern as a member in 1965, allowing them to have a stand at the British International Motor Show at Earls Court.
Change in management
In 1968, Gilbern was taken over by Ace Capital Holdings, a manufacturer of slot machines. This was done in order to inject more cash into the business. After the takeover, Giles Smith left and was replaced by Mike Leather and Maurice Collins as joint managing directors.
The final car to be produced, the Invader, came out in 1969. Based on the Genie, the car had an improved chassis and bigger brakes. The front suspension came from the MGC, with automatic or manual transmission becoming available by 1971.
Gilbern cars became overly expensive, especially with taxation changes that added Value Added Tax to kit cars. Production stopped in 1973, but a one-off car called the T11 was developed just before Gilbern closed. In 2009, the T11 was restored as a reminder of what Gilbern had once produced.