Gordon-Keeble GK1/IT Saloon

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Gordon Keeble

Gordon-Keeble GK1/IT Saloon

1964 - 1966
United Kingdom
5.4 Litres
300 bhp @ 5100 rpm
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
145 mph
Number Built:
5 star
Gordon-Keeble GK1/IT Saloon
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The Gordon G.T. prototype was the brainchild of John S. Gordon. In October 1960, it was heralded as the fastest car in the world that had undergone a road test, and was not relying on manufacturers claims. The Gordon GT combined electrifying performance with elegance, having a four-seater body, including a big luggage boot. The only problem was, it seemed destined that the prototype would remain just that - many fearing it would never actually make serious production.

Fortunately George Wansbrough, who became actively interested when the project was first made public in August 1960, and the car's designer, Jim Keeble, kept their faith in it, the two conspiring to continue a full chassis development programme.

Suitable factory premises were ultimately found at Southampton Airport, and with Wansbrough as chairman and Keeble as engineering director, the Gordon-Keeble entered production. The factory relied heavily on components from outside suppliers, and the hand built nature of the car ensured it was never going to be manufactured in large numbers. Wansbrough and Gordon set a realistic target of manufacturing around 10 cars per month.
The original Gordon G.T. prototype used a 4·7 litre Corvette engine, however for the production models a 5·4 litre engine was used. The body was made from moulded glass-reinforced plastic instead of steel, however Benone's design was meticulously reproduced by Willliams and Pritchard of Edmonton, London, who had racked up considerable experience in developing this type of body shell, including those of the Formula 1 Lotus and Brabham cars.

The master moulds were taken to Southampton where the bodies were produced on the spot. Not only was the surface quality of the mouldings extremely high but the clearances around hinged components - bonnet, doors and boot lid - were closer and more regular than just about any other car on the road. This was achieved where possible in the manner of the coachbuilder in metal, by knife-edging adjacent panels and trimming them to fit. Moreover, allthough the bodywork had to share none of the frame's stresses, a lot of thought was given to its inherent structural strength, steel tubes being moulded-in to reinforce it where necessary.

The outer body shell was formed as a single unit, reinforced by 15 or so subsidiary mouldings for the floor and rear seat pan, wheel arches (double-skinned), bulkhead, ventilation ducts and so on. Around the passenger compartment the latticework frame of small-section square and rectangular tubes was filled in with nearly 60 sq. ft. of lino thick Plasticell, a rigid expanded polyurethane insulating material. In the floor this formed a sandwich between the glass fibre top surface and aluminium undershields, and the roof was lined with resilient polyether foam. Thus a high degree of sound and heat insulation was provided. In addition, the car's under-surface (which was free from any projections other than the twin exhaust pipes) was treated with a bitumastic sealing compound.

Nearly 300ft of tubing-mostly lino square and 1·5 x 0·875in. rectangular of 16 s.w.g. went into every frame, a lightweight but complex skeleton of great stiffness. This was electrically jig-welded to close tolerances in sub-assemblies which were united in a master jig, and the quality of workmanship, even where it could not be seen in the finished product, was of the highest standard. The suspension front wishbones and rear axle locating links were fabricated from 1 inch square 10 s.w.g. tube.

A de Dion axle was likewise built up from square tube; the design making it stiffer than the usual round section as well as being simpler to make in small quantities, and it made it easier to aligning and fit attachment brackets. It was located by a transverse Watts linkage and parallel, longitudinal radius arms. The Salisbury final drive unit, which could be optioned with a a limited-slip differential, had a four-point mounting in the frame by 2in. dia. Metalastik bonded rubber bushes. Girling brake discs were outboard at the wheels to ensure their adequate cooling. Coil springs and Armstrong teleescopic dampers were fitted all round, the back dampers having Selectaride electric adjustment by a four-way switch. Separate hydraulic circuits were provided for front and rear brakes, boosted by individual servos. The car was shod with Avon Turbospeed IV tyres, these running on pressed steel wheels with centre-lock hubs and 5·5in. wide rims.

A Warner four-speed allmesh gearbox, with light alloy casing and bell-housing, and with the ratio spacings shown in the data panel, was also standardized. These spacings were much wider than was the case with the original prototype, the low first gear in particular being more logical - if less exciting - than that car's 72 m.p.h. ratio. To suit the lower-revving engine, too, the standard final drive gearing was raised from 3·31 to 3·07, but the former ratio was available to order, as were the two lower ratios - 3·54 and 4·11. A G.M. clutch with diaphragm spring released a mere 36 lb load on the pedal. The enginebox unit was moved 1·5in. forward to add to passenger space, allowing for a narrower dividing console between the front seats. Electric current was provided by a Lucas alternator, Lucas also supplying the twin fuel pumps. These were the high-pressure immersion type, but in this case operated from outside the fuel tanks. There were actually 2 fuel tanks, both 11 gallon, and each with their own individual filler car situated on the rear quarter panel.
There was also plenty of standard kit. Luxury items included electric window lifts by Piper, push-button Radiomobile, and Britax inertia reel safety belts for the front seats. When not in use these would retract neatly into the forward faces of the rear armrests. Also standardized was a 5kw Smiths heater, arranged to warm all four occupants directly; ducts in the side-sills spilled into the rear compannment at floor level through adjustable outlets. The side windows were hinged for draught-free ventilation.

A telescopic steering column allowed the driver to set the wood-rim wheel perfectly, the instrument dials being directly in the drivers line of vision, housed in a raised binnacle. The fuel gauge, clock and ammeter were in a supplementary panel above the centre switcboard, which also included the heat and ventilation controls. There was a properly trimmed and carpeted boot, both symmetrical and free from projections. The spare wheel was located in a well beneath the floor. The seats here, trimmed in high-quality synthetic material, while leather was an option. While the seats themselves were both supportive and comfortable, the backrests were adjustable only by set-bolts with locking nuts. Deep framed windows and slender pillars ensured there was excellent all-round visibility.

Those lucky enough to have owned a Gordon-Keeble will tell you the car was like nothing else. With a kerb weight of just over 26cwt, it offered remarkable performance, svelt good looks and a level of quality and craftmanship long since forgotten. A tradgedy then that only 100 cars were ever built. Final closure came in February 1966 when the factory at Sholing closed and Jim Keeble moved to Keewest.

Sports Car World Road Test, November 1964

Enthusiasts everywhere have been asking: "Whatever happened to the Gordon* Keeble?" It is very much alive, as our special road impressions show."It doesn't really matter what gear you are in," said the man sitting next to me. "You'll find she will pull away in top from less than 500 rpm." The needle on the revolution counter dropped as the Gordon-Keeble slowed down to join the line of traffic crawling along Knights-bridge, one of London's fashionable shopping streets. The cars ahead began to move. The needle said 500, and I put my foot back on the throttle pedal. Without pinking, transmission judder, vibration or resonance, silently the car picked up speed and swept us towards Hyde Park.

The Gordon-Keeble is the youngest of a new generation of British high-performance cars. It goes fast, but quietly. The seats are comfortable and the carpets thick. Heads turn when you drive it through town, but not because they heard you coming; shape and color is the attraction. The Gordon-Keeble's beautiful body was styled by Bertone, whose handiwork can be seen in many of Europe's quality cars. Designed originally for production in steel, it has been translated faithfully into reinforced plastics by Williams and Pritchard of London. The prototype steel body was first seen in 1960 when John S. Gordon announced, somewhat prematurely, the existence of the Gordon GT.

The elegance of line was matched by an advanced mechanical specification. The car had both performance and comfort; those who drove the prototype remember it for the effortless way in which it went about its business. Yet it never went into production. One man whose imagination was captured by the car was George Wansbrough, present chairman of Gordon-Keeble Ltd. He and the car's designer, Jim Keeble, embarked on a program of development - at the same time searching for a factory in which to build the car. Premises were found at Southampton Airport, in Hampshire. Williams and Pritchard moved their master moulds, contracts were placed with outside suppliers for certain components, and a production line was set up. The initial target was about 10 cars a month.

Like the earlier Gordon GT, the Gordon-Keeble uses a Chevrolet V8 engine, but the capacity has been increased from 4.7 to 5.4 litres. It produces 300 bhp (gross) at 5200 rpm, which should enable the car to attain around 145 mph. Acceleration of 0-100 mph in 20 seconds is claimed. This is the quietest and most tractable version of the Chevrolet Corvette engine. A 340 bhp version will probably be made available later if customers demand it. The power unit is fed by twin Lucas fuel pumps, and electric current is provided by a Lucas alternator. Cooling systems comprise a crossflow radiator with header tank, and two thermostatically controlled electric fans made by Smiths.

The four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox has a light alloy casing and bell housing, and there is a choice of ratios. The clutch is the diaphragm spring type, said to operate at 36 lbs pedal load. A high-performance car has to spend just as much time in city traffic these days as any other vehicle, and the light clutch is a welcome feature. Three hundred feet of steel tubing goes into the frame of the Gordon-Keeble, and the result is a chassis as rigid as one could wish. The bodywork is not called upon to take any of the stresses, but the moulded components have been carefully planned to give rigidity to the complete structure. Several areas are double-skinned for extra strength. The passenger compartment is insulated with rigid polyurethane foam, and the floor is a sandwich laminate of polyester resin reinforced with glass-fibre, plastic foam and an aluminium undershield. The roof is lined with foam, resilient polyether for heat insulation.

The body of the car I drove was finished with a metallic gold paint, and it was some time before I realised that it was not an all-steel shell. The quality of workmanship in the glass-fibre body is outstanding. The corners and edges around the wheel arches, doors and boot lid are well filled, and I could find none of the bridges of unsupported resin often found with reinforced plastic bodyshells. The Gordon-Keeble uses polyester/glass " really well, and proves that the material can do justice to the work of specialist designers. The front suspension consists of wishbones and coil springs controlled by telescopic dampers. At the rear, the de Dion type axle is located by a transverse linkage and parallel radius arms. The dampers can be reset from the driving seat. Disc brakes are fitted all round, and separate hydraulic circuits with servos are provided for the front and rear systems.

I found the steering, Maries worm-and-wheel, rather heavy at low speeds but very positive. The gear lever was stiff to operate at first, but one soon became accustomed to it, and selection was quite easy. The progressive throttle action was impressive; too often high-powered cars come with throttles which work in a succession of jerks for the first part of their travel, and make town driving an embarrassment. The whispering V8 which powers the Gordon-Keeble is held in check by a throttle linkage which, like the rest of the car, suggests precision engineering. Sensibly, money saved on the differential has been spent on the furnishing of the car. Equipment like electric window lifts, push-button radio, inertia reel safety belts, a full set of instruments, and a heater with ducts to all four seats are included in the basic price - one which is remarkably low for a quality, limited production, car - of £2400 Stg, ex works.

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Also see:

Gordon-Keeble Specifications
Gordon-Keeble GT - USA Edition
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