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Corvette powered Gordon-Keeble: The best classic car you've never heard of

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The Gordon-Keeble may be the best collectible car you’ve never heard of. Only 99 examples of this British car were manufactured between 1964 and 1966 when production ceased. Another car was assembled in 1967 from parts that were left over when the company went out of business giving us a total of 100 cars.

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Superb Design and American Power
The Gordon-Keeble GK1 was the official name of the production 2+2 Grand Touring car that featured a rigid British designed space frame, a fiberglass body designed by famed Italian carrozziere Bertone and American power in the form of a 300 hp Corvette 327 cu. in engine coupled to a four speed manual transmission. The chassis included 4 wheel Girling disc brakes, independent front suspension with unequal length A-arms and coil springs, and a de Dion tube rear suspension.

Performance was equal to or better than its competitors, the Ferrari 330 GT, the Jaguar Mk10, the Mercedes 300 SE and the Iso Rivolta. With a 0 to 60 mph time of 6 seconds, a 0 to 100 mph time of 16.1 seconds and a top speed of over 140 mph, the February 1966 issue of British magazine Car and Car Conversions called it “…the fastest-accelerating car we have ever tested”.

All the Trimmings
The great performance did not come at the expense of luxury. After all, the Gordon-Keeble was designed to carry four people rapidly in grand style and comfort. Standard equipment included adjustable reclining bucket seats, power windows, two speed windshield wipers, radio with twin speakers, seat belts, windshield washers and full instrumentation.

However, the Gordon-Keeble was designed to undercut the selling prices of its competition and that necessitated a vinyl interior rather than real leather. As pointed out by one reviewer, the feel and texture of the vinyl were on par with the leather and the only thing missing was the real leather smell.

The Gordon GT
The Gordon-Keeble was John Gordon’s second foray into the world of car manufacturing, the first being with Peerless Motors Ltd in the mid 1950s. Peerless made approximately 300 Peerless GTs, a 2 + 2 sports car with Triumph power, before financial difficulties forced the company to reorganize.

John Gordon left Peerless in 1959 and joined with engineer and race car designer Jim Keeble to pursue their idea of building a bigger, more luxurious GT with V8 power. The result was the Gordon GT, a prototype of the later Gordon-Keeble GK1. The construction of the Gordon GT was similar to that of the GK1, except that the body was hand formed aluminum, designed by a young Giorgio Giugiaro and built in Italy by Bertone. The prototype made its debut in the Bertone exhibit at the 1960 Geneva Motor Show to great acclaim.

Later that year, the Gordon GT was shipped to the United States to be evaluated by General Motors. Among those who drove the Gordon GT were Chevrolet General Manager Ed Cole and Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov. GM was sufficiently impressed that they reached agreement with John Gordon and Jim Keeble to supply 1,000 Corvette engines and transmissions. Gordon-Keeble Ltd. was on its way!

Gordon-Keeble GK1
Production of the car was delayed by changes to the chassis to accommodate the recently introduced Corvette 327 cu. in. engine and to make the body from fiberglass instead of metal. By 1963 the production version of the Gordon-Keeble, the GK1 reached the market as a 1964 model and sold for a price of approximately $7,800 fully equipped. The auto media continued to be impressed by the GK1 and sales were steady. The relatively low selling price achieved its intended purpose of undercutting the prices of the competition, but it limited the company’s income and kept the firm in a tenuous cash flow position.

After 80 cars had been sold through 1964, the financial roof at Gordon-Keeble Ltd. fell in. The workers at the company that supplied the steering boxes for the GK1 went on strike leaving 16 new cars that were complete except for the steering boxes sitting at the factory unsalable. The inability to sell new cars during the strike was enough to force Gordon-Keeble Ltd to close its doors in March of 1965.

The company was purchased from the liquidators later in 1965 and was reorganized as Keeble Cars Ltd, although neither John Gordon nor Jim Keeble was part of the new organization. The new owners immediately increased the price of the GK1 (and changed the name to the IT for international touring) in an attempt to avoid the cash flow crises that sunk Gordon-Keeble Ltd. The increase in price had the opposite result when sales dropped precipitously. Keeble Cars Ltd. made a go of it until the summer of 1966 when it too was forced to into liquidation.

Gordon-Keeble Owners Club
The GK1 and the later IT have been out of production for over 45 years, but thanks to the loyalty of the owners and a robust build quality, it is estimated that 90% of the cars still exist. The Gordon-Keeble Owners Club, formed in 1970, has traced all 100 cars that were ever built and maintains an active support network for repair and service. It is a tribute to the car and to the owners that the Gordon-Keeble Owners Club was able to get 40 cars together in 2004 to celebrate the car’s 40th anniversary.

2014 will be the 50th anniversary of the birth of the GK1 and the goal of the owners club is to get 50 cars together for the celebration. Although this number represents half of the total number of Gordon-Keeble cars ever built, given the loyalty of the owners, the stout construction of the cars and the tenacity of the owners club, we think it’s a pretty safe bet that they will meet their goal.

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Copyright September 2011 by Bruce H. Troxell

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