An Englishman who wanted to buy a brand new Chevrolet Corvette in the ’60s was likely to have a pretty torrid time of things. He would either need to buy his car from somebody who had already gone to the effort of shipping one over, or he would have to handle the entire convoluted undertaking himself. It’s likely that the amount of work involved would have put a great many people off. Fortunately, if you handed a handsome pile of cash over to Messrs Gordon and Keeble; they could avail you of a pretty compelling alternative. The recipe is a familiar one. American firepower, Italian styling and British “craftsmanship”, glue and nails. It had all happened before and invariably had a Jensen badge on the front of it. But the Jensen CV8 and the Interceptor after that had been big, heavy machines, closer in flavour to Bentley and Bristol. The plan with the Gordon Keeble was to end up with an actual “sports car”. John Gordon’s CV was an interesting one, the chap having been a co-founder of Peerless, who were a low-volume producer of sporty cars built on unprepossessing chassis. The Peerless GT had been based on the oily bits from a Triumph TR3, with plastic bodywork clothing a tubular steel spaceframe chassis. By the standards of the day it had been perfectly OK, but, you know, it lacked a certain something. Enter stage left a gent called Jim Keeble. Jim was a former racing driver who had opened his own garage not far from Southampton. His racing experience had exposed him to a lot of technology that Mr Gordon had not, himself, been exposed to, including the little 215ci Buick V8 which would soon be all the rage. He had been intrigued by the idea of how the Peerless might perform allied to V8 Grunt. It was around this time that John met Jim. John was all sad and fed up that nobody was buying peerlesses any more. Jim had been approached by what sounds like a thoroughly brilliant bloke called Rick Neilson who, like Keeble, was fascinated by the Peerless, but wanted EVEN MORE POWER. He was talking about Corvette engines, which is exactly the kind of thing a fighter pilot might do, really. Now, they could have just crammed the Corvette engine into the old Peerless and have done with it, but instead Gordon and Keeble sensed an opportunity. The Peerless spaceframe was still OK so they had something to start with, but the bodywork was a little bit stuck in the ’50s. They set about re-imagining their beloved car. A young Giorgetto Giugiaro, early into his tenure with Bertone, won the task of designing the new shape, and a good job he did too. It’s a major step forward from the Peerless, with timeless, classical lines and one of the happiest applications of “Chinese eye” headlamp placement there ever was. The long hood, crisp roofline and restrained tail end styling had Maserati overtones, and the rear lights were common with the Ferrari 250GTE. Which is nice. The bodywork was built from GRP by local specialists, GM were officially on board with the project and gave their full support. This car wears a genuine set of J.A. Pearce Magna magnesium alloy wheels, which have done well to survive for fifty odd years. They look amazing. The end product was quite something. Grunt from that lump (283Ci through to 325ci) was conveyed to the road via De Dion axle, which handled the power with some aplomb. Brakes were disc all round, transmission was four-speed, close ratio, manual, the way it should be. 0-60 was in the low sixes. It was a delicious prospect that this demure, sophisticated looking machine should be able to light its tyres with nary a moment’s provocation, as demonstrated in the Youtube video below (Thanks Simon Holroyd). Feel free to wind on to 50 seconds. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-i1reS9NMA[/youtube] Alas, the Gordon Keeble endeavour was all over after 99 production cars, with an additional one built out of spare parts at the end. According to Teh Internets, at least 90 of the production run are still extant. Common consent seems to be that our heros Mr Gordon and Mr Keeble simply failed to charge enough money for their efforts and the business just couldn’t stay alive. Seeing three of them parked together like this was something of a treat. [Images Copyright Hooniverse/Chris Haining 2014, video uploaded by Simon Holroyd, published by Youtube]
Gordon Keeble: A Sting Ray for England
RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.