A British Grand Tourer, Chevrolet V8 powered, and sleek Italian styling. The Gordon-Keeble was, and still is, a fantastic drive. It’s the car that had it all. But its history is one of troubled roads and a limited production of just 100 cars.
Astonishingly, all except 10 cars still exist today, at least 70 of which are still in use, making the Gordon-Keeble a very sought after classic car. As the Gordon-Keeble turns 60 in 2024, we retrace the evolution of this remarkable vehicle and speak to the owner of one very cherished model.
In the late 1950s, John Gordon had teamed up with Peerless Cars to develop their British-built sports saloons. Imagining the fun that could be had if the car was V8 powered rather than the four-cylinder TR3 engine, Gordon travelled to Detroit on a promotional trip where he purchased a couple of Chevrolet Corvette V8 engines, shipping them back to the Peerless factory in Slough.
Working with Jim Keeble, a well-known “specials” builder from Suffolk, the pair built a one-off Peerless V8 for a client but by the time the car was finished, Gordon had left Peerless to work on his own project – a luxury V8 powered Coupe. Inviting Keeble to engineer the new project, development began in 1959. Gordon appointed a stylist for the new car in 1960, Giorgetto Giugiaro, who at the tender age of 21 was already chief stylist at Bertone, and voilà, the Gordon-Keeble GT was born. With British craftsmanship, American V8 powered and sleek Italian styling, it’s the car that had it all.
The new Gordon-Keeble GT was unveiled in Geneva in 1960 and it proved a great success! John Gordon went on to establish the Gordon Automobile Company in March 1960, setting up a factory in Eastleigh Hampshire, but later walked away after a fall out with his financial backer and ex-Jowett man, George Wansborough. Now in the custody of Wansborough, Jim Keeble was invited back to the business.
Despite the change of ownership, the car would still be called the Gordon-Keeble, and an updated GK-1 Coupe fibreglass bodied car was revealed in 1964, complete with a new badge emblem. Gordon had taken the rights to the original stag head emblem with him, so a new tortoise emblem was introduced – supposedly chosen because one happened to wander in front of the car when it was being photographed. It’s certainly a talking point!
As an affordable luxury car, the orders started to roll in, and by late 1964 the factory was producing four cars a week. Sadly, despite its popularity, the margins were just too tight. Each car sold was financing the next one, and parts supply chains were affected by strikes and stock levels, holding up production. By 1965, the business went into liquidation. The company was refinanced and restructured, and production continued for a few more years, but ultimately this was the beginning of the demise of Gordon-Keeble. Time was eventually called in 1968. In total, 99 cars had been built and a 100th later made from spare parts in 1970.
Roll forward to summer 2023, and we were delighted to see Gordon-Keeble represented at Festival of the Dead, the car show. Celebrating bygone marques and showcasing small British motor manufacturers that are still here today, living and breathing in the cherished classics cars that we all enjoy, it was made even more poignant when a Gordon-Keeble went home with an FotD award!
Presented by Nick Black, son of Sir John Black, joint managing director of the Hillman Motor Car Company and chairman of Standard-Triumph, the Best of British award was presented to Tim Arnold with his 1964 Gordon-Keeble GK-1 Coupe.
As the Gordon-Keeble turns 60 in 2024, we caught up with Tim to hear how he is keeping the Gordon-Keeble dream alive.
Welcome Tim, what started your passion for classic vehicles?
It started with motorbikes, which ended badly with a broken leg. Once that had mended, I passed my car driving test and bought an old Morris Oxford for £50 which I later part-exchanged for a Lotus 7 Mk1 together with £25. Difficult to believe now!
The 7 already had the original 1172cc side valve engine replaced with a 1200cc Ford Anglia engine, which I subsequently changed to a 1650cc engine sourced from Gem Marsh at Marcos. I’ve also owned a TVR Grantura 11A, Triumph TR4, Ginetta G4, Mini Cooper 1275S, Lotus 7 series 2, Lotus Elan series 2, and finally, a Lotus Elan series 3. Then in 1972 I got married and no more toys until 1989…
What attracted you the Gordon-Keeble?
I bought my Gordon-Keeble in 2015, having first seen one in my 1965 edition of The Observers Book of Automobiles. I was an admirer of the clean lines created by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro and liked the concept of dropping in the 327 Chevrolet Corvette engine with the Warner 4-speed gearbox.
Does the car have an interesting history?
The car was ordered new by Dennis Somervil of Wolverhampton who owned it for 20 years. It then passed through several owners and the history becomes obscure, ending up in rather a sad state and requiring major restoration. The bodywork and interior were carried out in France, and I think the result is stunning. Since then, I have carried out a rolling mechanical restoration which culminated in the engine/gearbox rebuild.
The body and interior have been restored to original specification; however, the colour combination has been changed. It was originally dark blue with a red interior, and it is now a more striking blue with a grey leather interior.
Please tell us about the engine and running gear
The engine is the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray small block 327 which is 5400cc and of course a V8, rated at 300bhp. This is coupled to a manual 4-speed Warner gearbox. It has independent suspension, double wishbone front and De Dion rear with 4-wheel disc brakes with twin servos.
All of this results in lively performance, even by modern standards and with effortless acceleration.
What have been your highlights since owning the car?
GK52 has been used on many club outings including to the Brecon Beacons, Yorkshire, and Shropshire, where we were privileged to drive up Shelsley Walsh hill climb.
I was also honoured to be chosen for display at the 2015 Goodwood Road Racing Club open day, and of course winning the Best of British award at the Festival of the Dead at Burghley House.
Are you a member of a car club?
I belong to the Gordon Keeble Owners Club. The car was shown at the NEC Classic Motor Show in November 2023 on the club stand. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Gordon-Keeble in 2024 where we are visiting the Isle of Wight.
Thank you, Tim, for talking to us and sharing the story of your Gordon-Keeble GT-I Coupe. We look forward to hearing all about the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Gordon-Keeble.
For specialist insurance for your Gordon-Keeble or cherished classic car, speak to the ClassicLine Insurance team on 01455 639 000.