Stop, Stop, Stop!! So we’re on the doorstep of the new year, but it is still 2017, so let’s take a moment to celebrate a big anniversary of a small but iconic sportscar.
But fear not, I’m not talking about that coveted Italian sportscar which has celebrated a rather overexposed 70th anniversary this year. I’m sure the majority of us have had more than enough of that by now. Instead, we’re visiting a small British sportscar manufacturer which stems back to 1958. More importantly, their biggest commercial success to date, the Ginetta G15 has celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but sadly it would seem that this grand occasion has been somewhat lost in the midst of other automotive anniversaries this year. Let’s see to it that we put this right…
More often than not, the really interesting marques all have one thing in common: there is one or maybe a couple of very prolific individuals behind the brand and its cars. This is most certainly also the case when it comes to Ginetta. The four Walklett brothers all shared a deep interest and passion for motorsport, and they were certainly never afraid of standing out and doing things their way. While running an engineering firm together, they were also avid visitors of their local Snetterton race circuit. This lead to them eventually trying their combined skills at building a one-off simple race car – the Ginetta G1. This in turn was enough for them to set up Ginetta Cars in 1958, with Bob as the managing director, Ivor as designer, Trevor as stylist and Douglas as works manager. Production of the Ginetta G2 – their first car offered for sale to the public – was soon going strong. Focus on racing cars was always a fundamental part of Ginetta, and lead to cars such as the evergreen Ginetta G4, and the brutally effective mid-engined Ginetta G12.
However, with the G10 and especially the lesser engined G11, the Walklett brothers had attempted something much more along the lines of a GT car. By the end of 1966 they felt it was time to give this formula another shot, but this time with a smaller yet more sophisticated approach. The result had them attending their first Earls Court Motor Show in the following year, where they presented the rear-engined 2-seater sports coupé – the Ginetta G15.
While officially introduced to the world of motoring enthusiasts in 1967, production of the lithe coupé didn’t commence until the following year, largely due to delayed parts supply from outside providers. A rigid in-house chassis had been developed extending not just full-length but also full-width, rather than the popular at the time narrow backbone chassis often used by other comparable manufacturers. At the heart of the whole concept was of course the rear-mounted, Coventry Climax derived, all-aluminium 875cc Rootes Imp engine. Ginetta used the recently launched Imp Sport version of the engine, where a head with larger inlet valves and a slightly more aggressive camshaft was used in conjunction with twin Stromberg 125CD carburetors and a four-branch tubular exhaust manifold, all of which added up to a power hike from stock 42hp to 55hp. The engine remained paired not just with the Imp transaxle, but also with the complete independent rear suspension from the Imp. At the front, both suspension and steering were taken care of through a Triumph Spitfire set-up, albeit with a Ginetta-designed anti roll bar. A curb weight of a mere 501 kg. (1,105 lbs.), the independent suspension set-up on all four corners, and a very low center of gravity, all equated to extremely flat and precise handling characteristics, which only superlatives can ever come close to properly describing.
The diminutive G15 could be bought in either component form (or kit-car as it is often termed nowadays) or fully factory assembled. As cars bought in component form at the time were not affected by VAT, the price difference was quite substantial at £849 and £1,110 respectively. This no doubt explains why the majority of G15’s were purchased for self-assembly. Especially as it was claimed that assembly could easily be done at home during a single weekend.
During the G15’s life span several improvements were made by Ginetta. Not many series 1 cars were produced before the series 2 was rolled out, with the majority of alterations focused around the interior with a re-designed glassfibre fascia and better seats. Then in 1971 the series 3 saw several further improvements, the visually most obvious being larger rear side windows, which both increased all-round visibility as well as contributing to an overall more coherent design. However, under the skin there were more changes such as an optional electrical cooling fan situated in front of the radiator, a still optional but more efficient cabin heater from the Triumph GT6, a steering/ignition lock, minor enhancements to both suspension and brakes, and not least optional Cosmic Mk1 alloy wheels designed specifically for the G15 in place of the stock steel items. Late in 1972 further cosmetic changes appeared in the form of integrated doorhandles borrowed from BL’s Austin/Morris Marina, and front indicators now housed in small forward facing pods along with sidelights being incorporated into the main headlights. Once again though, there were further, less visible changes such the petrol tank now being constructed from steel rather than glassfibre in order to meet new safety regulations and also much improved door stops. In 1973 the series 4 was introduced with several new options such as the Cosmic Mk1 alloy wheels phased out in favour of the new Cosmic Mk2 wheels, which now came wrapped in radial tyres. Towards the end of production, Ginetta even introduced the G15 S utilizing the bored out 998cc Imp engine to achieve 70hp over the previous 55hp. While an extra 15hp may not sound of much, think of it as a 27% power increase and it’s suddenly easier to understand how this could boost performance from a claimed 100mph to 115mph, while cutting acceleration from 12.9 seconds to a mere 9 seconds for the sprint from 0 – 60 mph.
Sadly though, 1973 proved a tough year for Ginetta and their G15 model. The fuel-crisis hit the whole car industry hard, and to make matters worse, as of April 1973 the UK government imposed VAT on component cars as well. As such, all G15 were fully factory built from this point onwards, and the selling price increased dramatically to a hefty £1,395. Ginetta didn’t give up without a fight, and launched an increased promotional drive along with the introduction of the series 4 cars. However, it proved insufficient and only a year later the production of the G15 ceased in April 1974 with approximately 800 cars having been produced.
While perhaps not Ginetta’s finest hour, it’s only appropriate to mention the attempted resurrection of the G15 in 1978. The initiative was not that of the Walklett brothers though, but instead came from the US Ginetta agent, Art Allen. He was so impressed with the G15’s many achievements in motorsport even after production had come to an end, that he felt inspired to commission the brothers to build him a new G15 for the American market. Some changes were made to the body in an attempt to bring it up-to-date, and of course these new G15’s needed to be LHD. But the Imp engine was no longer available from Rootes (which was of course by now taken over by Chrysler), so substantial changes were made to the frame in order to accommodate a 1600cc VW boxer-engine. The car was dubbed the Ginetta G15 Super S. Despite Art Allen’s best efforts to promote the car in the US, it never took off and only eight examples were ever built. Today, most Ginetta enthusiasts would probably prefer to end the story on a high in April 1974.
Regardless, the ingenious little G15 still turned out to be Ginetta’s biggest commercial success, hugely out-selling any previous models, and is still to date probably the best known Ginetta produced. More importantly, 50 years after it was conceived by the Walklett brothers, it’s still putting ear-to-ear grins on the face of Ginetta owners all around the world. Let’s all raise a glass to the brilliant Ginetta G15!
Ginetta – The Illustrated History by John Rose