Eastleigh’s luxury sports car celebrates 50 years

A fleet of rare Gordon-Keeble Cars returned to their ‘birthplace’ to celebrate 50 years since production of the car started in 1964. Built at Southampton Airport, in the building also famous for the production of the early Spitfire aircraft, the cars were manufactured there until 1966.

A Gordon-Keeble procession began at Southampton Airport yesterday marking the start of the cars’ return to their home area, a celebration spanning from 27th – 29th June. Forty-nine cars from around the world assembled in chassis order on the top floor of the airport’s car park – the building on the site of the previous factory – and drove in formation through Spitfire Loop in front of the airport’s terminal.

The cars continue their celebrations by visiting Beaulieu, Southampton Civic Centre, Winchester and Eastleigh High Street.

They will even re-visit the fabled Jim Keeble test route where Jim personally tested each car at 140mph.

The cars, produced by John Gordon and Jim Keeble harnassed the power of a American muscle car in a light weight bodyshell made from the same stuff as a Robin Reliant – glass fibre.

Hardly surprising then, that it was one of the fastest production cars on British roads – contrary to what you might expect from it’s badge which featured a tortoise.

Only an E-type was quicker from 0-60 but the Gordon-Keeble had the advantage of four usable seats.

A 300 Bhp 5.4 litre V8 engine from a Corvette fed by a multi-choke carb sat on a chassis evolved from another classic British marque – Peerless – while the body was styled in Turin by Carozzeria Bertone’s chief designer Giugiaro  who went on to design another classic British sports car – the original Lotus Espirit.

Giugiaro’s styling took design cues from his work on the Alfa Sprint and the Ferrari 250 giving the Gordon-Keeble a truly continental look reinforcing its image as an ‘International Tourer’.

Jan Halliday of Southampton Airport waves them off

Jan Halliday of Southampton Airport waves them off

Twin petrol tanks gave it 400 mile range and disc brakes all round made sure you could stop when you got there.

The interior has a dashboard full of dials and long throw switches while an abundance of quilted upholstery and the smell of wood and leather adds to the kind of sensory overload you can only experience when sat behind the wheel of a classic British sports car.

Although Gordon-Keeble had  intended to produce around 200 vehicles a year  the company was in trouble almost as soon as production started. Not only was the selling price of £2,800  the same as the average price of a house, but problems in the supply chain meant it was impossible to maintain production and generate steady cash flow.

Gordon Keeble 50th Anniversary

Former workers line up with Gordon Keeble cars and their owners

Brothers Eric and Geoff Whitlock were among former workers at the celebration on Friday and Eric explained:

“There were lots of strikes at suppliers of component parts and engines so supply dried up.

We couldn’t keep production going, it was a shame really.

If the parts had come in we could have kept going for longer.”

Admiring the line up of gleaming cars – which they had helped produce Geoff added:

“I’m amazed to see them going as long as they have”

Eric agreed:

“We feel real proud to have built them and they look just as good as when they came off the shop floor.”

The brothers worked in body construction for the whole time the cars were assembled at the airport before transferring to premises in nearby Sholing to do repairs

“Jim Keeble was a lovely man” said Eric “we enjoyed working with him.”

Mike Webster, of the Gordon-Keeble Owners’ Club said:

“The fiftieth anniversary is an important milestone and the GKOC felt it was essential to return the cars to their original home and enable the people of Hampshire to enjoy a world record gathering of them. We could think of no better place to start our celebrations than the original factory site.”

Jan Halliday, the Airport’s Director of Marketing who waved the vehicles off with a chequered flag said afterwards:

“We were very honoured to welcome these rare Gordon-Keeble cars back to Southampton Airport, the place where it all began.

It was fascinating to meet the people who had built these very special cars and to see the pride that their enthusiastic owners take in preserving the cars’ heritage.”

Find out more about these cars at Wikipedia here and at the owners club site here

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