Imaginatively monikered after John Gordon of Peerless fame and Jim Keeble – the two chaps who formulated the concept after coming up with the idea of shoehorning a big American V8 into one of John’s Peerless chassis, the Gordon-Keeble is an often forgotten sixties British dream machine that features timeless Italian styling on the outside, good old British steel underneath and pure American muscle at its heart. The cherry on this particularly tasty cake is that the whole prototype was bolted together by Bertone, ubiquitous at the time for styling and building jaw-droppingly gorgeous GT cars. The body was designed by revered Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, he of MkI VW Golf and DMC DeLorean fame (kudos indeed), whilst the get-up-and-go came in the form of a whopping great 5.4-litre V8 after the top brass at Chevrolet in Detroit gave their blessing and supplied Corvette motors and gearboxes to the project. And if there are two things that we love here at Car and Classic its sexy lines and large displacement eight-cylinder engines.
The cars were built using a hand-made chassis of square-tubed steel whilst the original steel panels of the initial prototype were ditched in favour of a fibreglass body constructed by British coach builders Williams & Pritchard whose high-end clients included, amongst many others, Lotus and BRM – pretty impressive as far as endorsements go we must admit. Fitted with independent suspension as well as disc brakes all round, along with twin master cylinders and hydraulic servos, the Gordon-Keeble had handling to match its looks and performance from the Chevy V8 was particularly notable, propelling the car from 0-60 in under six seconds and on to 140mph. The motor was fitted with a Carter four-choke carburettor and produced a maximum power output of 300bhp at 5000rpm all going to the rear wheels as God intended and with 360lb ft of torque at 3200rpm the car could almost exclusively be driven in top gear should the mood for lazy Sunday afternoon jaunts take you.
Speaking of gears the four-speed manual gearbox was functional if not particularly performance-minded and the layout was often criticised as the gear lever was a little too far to the left of the driver, a design decision dictated by the gearbox itself being as it was intended predominantly for left-hooker American sports cars and not right-hand-drive British GTs. This is a minor gripe however with what is essentially a very accomplished car. The tried and tested V8 is pretty much bullet-proof and thanks to a 10:1 compression ratio it can be happily run on unleaded fuel without the need for any modifications. The car was praised by the press at the time who were suitably impressed with its leggy performance, comfort and handling although some denounced the meagre 14-20mpg, dismissing the car as an avocation of only the most wealthy of enthusiasts.
The interior is both spacious and luxurious. With ample room for four adults to travel comfortably and a large boot, the Gordon-Keeble is the perfect Grand Tourer, ideally suited to cross-continent road trips. It came fitted from the factory with bucket seats, electric windows and a heating system that was directed at all four passengers. Some complained about the lack of leather which we must admit does seem a little amiss for a car of such esteem but the decision was made to keep costs down and the quilted dash and door cards do have their appeal while the wooden-trimmed steering wheel sets the cabin off perfectly.
With a satisfyingly OCD production run of exactly 100 cars, 99 between 1964 and 1967 and the 100th in 1971, the Gordon-Keeble is a rare beast indeed. This small output was mainly due to the inability to secure a major financial backer before the company was able to become profitable and problems with parts supply, coupled with an unrealistically low sales price effectively caused the all-to-early demise of the company and therefore the car along with it. For all intents and purposes the Gordon-Keeble should have been a roaring success, and in a way it was but sadly the universe was conspiring against it and despite best efforts the car never reached the heady heights of its competitors, despite appearing to have everything it needed to do so. As it turned out the only piece of the puzzle that was lacking was cold, hard cash. The last car built was put together with a collection of spares rather than being a product of the main manufacturing run but overall the cars were lauded as being well made and reliable to boot.
In 1968 an attempt was made by a gentleman by the name of John de Bruyne to relaunch the car when he bought all of the remaining assets of Keeble Cars Ltd as the company was then known, following the demise and liquidation of the original Gordon-Keeble firm due to the aforementioned parts supply problems in 1965. After a few styling tweaks mostly focused on lights, the new car, dubbed the “de Bruyne Grand Touring” was showcased at the New York Motor Show but the project was subsequently deemed nonviable and the idea was dropped. So it remained that the only cars available were the original tortoise-emblazoned Gordon-Keebles. All cars were badged with this rather incongruous emblem and as the story goes the rather relaxed reptile was chosen because of its predilection to be involved in photo-shoots for the car, wandering as it did into shot having been someone’s pet at the time. It’s not quite a prancing horse or charging bull but that only adds to the charm.
Owning one of these cars today is a very viable proposition. There is a fantastic club in place, having been established in 1970 and still going strong with a faithful following. It’s a useful source of history, information and advice on the marque and we would advocate becoming a member if you are serious about buying one of these fine machines. The small block V8 is a doddle to work on and maintain and there is respectable potential for tuning and power increases should that be your bag. Rust is not really a concern due to the glass fibre body and there are still myriad parts available. It remains a practical classic with room for the family and still enough performance to put a smile on the faces of all but the truly impervious speed freak.
We think these cars deserve way more recognition and if it wasn’t for the financial difficulties encountered by the company during production it would almost certainly have gone on to become a big seller, successfully competing with the Jaguars and Astons of the time. All of this is good news for the investor or enthusiast today however and if you want to own an elegant British sports car with superlative design and performance to match but also hanker after the exclusivity that only comes with such a low volume production run then the Gordon-Keeble is the car for you. A first-class Grand Tourer, the only problem aside from fuel bills might be finding one for sale, although astonishingly most of the original cars are known to the club so they are out there. Owners adore these cars too though so it might take some serious persuasion to actually acquire one.
With Italian styling, an English chassis and an American engine, in a modern world so divided it’s nice to be reminded of these wonderful international collaborations from days gone by.