Category: Sport cars
Ginetta? Sounds like a holiday romance in Rimini, unless you are racing driver. Let me explain. In the late Fifties, the Walklett brothers, Bob, Douglas, Ivor and Trevers, modified and then wrote off an old Wolseley Hornet. The seed was sewn and they went on to produce some of the nicest, proprietary-engined, glass-fibre-bodied road/race cars of the Sixties and Seventies. Countless rivals include Marcos, Turner, Unipower, TVR and Davrian. Ginettas were giantkillers – the gorgeous little G4 was the archetypal daily driver/race winner. Those that survive are worth a small fortune.
Like its contemporaries, fortune's vicissitudes dealt Ginetta a mixed hand. The Walkletts cannily maintained the company's reputation for innovation, track success and keen pricing until their retirement in 1989. After that the Ginetta name passed into the hands of a bunch of Sheffield businessmen headed by Martin Phaff. It was moved to Scunthorpe with mixed success. In 2005 it was purchased by Lawrence Tomlinson, a successful businessman and racing driver.
With funding from his successful LNT Group, Tomlinson has turned Ginetta around by moving out of road-car manufacture. Instead he took on the race-car industry, which traditionally knows how to charge but seldom offers much customer satisfaction. Tomlinson got his 70 employees making good-looking, safe, strong and good-value racing cars capable of running in Ginetta's support series for the British Touring Car Championship, or winning in any number of series round the world.
Tomlinson, 47, is the epitome of a tough, outspoken Yorkshireman, but behind the bluff, whiskery exterior there's an enthusiast who's clearly proud of his achievements and his staff. There's a bullish confidence as befits one of the richest men in Britain, but he's as shrewd as a fox and good company. And now he's moving Ginetta back into making road cars with the new G40.
"We did consider a road car based on the G50, but it wasn't that good," says Tomlinson, who is acutely aware of the problems that have beset his rivals – cash flow, stock control and competition from major car makers if a niche becomes too successful.
"We don't want to be a mainstream manufacturer," he says. "I don't give a chuff about that. Our customers want a car that's mechanically excellent, that drives and steers as a good driver wants. This new car is mechanically identical to the one which I drove to Snetterton, did the 24-hour race with three lads from the factory and won by 16 laps."
You get the feeling there's a lot more of Tomlinson in the new G40 than he cares to admit. And while it isn't as pretty as the old G4, it is still a handsome mini GT with little side strakes, a wide bonnet and a tough stance ending in a duck-tailed boot courtesy of the aerodynamics derived from the between-wars research of Dr Wunibald Kamm.
Under the GRP skin is a massive welded tubular steel chassis built in-house on jigs to ensure consistency. The engine is from Ford, the gearbox from Mazda, the wishbone suspension is bespoke and, like the rest of the car, supplied by British specialist engineering firms. "It's good to support local businesses and usually you get a good job done," says Tomlinson.
So the £29,995 G40 is a race car you can drive on the road, rather than the other way round. To that end the body doesn't even get paint, just a coloured gel coat in a choice of six colours. It weighs just 1,792lb (795kg) and while that's terrific for power-to-weight ratio, we would have liked a little more stiffness in the bonnet and boot lid, which wobble alarmingly at speed, while the wavy gel-coat finish takes some getting used to.
The cabin leaves you in no doubt what the car is for, either. Where there is upholstery, it's done well in Alcantara with smart stitch lines and tight curves. There isn't a lot of it, though, and the floor and lower sides are left in bare resin, with the bare bars of the formidable-looking FIA-approved roll cage an all-too present statement of intent. Door bars make climbing in somewhat ungainly, but once you slide into the racing seat the driving position is comfortable, supportive and purposeful.
The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake and there's an option to detach it to aid egress. Steering column stalks are out of a parts bin, there's a bespoke panel of aluminium-alloy push buttons in the centre console for all the other functions, including the heated front windscreen and optional air-conditioning. It's all pretty cosy, but you can see out easily and despite the roll hoop the screen pillars don't obscure too much. The 200-litre boot is big enough for a bag containing your racing gear, but that's about it.
Start her up and the Ford's grisly drone fills the cabin. Blue-collar power, the 175bhp Duratec lump does the business but sounds as sullen and angry as a Dr Feelgood track. The Mazda transmission more than makes up for it, snicking across the gate, with a tight limited-slip differential, which was beginning to sound a bit noisy on our test car.
In fact there's a fair bit of noise all told. At speeds over 60mph you'll be shouting at your passenger and a radio would be as pointless as Jeremy Clarkson at the United Nations. I naively considered a £5,800 Quaife sequential gearbox upgrade to be a good idea, but while it makes changes instantaneous it sounds like something out of the Hammer House of Horror.
The steering is pointy but not darting and the nose turns into corners like a hare jinking across a field. Grip on Michelin Sport Pilot 2 rubber is strong and the ride is hard but not harsh, and you can adjust the dampers at a click of a valve. There's not the compliance or finesse of a road car, but this is an accommodating little coupé which suffers foolish behaviour if not actual fools. But while there's safety in the hefty roll cage, the G40 lacks the airbags, crumple zones, traction control or anti-lock brakes of a modern GT and you need to be mindful of that.
I used to own a car like this, an insanely souped-up Triumph so cammy it would shake a pint of beer off the bonnet at idle, so tuned it would send streamers of flame out of the exhaust on overrun. It was my daily driver and I loved it, but it wasn't easy to live with. The G40, though vastly more powerful and capable, is like my old Triumph; tough to live with, but uncompromisingly fast and sharp – a bit like Tomlinson himself.
Tested: 1,999cc, four-cylinder Ford Duratec engine, six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £29,950/October
Power/torque: 175bhp @ 5,000rpm, 206lb ft @ 5,000rpm
Top speed: 140mph
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 5.8sec
Fuel economy: 29mpg (manufacturer's estimate)
CO2 emissions: 181g/km
VED band: I (£315 for first year, £210 thereafter)
Verdict: Fantastic little car which recaptures the spirit and agility of the original Ginettas. Expensive and Spartan, but exhilarating with great handling. Needs a little sorting, however, and a better body finish
Telegraph rating: Four out of five
Radical SR3 SL, from £67,750
Peterborough-based manufacturer is the first of its type to use Ford's Ecoboost turbo engine, which gives up to 300bhp in the latest SR3 (launched at the Frankfurt show next month). One look tells you all you need to know. Are you hard enough?
Caterham Superlight R300, from £30,000
One of the best balanced derivatives of Colin Chapman's minimalist two-seater. Naturally aspirated 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine gives 175bhp and 139lb ft, with a top speed of 140mph and 0-60mph in 4.5sec. Cramped, noisy and just about perfect.
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