One of the most enigmatic GTs ever made, the Gordon-Keeble blended Italian styling, American V8 power and British construction. Here’s how to get the best
How much to pay
• Project £10,000-20,000 • Good £43,000-60,000 • Concours £80,000-100,000 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
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Gordon who? You could be forgiven for wondering what we’ve uncovered for you now – which is fair enough, as only 100 of these Anglo-American beasts were built. Even if you know what the Gordon-Keeble is, you’ve probably never considered buying one, thanks to perceived high purchase and running costs – and the rarity of them.
However, although a decent ’Keeble isn’t pocket money to buy, they cost less to run than you’d think – and they’re one of the most durable classics around.
The Gordon-Keeble came about in 1959 thanks to John Gordon and Jim Keeble; they wanted to create a British luxury GT with American power and Italian styling. Giorgetto Giugiaro (working for Bertone) penned the elegant lines, and by 1964 a Southampton-based factory was building cars. Demand remained strong, but in 1966 the company started to have cashflow problems. As a result, Gordon-Keeble went into liquidation, despite holding orders for another 200 models.
Harold Smith Motors acquired the rights, but after just 20 more cars had been produced the new company also went bust. Initially things looked bleak, but then the De Bruyne Motor Company bought the rights with the aim of turning the Gordon-Keeble into something more suited to the American market. The result was an ugly, facelifted automobile that nobody wanted to buy.
Although the final cars were built more than half a century ago, 94 survive – although not all are up and running. There’s no reason now for any example to be scrapped, as just about everything is available to put one back on the road.
Your AutoClassics Gordon-Keeble GK1 inspection checklist
Powerful and unstressed, the 5355cc Corvette-sourced V8 gives few problems. Hot-starting problems will probably be due to a cooked starter motor, but could also be down to poor earthing to the powerplant. Tightening a bolt sometimes gets things moving again.
If cared for, the engine will happily notch up over 150,000 miles. Expect oil pressure of up to 60psi when cruising, but make sure the engine doesn’t run hot. Two electric fans were fitted, and one or both can fail. If the engine has been allowed to overheat it’s unlikely that the head gaskets will have blown, while the cylinder heads are cast iron, so they don’t warp.
The spark plugs and HT leads originally ran under heat shields, but due to rust these are often missing. Their absence won’t cause any problems, but be wary of an ignition system that’s past its best, causing misfiring. The leads aren’t accessible as the exhaust manifolds get in the way, so they’re often neglected. It’s the same with the oil filter, as the chassis tubes obstruct access, so this is sometimes left on for years.
If you can hear the exhaust manifold blowing, look at the complete system. Many owners fit an aftermarket exhaust that hangs lower than the original; this can ground out, leading to the cast-iron manifolds getting broken. They’re not standard Corvette units, so if you’re looking for authenticity the originals will have to be repaired as they’re no longer available. If you’re less bothered about originality, it’s possible to buy Corvette units and have them modified to fit. Factory-style exhausts are available in stainless steel.
Once the V8 has worn, expect tired piston rings and cylinder bores, resulting in blue exhaust smoke from oil being burned, especially when accelerating through the gears. It’s possible to buy new short engines or invest in a complete rebuild; the latter costs much less than you might expect.
The transmission is bomb proof, despite having to transmit 360lb ft of torque. Expect a heavy gearchange, while the lever is offset strongly to the left thanks to the transmission’s Corvette origins. Three cars have been converted to automatic transmission since they left the factory, and while such modifications don’t affect values, they may affect the saleability of the model because ’Keeble buyers generally expect to buy a car with a manual gearbox.
The rest of the transmission gives few problems; clutches last little more than 60,000-70,000 miles, but replacement is straightforward and cheap. The rear axle is the same Salisbury unit as is used in a Jaguar E-type, and even if worked hard there shouldn’t be problems.
Suspension and brakes
The factory fitted a Marles worm-and-peg steering box until car number 92, then a Rover P6 unit was installed, which is much more durable. Many early cars have been retro fitted with the P6 box.
Although the steering boxes are sharper than you’d think, many ’Keebles have been converted to a Cortina rack-and-pinion set-up, while the track-rod ends on the steering arm have been swapped to significantly change the suspension geometry. Originally the car’s handling could be slightly vague at high speeds, but with the modifications it’s more precise.
Listen for grumbling and whining from the back, especially when the car is cornered; it’s common for the rear wheelbearings to be replaced incorrectly. They have to be shimmed for the correct end float, and if this isn’t done correctly they’ll soon fail.
The brakes are pretty decent; there are Humber Hawk-sourced discs up front, Daimler SP250 discs at the rear and twin servos. Even with hard use they should remain fade free, but some owners have fitted a tandem master cylinder in place of the original pair, with the two-pot calipers swapped for three-pot Jaguar XJ6 items. This allows larger brake pads to be fitted, although the improvement isn’t dramatic.
Thanks to the glassfibre bodyshell corrosion isn’t an issue, but nor is serious cracking and crazing. The glassfibre is typically a quarter of an inch thick and, thanks to a substantial chassis, there’s little bodyshell flexing. If the bodyshell is showing signs of accident damage, replacement panels are available.
The chassis is very durable; made of one-inch square-section steel, corrosion isn’t usually an issue. The most important areas to check are the suspension-mounting points along with the four jacking points, which should have plugs fitted at their ends to stop water getting in. These are sometimes missing, but any rot is usually confined to the jacking point only. As long as they’re okay, everything else should be.
The bodyshell and chassis don’t always have to be separated to repair damaged chassis sections, and almost everything that you need to check can be seen by putting the car on a four-post ramp. The underside of the central chassis is skinned in aluminium, so there’s no need to worry about corrosion apart from around the rivets, where it can turn to powder. If an inspection of visible areas suggests major corrosion, it’s worth removing the aluminium skins to check the whole underside of the chassis tube structure.
If a complete chassis rebuild is needed, it’s not a disaster. As it’s a spaceframe, replacement tubes can be welded in easily enough, although it’s not especially cheap to do – especially if the bodyshell has to be removed.
The interior was trimmed in hard-wearing vinyl; cars that have retained their original trim have worn well and won’t necessarily need any remedial work, but leather retrims are common.
Although the brightwork fitted to the car’s exterior is durable (it’s chrome on brass in the main), sourcing replacement parts isn’t easy. Grilles and window frames are extinct, but badges are available. The three-piece bumpers, as with everything else, were bespoke. That’s why many owners fit Triumph 2000 items, although Rover P5 coupé units can be modified to go on.
Earthing problems and corroded connections are common, so check everything works. It’s easy to put it right, as all parts are contemporary proprietary units. The Jaeger instrumentation is from a TR3 and the lights are standard Lucas parts – with the exception of the taillights, which are very pricey. Cars from chassis 37 used Ferrari 250 GTE units; earlier models used items from the 1950s Fiat parts bin, and they’re nearly as expensive.
- 1964: Gordon-Keeble GK1 launched with front-mounted 300bhp 5355cc V8 and four-speed manual gearbox – both from the Corvette. Styling by Giugiaro, disc brakes all round
- 1966: Production moves to Harold Smith Motors and continues as before, although wheel width is increased to 5in and ventilation is improved
- 1967: Final factory car is built; car number 99
- 1970: A collection of parts is assembled to become car number 100
Far from being expensive to run and impractical to work on, the Gordon-Keeble is one of the most practical classics around. Although purchase costs are high, they’re not stratospheric. Even better, the owners’ club is especially active, with loads of meetings all over Europe to encourage the cars’ use.
All surviving models are known to the club, which is like one big family, and if you want to buy a ’Keeble you need to join. Consequently, you’ll be able to trace your car’s history, because all examples are logged and each one is known to some of the longer-standing club members.
Unusually, originality is often keenly avoided, as improvements make the cars more usable. Perhaps the best thing about the Gordon-Keeble is the ease of maintenance – this is a car that you can service easily at home, and cheaply, too. But the factory didn’t issue a workshop manual, so your best bet is to get friendly with another club member who knows their way around the car.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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Gordon-Keeble GK1 (1964-1966)