Celebration of One of the Greatest Supercars of its day
The Gordon-Keeble was one of the great supercars of its day, and this year marks its 50th anniversary. Crafted in Eastleigh, Southampton, on the grounds of what is now Southampton Airport, only 99 cars were ever made, 95 of which only remain.
The Gordon-Keeble’s anniversary was marked with a rally, with a fleet of these rare cars returning to their ‘birthplace’ to celebrate on 28th June 2014.
The procession began at the city’s airport, with forty-nine cars from around the world assembled in chassis order on the top floor of the building’s car park before driving in formation through Spitfire Loop in front of the airport’s terminal.
Gordon Keeble 50th Anniversary Rally
Mike Webster, a member of the Gordon-Keeble owner’s 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."
The Gordon-Keeble’s Past, Present and Future
The high-performance Gordon-Keeble cars were produced at Southampton Airport for three years, between 1964 and 1967, in an old aircraft hangar that had once been used to assemble Spitfire aircraft.
The Hampshire town of Eastleigh was a strange choice of location. Best known for nothing more exciting than its railway works, and once having had Benny Hill as a milkman, John Gordon and Jim Keeble intended to use it as a base for creating a car to rival the finest European GTs, which would undercut its nearest competitor by a dramatic £2,900.
The car they produced would be frequently mistaken for an Aston Martin, with its exquisite GRP coachwork, cloaking a spaceframe chassis taken from an early design from the young Giorgetto Giugiaro. The brilliant Chevrolet Corvette 5.4-litre V8 unit ensured that the car had a breath-taking top speed of 140mph.
Sadly, the magnificent Gordon-Keeble was fated to be short-lived. The designers’ attempts to create a motor masterpiece with such a low list price doomed them to failure, and even after the price was raised to £3,600, profits remained inadequate.
The firm was further plagued by the familiar British motor industry problem of component supplies. By 1965 the firm was declaring bankruptcy, and by 1967, the last car had rolled off the production line, new management unable to save the firm.
And yet, the infantile motoring behemoth retains its allure even now, its rarity and the altruistic tragedy of the brand’s failure only adding to its appeal. Its performance, looks, supreme engineering and glamour remain, as does the lingering possibility and romance of all the things the Gordon-Keeble could have done had its chance to shine not been cut short.
Owner Tim Callaghan, for example, feels that “the Gordon-Keeble would have made a very good Bond car”. Its career in film had, after all, already begun, with an appearance in the National Benzole TV adverts and a role in the 1961 racing film The Green Helmet, before its tragic demise cut short its journey to superstardom.
Indeed, the car had promised to be a success off screen too. At its society introduction at the 1964 Earls Court Motor Show, it had seemed a Grand Tourer with genuine potential to lure the well-heeled motorists in attendance away from their Aston Martin DB5s, with many calling Knightsbridge 5464 for a test drive.
The only real mystery that remains is how such a brilliant design could have fallen through the cracks of time and economic peril, without anyone seeing its potential and pulling it back to the surface. Had the fates been kinder, perhaps, the GT from Eastleigh might have been 007 transport after all.