This 1965 Gilbern GT1800 Is Now An Australian Classic

Gilbern Feature
Glorious 1965 Gilbern GT1800 - Images Courtesy Neil Rote

Classic car nuts can be found pretty much anywhere and everywhere these days. Neil Rote is one of the ‘outback’ classic disciples that carries the vintage flag with pride.

Whether you store, drive, showcase or even all three, it seems to bring out the devil in some classic devotee circles. Enthusiast and classic owner, Neil Rote is firmly in the maintaining and driving enclosure.

Passion

Self confessed classic car aficionado, Rote, has tail-gated his passion since infancy, owning many classic cars and motorcycles. Now, in his late fifties has some rather nifty choices in his busy time-honoured shed.

Like everyone, we all have our favourites. In Neil’s case the 1965 Gilbern GT1800 (pictured below) delivers outstanding ‘smiles per gallon’, rekindling memories of a Porsche 356B Super90 he was lucky enough to be custodian of, some 15 years previously.

Gilbern
Neil’s Glorious 1965 Gilbern GT1800

Gilbern GT1800 owner and enthusiast, Neil Rote said:
“The whole point of restoring, maintaining and driving these vehicles to me is sharing in the lifelong enthusiasm”

Gilbern Sports Cars

Founded by Giles Smith and Bernard Friese in Wales, Gilbern Sports Cars were initially available only in kit form. Friese was a skilled German engineer with experience in the glass fibre mouldings area, which married the couple perfectly.

The component building of the car also paved the sports car pathway, allowing potential purchasers a tax loop-hole, which was subsequently exploited by many wannabee city slickers.

The GT, or ‘Grand Tourer’ was the first of the Gilbern variants, with a frugal 227 manufactured between 1959-1967. This particular 1965 example being chassis number 221. Gilberns all had a tubular steel space-frame chassis, over which a full fibreglass body was stretched. The GT1800 (one of the last iterations of the GT) used MGB mechanicals (1800 engine, 4-speed 3-synchro gearbox, rear axle unit and front suspension and steering), but used coil springs and twin trailing arms and panhard rod to locate the rear axle.

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Neil went on to say:
“This low-mileage and extremely original example has a fully-documented and interesting past. After two years driving the car in the UK (registration KPP-707C in Buckinghamshire), the original owner shipped the car to Canada and drove it across Canada before shipping to New Zealand, where he repeated the cross-country travel and then shipped the car to Australia aboard the Orcades (pictured below) landing in Melbourne Jan 31 1968. The car was then driven 3400km (2100 miles) across Australia to Perth (Western Australia), where the owner settled. The trip across the infamous Nullarbor Plain in the little Gilbern must have been quite an adventure in itself in 1968, as the road was not finally sealed until 1976.

“The car was laid up in 1972 due to irritating fuel problems caused by rust from the mild steel petrol tank causing repeated carburettor flooding, and it lay, covered, in a garage for the next 30 years! It had only travelled about 70,000 fully documented miles.

“A Perth R.A.C. mobile mechanic noticed the car in the garage in 2002, and after negotiating its purchase he gradually restored the car over the next decade, removing the fibreglass body from the spaceframe chassis and doing a full rebuild (with strengthening) of the original tube spaceframe, repainting the body in a shade very close to its original dark metallic grey, and refitting the original interior which was still in great condition. Even the very rare Les Leston Austi Continental headrests, fitted to the driver and passenger seats from new, were retained.

“Needless to say the mild steel petrol tank was replaced with a brand new stainless steel tank. The original MGB 1800 engine was fully worked over, including porting and polishing the head, the installation of oversize valves and a 3/4 race profile camshaft, and a 45DCOE Weber carburettor.

“The car was then advertised on eBay in mid 2012. I was looking specifically for a car that would give me the raw driving satisfaction of the Porsche 356, but with a much lower price-tag, with mechanicals that were reliable and unlikely to break the bank, was rust-free, and which had some style and individuality. As a lifelong classic car tragic I had already known of Gilbern as a marque, and the Gilbern GT fitted the bill perfectly!

“I negotiated a purchase, despite having neither seen nor test-driven the car (which was 3400km away), and very nervously waited while it was trucked across Australia back to Melbourne (retracing a journey the car had done 45 years previously!)

“Since its arrival I have further tweaked the tuning and many other detailed aspects, including sourcing, restoring and fitting an original heater which the original order and purchase documents show was optioned and fitted.

“I am lucky to live in a quiet rural setting in northern Victoria (Australia), with plenty of wide open spaces and good – but quiet – roads, so get to drive the car every week or so, enjoying it as it should be driven, not stymied by city traffic. The car drives superbly, and is deceptively fast. I liken it to my motorcycles (classic BMW, Moto Guzzi and Norton) in the way every corner, every overtaking manoeuvre, every gear change, every mile is pure joy. The car feels great, with lovely feedback through the original wood-rimmed steering wheel, it sounds great with its highly-tuned MGB 1800 engine feeding a pair of original Lukey mufflers, and I think it looks great.

“The total mileage today is around 77,000 miles, and counting!

“Special mention must be made of the Gilbern Owners Club (based in England), which is a very dedicated and helpful band of hugely knowledgeable and passionate Gilbern owners and enthusiasts. They have been extremely helpful to me, even though I can only read of their regular runs and activities from the other side of the globe.

“This car is an absolute joy! Extremely rewarding to drive, and quite exhilarating with its lightweight bodywork and lovely power delivery.”

An amazing car, with an even more amazing history.

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The 1965 Gilbern GT1800 Gallery – Images Courtesy Of Neil Rote (click to zoom)

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