Gilbern Invader Estate

To know this car, you must know Gilbern itself. And Wales. Since I don't know either, it'll be a fun Car of the Day. 

Started in 1959, Gilbern was the project of Giles Smith, a butcher, and Bernard Friese, a former German POW who never bothered to return to his homeland after the Second World War. 

Which is, basically, exactly the two people you'd want to be running a car company, right?

Gilbern (Gil)es and (Bern)ard, near the Welsh town of Pontypridd, decided to create their own glass fibre sports cars. As production expanded, they moved into a disused mining facility, the Red Ash Colliery. 

By 1961, the small team was up and running, producing a handsome component car called the GT. Wait, what's a component car? Well, Gilbern models were always finished and sent to their owners minus the engine, gearbox, rear axle, wheels, and exhaust. This meant that the styling, interior, and overall build quality could be completed at much better quality.

Think of it as a modern pre-fabricated home.

The Invader was the firm's third model, and built during a time of relative turmoil as the founders were displaced as outside investment money came in.

I think the Invader, made from 1969-1973, looks like every 1960s British sports car put together. (And from the side, it has a strong resemblance to the Italian Alfa Romeo Giulia.) Obviously, as it was built from component parts, the exterior fittings changed from the Mk1 to MkIII Invader models.

But one big change for the Invader: it was no longer a component car. Although its components were sourced from a number of places (the MkIII had Ford Cortina front suspension, for instance, while in earlier cars these parts were from an MGC), the Invader was supplied as a complete and finished product.
Powered by a 3.0-litre Ford Essex V6, with a manual transmission, it wasn't exactly the fastest chicken in the coop but in my mind successfully predicted the modern car enthusiast.

Look at it: rear drive, cheap to buy, manual transmission, wagon body…

Power was pegged at 140 horsepower and the gold standard of performance, the ubiquitous 0-60 mph run, was done in 10.7 seconds. (Let's say 10.84 to 100 km/h?)

Even though the car is quite straightforward, the reasons for its (and Gilbern's) demise are less so. Rapid investment and rapid expansion of its workforce would soon become a nightmare as a revolving door of inept management spun on top. Who knew how to make cars properly? Where did the workers come from? 

It's not exactly like Pontypridd was the industrial centre of Europe.

For investors, what made things more difficult was that by 1970 the entire United Kingdom was under the Three-Day Week rule. Commercial users of electricity were limited to three working days and no more, as a culture of strikes that started with coal mine workers began to severely hurt industrial production in the country.

As a final kick in the teeth, the government removed some tax breaks intended for those who build their own cars, and by 1973 the firm was bankrupt.

That said, as sometimes happens, enthusiasts embrace a manufacturer and the owners make due. To this day, the Invader enjoys healthy club support.

Gilbern made other vehicles prior to the Invader, and they weren't exactly the only firm from the United Kingdom to make a car from glass fibre. But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading