GSM Flamingo

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Like 3D printing today, flberglass must have seemed like a construction technique from the future when it started to be adopted by automakers in the early 1950s.

Given a decade, fiberglass started to creep into the mainstream, with the Chevrolet Corvette as the standout example from a major manufacturer.

The material's great promise, though, is that it's accessible to everyone.

Compared to steel body panels that require either sophisticated coach building skill or expensive stamping machines, fiberglass is usually made in a mould. 

The steps aren't too different from when you're making a cake, either. You need a mixture, material to bind everything together, plus some heat or time—and you've just designed yourself a car.

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Smaller manufacturers, especially in the United Kingdom, started to adopt the material for their sports cars, with Lotus, Marcos, and TVR leading the way.

In 1957, when South Africans Bob Van Niekerk, Willie Meissner and Verster de Wit decided to create GSM, they decided to make their first car, a two-seat roadster, from fiberglass.

The Dart won its class in its first race, and the team decided to produce a GT version for 1961. Van Niekerk was the engineering brains behind the trio, and naturally gravitated to fiberglass. After GSM went under, he turned to boats, and designed many successful craft for racing, recreation, and military use.

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The Flamingo was powered by everything from a 1.7-litre 4-cylinder engine from a Ford Taunus to a 4.2-litre Ford Fairlane V8…and since I've located a period road test of the V8 version I'll refer to that one from now on.

A single V8-powered prototype was made, which is sad, because even in the mid-60s this car could rip off a 7.2 0-100 km/h (62 mph) run and a 14.9 second quarter mile run, on par with an Eagle Talon Tsi AWD or Subaru BRZ.

This is back when a V8 engine like this only put out 164 horsepower, though. Thank its performance to its light weight of 889 kg (1,960 lbs.)

6-hour race at the now-closed Roy Hesketh Circuit in South Africa.

6-hour race at the now-closed Roy Hesketh Circuit in South Africa.

The road test was positive, with the reviewer remarking:

It is quite a stirring sight, in fact, to see the car sprint away on a firm dirt surface, tearing strips out of the surface and sending a shower of stone and dust high, even under quite mild throttle!

There's a significant following for GSM models even today, as its hassle-free fiberglass body and easy-to-maintain 4-cylinder engines make them an accessible classic car to own.

Hell, even Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren F1, had one. He's had some other interesting cars, too, but that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading