It’s a strange time for the British sports car industry. With MG’s future still in doubt, TVR in a perennial state of flux, the briefly resurgent Marcos now in administration and formerly quaint Morgan embracing BMW tech, many of the great British names have either perished or changed out of all recognition.
One manufacturer staying true to its roots is Ginetta, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. With a reputation built on its highly successful sports racing cars (and road cars) of the 1950s and ’60s, Ginetta has always held a special place in the hearts of discerning sports car fans of a certain age. While the marque’s more recent history has been defined by slow decline and on-going financial strife, it survived, and is now enjoying a renaissance in the hands of entrepreneur and successful racer Lawrence Tomlinson.
The first fruit of his labors, the G50 (named to celebrate that longevity), has already been successfully launched as a racer, for both a single-make championship (where there were an impressive 17 cars on the grid for the first round) and as a class winner in the British GT championship. For 2009 there will be road car version too, which Tomlinson states will be closer to a race car than anything else currently out there.
The road car will share the racer’s underpinnings, so the 3.5-litre Ford V6 engines mated to Quaife sequential gearboxes will remain, as will the hardcore drama of an ignition cut-out flat-shift system. A road-registered pre-production car is already racking up miles as the engineers evaluate the various modifications required to bring it up to the standard road drivers expect and to give it habitability for those not wearing helmets and earplugs. These are likely to include alterations to the roll-cage for easier access, sound-proofing, improved shut-lines and an interior which while unlikely to be sumptuous will be more accommodating than the workman-like minimalism of the racers. The first cars will undergo Single Vehicle Approval (just as the pre-production car has), but beyond that Ginetta will seek European Type Approval, demonstrating the scale of sales it hopes to achieve.
While the styling may be some way short of the drama and cohesion of TVR’s best efforts, the promise of a light, grunty, growling 300bhp sports car with race-bred dynamics remains as compelling as ever. The stated guide price is £45,000, so if the quality is right we could have a new hairy-chested sports car to celebrate. In fact we could have two, because a limited run of 520bhp Zytek V8-powered versions will also be released some time next year with the aim to be the fastest production car on the road at a target price below £100K.
To discover just how the company has evolved so quickly under Tomlinson’s stewardship we paid a visit to Ginetta’s new home in Leeds. It’s hard to reconcile what you think you know about this enduring sports car company with the imposing reality of the modern, purpose-built 80,000 sq ft edifice. True, the building acts as home to Tomlinson’s diverse portfolio of successful businesses – LNT Group – but once you step inside it’s clear that Ginetta gets the lion’s share of the space.
Tomlinson’s background is in engineering, his fortune made in businesses as divergent as construction, chemicals and computer software. Unsurprisingly he’s not your typical car company boss. Indeed he’s more reminiscent of Peter Wheeler, former owner of TVR. Like Wheeler he’s a Yorkshireman, and therefore genetically predisposed to straight-talking rather than uttering corporate puff. He also disguises a maverick streak behind mild manners and self-effacing honesty, yet his passion for the company and its products shines through.
It’s a mark of Tomlinson’s drive and ambition that just five seasons after his racing debut he was standing on the podium at Le Mans, having claimed a GT2 class win in Team LNT’s Panoz Esperante. He’s clearly applied the same single-minded approach to his tenure at Ginetta, and has employed a skilled and highly experienced team to take the company forward.
From the design team producing detailed CAD drawings in the modern, airy offices to the neatly organised stores brimming with beautifully machined components (all wearing part and batch numbers for accurate quality and stock control) and the welding bay where each and every chassis is lovingly created, it’s clear that Tomlinson’s significant investment has enabled a radical reinvention.
It’s clear he’s both proud and excited at what’s happening to Ginetta. ‘The first stage was getting us on a sound footing,’ he says. ‘The next was creating a base and a working structure that would enable us to design and build our own cars. We’ve got that now, with a great team of people, mainly from motorsport. And we’ve got a great atmosphere too.’
And this could just be the beginning. While being shown around an in-build G50, we comment that there seems to be plenty of room in the engine bay, to which Tomlinson replies with a grin, ‘We’ve designed it to pass GT2 regs. We’d love to compete with a Ginetta at Le Mans…’