by Martyn Morgan Jones with Philip Ivimey
2020 review by James Loveridge
Books about the Gilbern car are like the proverbial London omnibus: you don’t see one for ages and then several turn up in quick succession. The book under review, “Gilbern: A Dragon’s Tale” by Martyn Morgan Jones, is the latest and was published in April this year. It follows “Gilbern Cars” by Michael Burgess which hit the shops last year and “Gilbern Cars” by Colin Pitt published in 2018. Award-winning author Mr Morgan Jones’s book is described as “The Definitive History of Wales’ only Production Car”. Its 272 pages and its wealth of information compared with Mr. Burgess’s 70 pages and the fact that Mr Pitt’s is described as “Road Test Comparisons” strongly suggest that, to continue the bus metaphor, this is the one to catch.
Gilbern, formed in 1959, was one of many small manufacturers set up in the 1950s and 60s to produce a car a bit different, and hopefully better, than the products of the big manufacturers. Gilbern has the distinction of being the only one established and operated in Wales and so entitled to have the Red Dragon as its badge – the Prince of Wales had one on loan for a while. It was designed, like nearly all of the others, to use parts such as engines and running gear from proprietary models, in its case BMC and later Ford. Again like the others it started as a kit but quickly became a full assembled vehicle; it also became an extremely well made, practical road car – if rather expensive when compared with its competitors.
The book tells the story from the meeting of the rather unlikely couple, Giles Smith, a butcher, and Bernard Friese, a German ex-prisoner of war and engineer, at a roadside in South Wales, to the last gasp in 1979 and gives a subsequent history of some of the 600, out of 1,000, cars made.
This has got to be one of the most comprehensive accounts of any motor car’s history yet written, telling as it does of model developments; technical details; accounts of the various vicissitudes and successes; sales strategy and (multiple) changes of ownership. Included are details of the car’s competition record both then as well as subsequently. As proof of the diligence of the research that has gone into this very worthwhile book there is a five-page “timeline” as well as lists of dealers and prices.
Mr Morgan Jones recognises that this is a book aimed at a niche market – for which it more than adequately caters. The author fully acknowledges that his task was helped immeasurably by the copious notes compiled by Philip Ivimey, the archivist of the Gilbern Owners Club, over more than twenty years, to whom due credit is given. These include interviews with most of the principals involved so, by quoting essentially verbatim, Mr Morgan Jones gives us, the readers, a great sense of both immediacy and intimacy.
Publisher: Published by the author, from whom the book can be ordered directly:
Telephone: 01981 240751
Mobile: 07973 952547
Price: £45* plus P&P in the UK. For overseas postage, please contact the author.
*From June 1st 2020, the price will be £49.99.
Description: Hardback, 272 pages, illustrated in black and white and colour. Signed by the author. Limited edition of only 500 copies.