A millionaire electronics gaming entrepreneur is going to build a composite-bodied sports car in South Wales. No more unusual than a butcher and a German ex-prisoner of war doing exactly the same thing 60 years ago. The former you will have recognised as Les Edgar, the man behind TVR.
Edgar hopes to be building the new Griffith in a factory in Ebbw Vale as soon as building work is complete. Our butcher and PoW might not be so familiar, but you might recall the car company they founded: dragon-badged Gilbern.
This article was originally published on 2 December 2018. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.
We’re with Gareth Morgan outside his house in Pencoed, admiring his pair of Gilberns. One is a very rare Invader Mk2 estate and the other is an Invader Mk2 coupé. We’re going to take the coupé on a little tour and visit significant places in Gilbern history, beginning with the small butcher’s shop in Church Village, now a Lloyds Bank, where the story started in 1959. Then we’ll go to the village of Llantwit Fardre, to which Gilbern moved when it outgrew its original home. And once we’ve taken in all the Gilbern sites of interest, we’re going to head to Ebbw Vale and the Rassau Industrial Estate, where TVR’s factory is located. We’ll do a bit of snooping and see what progress is being made.
Morgan remembers seeing finished Gilberns leaving the factory on trailers when he was a kid. Perhaps he saw one of his own cars being delivered. I’ve always liked the Invader. Very clean and simple lines but quite aggressive and muscular.
But what about the butcher? Giles Smith, Church Village butcher, fancied one of the fibreglass-bodied specials that were popular in the 1950s. Smith had a chance meeting with a bloke called Bernard Friese, who’d been a PoW in England and had decided to stay rather than return to his native East Germany, which was now controlled by the Russians. Friese had worked for a coachbuilder and was experienced in glassfibre. He put Smith off the idea of building any of the current specials and between them they decided to build their own one-off. It turned out to be so good that the pair thought it would be a wasted opportunity to build only one. The first part of each of their first names was used to create ‘Gilbern’. The initial three or four cars were built out the back of the butcher’s shop in an outbuilding that had been the abattoir.