Rare Rides: The 1972 Gilbern Invader, Obscure and Welsh
Today’s Rare Ride hails from a tiny carmaker in business for less than two decades. The Gilbern name stands out in history as one of the few companies that built cars in Wales.
Let’s check the company’s most successful model, the Invader.
Gilbern Sports Cars was founded in 1959, by former butcher Giles Smith and German engineer Bernard Friese. Friese was familiar with fiberglass construction and had previously built himself a car for fun. Said car was very handy because it became the basis for Gilbern’s new sports cars.
Gilberns were initially only available as kits, but at some point later the factory also churned out fully completed vehicles. The first kits out of their small Welsh factory were the GT, a 2+2 coupe on offer from 1959 to 1967. First powered by engines from BMC or Coventry Climax, the GT later moved on to MG engines. 280 GTs were produced.
The second car produced at Gilbern was the Genie, which was a larger car than the GT. Considered a more upscale model, it was powered by one of two Ford Essex V6 engines. A few Genies were equipped with fuel injection, and the model remained in production through 1969. A total of 197 Genies were made before it made way for Gilbern’s third and final car, the Invader.
Between 1969 and 1973, Gilbern built a moderately improved version of the Genie and called it the Invader. The Invader wore very similar styling to the Genie, but underneath it had a better chassis, larger brakes, and (initially) a more modern suspension from an MGC. Notably, Invader was offered in a two-door shooting brake format as well as Gilbern’s traditional coupe. Luxury increased with Invader too, and included walnut trim and power windows. For the first time, there was even a choice of manual or automatic transmission. Once again, the Gilbern was powered by Ford’s Essex V6, this time the 3.0-liter.
The Invader was developed over its life and turned into the Mark II circa 1971. The Mark II almost immediately gave way to the Mark III in late 1972, which featured new, more squared-off styling, and a suspension donated from the Ford Cortina. The Mark III’s engine was a hi-po version of the Essex 3.0-liter from the sporty Ford Capri 3000GT.
Compared to its predecessors, the Invader sold in big numbers, and 603 were made before the company ended production in 1973. A couple of different factors lead to Gilbern’s end: First, in 1968 the firm was purchased by a slot machine company, Ace Capital Holdings. One of Gilbern’s founders left immediately and was replaced by two Ace executives. In 1970, Ace Capital was purchased by a larger entertainment group, Mecca Limited, which sold off the company to one of the Ace Capital executives in 1972. In turn, he shifted it to the other Ace Capital employee in 1973. At the same time, the UK changed its taxation methodology and added a VAT to previously exempt kit cars. Gilberns were already pricy with their big engines and Ford components, and the taxation was really the nail in the coffin.
Today’s rather luxurious 1972 Invader Mark III sold recently in the UK for around $14,000.
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