Ginetta G4 The Little Car That Could...Still CanOkay kids, it's time for this month's pop quiz. First question: Name a small British car manufacturer who entered the business more than 40 years ago and, based on a strong racing heritage, is still doing business today. A real gimme, eh? But if you said Lotus, you're dead wrong. Think smaller. Marcos? Right ballpark, wrong seat. Try Ginetta. Say what?
That's right. Ginetta. Started in 1958 by brothers Ivor, Bob, Trevers and Douglas Walklett, this boutique manufacturer has produced more than 30 variations of road and race cars during the past 44 years. A veritable plethora of models have ranged from young Ivor's first effort, a chopped down and rebodied Wolsley Hornet, to Formula 3 open-wheel race cars. Along the way, quite early in the process actually, they created an all-time classic and my road test subject, the Ginetta G4.
The G4, designed by Ivor and Trevers Walklett in 1960 and presented at the 1961 Racing Car Show in London, was a prototypical sports car/racer. It was a steel tube-framed fiberglass-bodied car, and bore more than a passing resemblance to the Lotus 11. "Oh yes," said Ivor Walklett in a recent conversation. "We were aiming right at the Lotus." The first G4s even went so far as to emulate the 11's vestigial tailfins, a less-than-felicitous resemblance. These disappeared as the design evolved, and what started as a good-looking little car became, in the 1963 G4 Series 2, double-throw-down beautiful. The car was produced with a variety of Ford (of England, that is) engines from the 997cc Ford 105E all the way up to the elephant motor: the Ford 122E at a whopping 1500cc. The first cars were live axle, again from the Ford parts bin, but in 1964 this was changed to IRS in response to the demands of racing. A fiberglass hardtop was also developed during this era at the behest of track-bound customers, and the G4 assumed the form it has maintained to this day.
As I approach a spanking new gunmetal-gray G4 coupe at the rear of Go-Ginetta's headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., I'm thinking "lightweight E-Type, but smaller." How small? A classic Mini towers over the Ginetta. A Honda Civic assumes hulking, SUV-like stature. The Ginetta is 1m tall from the ground to the top of the windshield. That's a little more than 39 in. It's 58 in. wide, and 134 in. long. In person, it looks able to fit nicely on my model shelf at home.
Reach inside and move the flat door-release handle forward, and a Munchkin-size opening appears. Stewart Little would have no trouble here, and with a little coaching I learn to plop my bulk in the seat, then swing/crunch my feet past the door and into the deep recesses of the footwell. The detachable Mountney steering wheel assists in the procedure. Once ensconced in the cozy bucket, I learn that there's room in here for my 6-ft 1-in., 195-lb American frame.
From here on I've got the moves, because I remember my Brit car days: Turn the key on, listen for the fuel pump, pull the choke out exactly 1 7/8 in., push the gas pedal down exactly 3/4 in., listen for the fuel pump again, finally, push the starter button. If you're holding your mouth right and the moon is in its correct phase, the damn thing will kick off. The starting procedure as explained by Ginetta importer Bobby Pack is the antithesis of early-Brit-car arcane and therefore completely baffling: Turn the key, dummy.