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.
Once I've mastered the procedure, I'm rewarded instantly with a new-millennium bark from the Ford Zetec motor. Some change is good. This jewel, a 1796cc, 16-valve, dohc unit is fed by twin Weber 45 DCOEs or Ford EFI, depending on your preference. This example is injected, which although it does little to soothe my retro-grouch longing for the way-cool look of multiple Webers, provides flawless, bulletproof performance. Engine options enable tailoring zoom-factor to your tastes, with a 2-liter 200-bhp Zetec available for you track junkies. And that's one of the great things about ordering from a small-volume manufacturer. You can practically specify the car yourself if you're so inclined.
As the Zetec settles into high-idle, I try to get a clue as to what's happening at the end of the horizontal mineshaft that is the Ginetta's footwell. I can feel three pedals down there. That's good. No kinky surprises. There seems to be adequate space between them, too. One source of moderate dismay, however, is that there's no dead pedal for my left foot. No heel block, either. This leaves one with the option of suspending that foot in space after a shift, or using the clutch pedal as a resting place, an absolute no-no.
Note to Ivor: When I order my Ginetta, please put a 1-in. high, vestigial, heel block on the floor in the clutch section of the footwell. Other than that, the controls are where I expect them to be, and as light and direct as endurance racing would dictate. The seat is actually almost comfortable, though I feel as if, with the semi-laid-back seating position, I will find myself sliding into the footwell in the event of a panic stop.
Note Two: Ivor, please replace the four-point harness with a full six-pointer in my car. I want that anti-sub strap.
Once buckled in, I feel snuggled-down in the best Sports Car Club of America fashion. It's a good feeling. Snick the gear lever very slightly forward and to the left...what? That's right. I said "snick." There are very few transmission/shift linkage combos in the world that deserve the verb "snick" used to describe the act of selecting a gear. This is one of those. The only thing I've driven recently that comes close was a Hewland six-speed, if that's any indication. The Ford five-speed on this Ginetta with associated custom linkage is, thus, a revelation. It adds loads to the Ginetta's image as a race car for the road. Clutch action is light and direct (once you master the Zen of the Floating Foot), and I'm on my way.
In spite of the intuitive ease and lovely, precise feel of the Ginetta's controls, this car has a learning curve. For one thing, other traffic of any sort presents a fearsome menace. The Ginetta cowers beneath the bulk of mighty behemoths like the Toyota Camry. Even a chance encounter with a pedestrian would be a total wreck. So I find myself giving the rest of the world a huge margin for error. This is in spite of the Ginetta's performance envelope, one that would enable me to use everything on the road as a mobile traffic cone. In some regards, driving the Ginetta in traffic is akin to piloting a Japanese superbike: I know that I'm invisible to the drivers in their Land Crushers, and I'd damn well better drive that way.
But away from traffic in the deserted rural twisties north of Atlanta, the driving experience is total bliss. I find myself using the first few miles merely running up through the gears to experience the Zetec's punch in the spine and that wonderful five-speed, then whacking the brakes to get the brick-wall stopping jolt. Steering on this little rocket is so light and so direct that I find myself unintentionally pointed toward the boonies with just a smidge too much input. Then the synapses begin to recall my classic Mini, sitting in the driveway at home, and I learn to modulate movement of the fat Mountney wheel. It is right that the Ginetta should put me in mind of my Mini, because, as Ivor said later, "Of course the rack and pinion is taken from the Mini." Duh.
Gluing the car to the tarmac is a suspension in keeping with best racing practice. Twin wishbones front and rear are heim-jointed at the top, providing adjustability through a 2 1/2-degree camber range. These work with coil springs over adjustable Spax shocks to provide complete corner-weighting capability. The brakes I so admire are, wonder-of-wonders, Lucas/Girling calipers squeezing 9 1/4-in. non-vented rotors front and rear! Light weight does wonders for braking capability!
As I get further into the drive, I become increasingly aware of the car's racing heritage, in both good and bad ways. As a plus, there's no perceptible flex in this chassis. The side rails, exposed in the cockpit, testify to substantial construction, but it's the center tunnel, constructed of square steel tube and laminated into the fiberglass body structure, that renders the car rock-solid. There's a bit of buzzing running up through the gears, resonance of fiberglass with metal, that says, "No sound deadening here. Weight is the enemy." And, true to this credo, the Ginetta labors under a gravitational burden of only 1,480 lb.
Of course, this incredible lightness of being implies that creature comforts such as air conditioning are omitted. There's no radio, either, to interfere with a wonderfully roarty exhaust note that never strays into the territory of obnoxiously loud. But some road-holding weight is not necessarily bad. Like insulation between engine and driver's compartment for instance. A ride in a Ginetta coupe, side curtains in place, on a Georgia summer day is an exercise in weight loss via dehydration.
Note Three: Ivor, please throw some more foil-backed extruded Styrofoam into the firewall area on my car. It's light enough, and even if I race the thing, being comfortable lets you go faster longer.
It's a shady-lane cruise back to the shop, and I have time to reflect on the many virtues of the Ginetta G4. The G4 is a classic in the best sense, from the days when you could drive your car to the track, slap on some numbers, and have a go. Indeed, it's a front-runner in historic racing events today. It has been updated mainly in the drivetrain department, a welcome migration into the new century, but maintains much of the charm that attracted buyers in the first place. It sustains a purity of line matched by no modern sports car/racer. It is functional simplicity personified, in every detail. Finally, though not always practical it succeeds completely in reminding me why I became entranced by the driving experience in the first place: It's pure fun.
|G4 Specifications |
|Frame ||Tubular spaceframe chassis |
|Engine (base) ||Ford Zetec, 1796cc |
|Power (base) ||150 bhp @ 6250 rpm |
|Induction ||Dual Weber 45 DCOE or EFI |
|Ignition ||Weber Alpha Ignition electronic |
|Transmission ||Ford five-speed |
|Differential ||Ford (3.60:1 FD, other ratios available) |
|Brakes ||Lucas/Girling 9.25-in. disc |
|Steering ||Mini rack and pinion |
|Tires ||Customer specified |
|Wheels ||6x13 alloy wheels (options available) |
|Suspension, f&r ||Double wishbone, coil spring, adjustable |
| ||Spax shocks |
|L/W/H ||134/58/39.5 in. |
|Weight ||1,480 lb |
|Wheelbase ||80 in. |
|Fuel capacity ||36 liters |