After the Second World War, and right up to the introduction of VAT in 1973, kit and component cars were very popular.This was because a complete car attracted purchase tax, which could vary anywhere between 19 percent and 45 percent, whereas one that was put together by the actual owner came tax-free.
With the kit car a body and chassis, or perhaps a chassis only, would come from a manufacturer with the buyer free to fit a choice of mechanical parts. In practice many of these parts came from scrapyards which meant that kit cars were of extremely variable quality so they soon had a bad reputation.
A component car, on the other hand, was supplied almost finished; it was just left to the buyer to fit the provided engine, gearbox, wheels, exhaust, and various other bits and pieces, all of which, although they were made by various manufacturers, came as part of the package.
It was therefore not at all unusual for people to build their own cars using a variety of components. This is what a Welsh butcher named Giles Smith, and a German engineer called Bernard Friese with coach building experience, decided to do towards the end of the 1950s. Just as their glassfibre bodied creation was close to completion a local racing driver called Peter Cottrell took a look at it, and persuaded them that there could be a good market for cars like this. The two partners took the first three letters of their Christian names and Gilbern Cars Ltd was created.
Initially their products were provided as component cars, and manufacturing was carried out behind the butcher's shop. The first model, the Gilbern GT, was based on Austin A35 parts with a choice of engines including supercharged ones and a Coventry Climax unit that was achieving great deal of success in racing cars of the day.
A patch of land was bought and some second-hand prefabricated buildings erected to serve as their factory. Production initially was just a single car per month, but by 1965 a new model, the GT1800 powered by an MGB engine, was being produced at the rate of one per week. The following year another new model was launched; a 2+2 coupe called the Genie, with a Ford V6 engine. there was a steady demand for these cars, and they could have sold a lot more had they been able to produce them, but the finance for this simply wasn't there.
By 1968 the two partners had realised that they had two choices; expand production and cash in on the economy of scale, or accepted that the company was going nowhere. They decided on a middle course; the company was sold to a manufacturing company called the ACE group, with Smith and Friese retained as directors, although Smith decided to leave the company shortly afterwards. Friese, with a new injection of capital to work with, continue to develop the Genie and it's eventual replacement, the Invader.
The Gilbern Invader was an upmarket car. It was based on the Genie but with much improved chassis, suspension and braking. Electric windows and walnut veneer on the dashboard were standard. The car met with universal approval; but the same old problem kept resurfacing. The company simply wasn't big enough to benefit from cost savings that large-scale production would have made. Debts mounted again and receivership became a constant issue as the company changed hands several times.
Perhaps the death knell was sounded by a change from purchase tax to VAT in 1973. Overnight the tax advantages of selling a component car disappeared. From then on Gilbern only produced completed cars and they found themselves selling to a more sophisticated market than the one that they will use to. Their prices had to rise considerably because of the added tax burden and since they were still only producing less than four cars a week they simply couldn't compete on price with the larger rivals. By 1974, despite a good demand for the Gilbern Invader, the company finally went out of business.
They had a good product and there were potential customers who wanted to buy them. Had they had access to more substantial funds, as well as a willingness to take greater financial risks, Wales may still have had a car industry to this day.