Former Gilbern car factory, Llantwit Fardre

Former Gilbern car factory, Llantwit Fardre

The Gilbern car factory produced c.1,000 cars at this location between 1961 and 1974. The company was formed by Giles Smith, a local butcher, and Bernard Friese, a German former prisoner of war. They built the first three or four cars behind Mr Smith’s shop in Church Village, as you can read here.

The cars produced at the factory were supplied as part-built kits, on which less tax was payable than on complete new cars. Car bodies left the factory ready painted and with wiring in place. Owners would fit the engine, exhaust pipe, gearbox, wheels and other parts themselves. The main models were the GT1800, Genie and Invader.

Gilbern was always short of money. Successive investors tried to put the company on sound financial footings. Strategies included a brief incursion into the market for fully-built cars in 1972. However, the UK economy was going through a difficult time and Gilbern ceased production in early 1974.

Gilbern cars still have a loyal following. Surviving examples typically sell for between £4,000 and £10,000. The Gilbern Owners’ Club was founded in 1969 and holds races and other events.

The former factory is now occupied by BESST Tyres and other businesses.

Where is this HiPoint?

Website of BESST Tyres

Gilbern Owners' Club website

Footnotes: Recollections of the factory's closure

Robin Roberts, motoring editor of the Western Mail at the time, recalls that the closure of Gilbern Cars was mired in misinformation. Here he recalls his visit to the factory at Llantwit Fardre in 1974.

Employees had locked themselves into the plant and settled down for a long siege, taking in supplies. Before the age of the mobile phone and computers, the supplies included cards and board games.

“I interviewed them through a letter box and was told they were playing Monopoly to pass the hours, which I thought at the time was ironic because outside the plant there was more serious buying and selling of property and assets taking place over the Gilbern Cars business.

“The press was told the business was being sold as one and that production would be moved, but we did not know where. Within days of the owners again getting their hands on the jigs and body parts and the remaining mechanical and electrical components, the assets were dispersed.

“It was all very cloak and dagger, and afterwards I heard stories of odd cars being built in a shed on Newport Docks while another was of specially modified models being sent to the Middle East or Australia. A Cardiff garage did work on Gilberns for a few years afterwards and specialised in creating convertibles out of crashed coupés.”