Ford GT40 Replicas: The South African Chronicle - Part 1
During the 1960s, an Englishman, Ken Attwell yearned to own a GT40.
It was only by 1982, and while working for Ford in Swansea, that Ken decided to build his own car. Ford had asked Ken to help with the restoration of their own Mk. 3 car that had been involved in a filming accident. Ken agreed with the proviso that he was allowed to take moulds off the body panels which he would use to construct his own car (replica). He designed a space frame/semi ladder type chassis which turned out to exceed the required torsional strength and by late 1982 his first blood red KVA (Kenneth Vincent Attwell) - (click here for expanded story of KVA) - ‘Mk 3’ GT40 ‘look-alike’ was complete and was displayed by Ford in the reception area of their Swansea plant. This car used Ford based suspension, a Ford CVH 1.6 litre engine and VW Variant transaxle. Larger engines like the 2.8 litre V6 or 289 CID V8 with ZF or Renault 30 transaxles were suggested. The interest in this car was high and due to many requests, Ken started marketing kits that could be built up as replicas. By the spring of 1984, 40 such kits had been sold.
At about this time, an airline pilot, Vic Miles, and a flight engineer, Alan Cutler, working out of Durban, South Africa, came across a Merlin sports car being sold in kit form in England. Vic and Alan were very interested in manufacturing this car, and purchased a kit to be built in Durban. As they were unsuccessful in coming to any agreement with the manufacturer in England, they decided to start replicating the car for sale in South Africa on their own as the English manufacturer was ripping off an American design in any case. They decided to name the car, the Griffin. The name Merlin and Griffin have associations with Rolls Royce aircraft engines.
The Griffin sold well and the two gentlemen were making some money. To the dismay of Vic Miles, Alan Cutler had heard of the KVA GT40 and decided to import chassis, jigs and moulds with an agreement with Ken Attwell to manufacture kits for sale in South Africa. They would continue with the KVA brand name as their initials together (Ken, Vic and Alan) were the same. Vic’s concern was soon realized when it was found that the build of a GT40 was very complex, time consuming and expensive. A rift between Vic and Alan caused their partnership to break up. Vic continued with the Griffin and Alan with the GT40. Some ten of these GT40 kits were sold locally, using the Ford V6 motor and Citroen DS 19 – 21 four speed transaxle with inboard brakes. Two of these kits were sold to Sarel van der Berg and Fanie van Wyk, partners in the Prospecton Motors garage. A third was sold to a lawyer, then to some one in the midlands and finally purchased and completed by Don Bristol some years ago. No one seems to know where the other kits have landed up. Maybe there are some answers out there?
Sometime in 1986, both Vic Miles and Alan Cutler independently approached Rudy Malan of Kit Car Centre in Boksburg, Gauteng and offered to sell their interests as both realized that they were better at aviation than kit manufacturers. KCC incorporated the Griffin into their Lynx stable of cars and developed the GT40 kit into one that would use the Ford V8 (or V6) motor attached to an Audi (Getrag) 016 transaxle, using Ford based suspension. As this first version of a GT40 replica in South Africa was based on the Mk. 3 car, Rudy Malan decided to modify the bodywork so that a Mk. 1 style car could be offered. The Mk. 1 version is after all the preferred option as it has the shape of the race car that beat Ferrari. It is rumored that the modification was based on the only original GT40 in South Africa at that time, and owned by David Cohen. (GT40 P/1024- Dispatched from Ford Advance Vehicles 26 November 1965)
The GT40 kits were popular but by the time 132 kits had been sold the supply of kits was abandoned. Because the kit was difficult to build at that stage of its development, causing many a headache, KCC decided to halt the supply of kits. Two friends, living on small holdings near Johannesburg, Louwtjie Viljoen and Boet Labuschagne, who were at that time building their own KCC GT40 kits, decided to take over the project from KCC. They named their enterprise GT40 Developments as they planned to develop the kit further and continue the supply of kits. However KCC held the body moulds and continued supplying the body parts for GT40 Developments. 28 kits were sold by GT40 Developments, but not much was improved on these kits. Louwjie did not finish his own build but Boet did, and soon afterwards passed the GT40 Developments project over to the present owner, John Botha. Being a mechanical engineer and having had experience with original GT40 cars abroad, John first developed a new rear end suspension based on the original GT40. Some of the old chassis parts had to be removed and a new frame, containing the suspension pick up points, welded into place. To date 27 GT40 owners have modified their chassis in this way. Soon the old KVA chassis was no longer available as John had designed and is manufacturing a brand new space frame chassis to take fully adjustable rose jointed suspension. The front suspension consists of unequal length A-arms, fabricated upright, adjustable coil over shock dampening and anti roll bar. The rear suspension consists of a lower reversed A-arm, upper transverse link, twin trailing links, a fabricated upright, coil over shock dampening and anti roll bar.
This design has anti squat and anti dive factored in. This new chassis allows for increased leg room space and tunnels the coolant pipes down through the centre of the car like the original did. New moulds have been constructed (see below) and the body panels from these moulds are far superior to the previous ones, being smoother and lighter.
John is currently building his fourth complete car for a customer. This fourth car is one of 34 of the newly designed and manufactured chassis.
Sometime in 2003, Brandon Shaw came across a derelict KVA (KCC) GT40 replica kit in the back yard of a friend in Johannesburg. Soon Brandon purchased the kit and started working on it. This proved very difficult as the kit was in a bad state and the body panels were not fitting properly. However, Brandon completed the car in four months and within a week of driving the car he was able to sell this bright yellow GT40 to a German enthusiast. This prompted him to start a small business building these replicas. The KVA (KCC) kit was no longer available and as it took far too long to have one of John Botha’s new chassis made up, he decided to design and build his own chassis. He took six months to upgrade the original body moulds held by John Botha, with an understanding that he would mould body panels for John and for use on his own cars.
The design principle of his chassis and suspension was very much the same as the original GT40, but on a space frame of square steel tubing. Brandon decided to keep safety foremost in his mind when designing and fabricating. He has named his enterprise Africa 40 and to date has produced 15 complete cars. Of these 15 cars, only 3 reside in South Africa, the remainder being sold to buyers in Europe. They have been sold mainly to German enthusiasts with one each going to Italy and Spain. Quite a few of these cars are competing on race tracks at Nurburgring and Hockenheim with no reports of failure to the chassis or suspension. This could mean that the design is over engineered but Brandon has decided that safety and durability is paramount. His goal is to continue improving the design and to produce custom hand built replicas to customer’s specification. He wants clients to feel that their cars were specifically hand crafted for them to create a special atmosphere and emotion. Brandon’s future plans include building a light weight racing car that he or more experienced drivers would race in South Africa.
The Cape evolution of GT40 replicas in SA (including the Bailey Edwards Cars) follows at a later date as part 2 of this saga.
Vic Wait, 13 April 2006 (revised and updated 4 September 2008)
My thanks go to the following people for their valued input:
- Vic Miles, who, together with Alan Cutler, were the ‘Progenitors’
of the South African GT40 replica.
- Don Bristol and Nick van der Merwe, ex GT40 replica owners.
- Rudy Malan, ex Kit Car Center.
- John Botha, present owner of ‘GT40 Developments’.
- Brandon Shaw, ‘Africa 40’
Ford GT40, An Anglo American Supercar Classic, by David Hodges - used for the early history of GT40 replicas.