The Bid is Right

Guess the hammer on this oddball and we'll give you $500

by Conner Golden
20 May 2022 4 min read
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Photo by Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

If you’ve been following our Bid is Right contests, you know we see them as a fun way to keep tabs on the zeitgeist of online auctions. That usually means a well-known and trending classic on which we can share oodles of reference sales and data. We might as well have handed you the $500.

This time around, we have none of that. Instead, we invite guesses as to what the final bid will be on this 1961 Gordon-Keeble GK1. Finally, a real challenge!

To find this sort of deep-local British metal, you once needed a well established network of U.K.-based car nerds. Nowadays, you can just fire up your browser, as online auction sites have taken off in Europe. This one is on The Market by Bonhams, which recently started operating in the United States.

Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

If you’re one of our American readers, this may well be the first time you’ve even heard of this slightly dorky, mostly elegant, and moderately obscure British grand tourer—not one of the exactly 100 units produced between 1964 and 1967 made landfall in Burgerland. That is a tragedy second only to the fact the Gordon-Keeble consortium bore no fruit beyond this shapely GT, particularly considering this had a perfect concoction of aesthetic poise and mechanical gumption to put it close or on-par with some of the best sport-touring coupes of the era.

Unless a small-time manufacturer possessed extraordinarily deep pockets, most high-end, low-volume British and European cars plucked the best bits from existing companies. For the Brits, this usually meant either sourcing a batch of the Buick-based Rover V-8s or picking between one of the many British Motor Company (BMC) inline-four and inline-six engines. Or, instead of those often finicky and sometimes asthmatic lumps, a well-placed call to some enterprising Yank automakers could land shipment of sinewy American V-8s.

Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

This practice of stuffing American hearts into sumptuous European bodylines was a wonderfully commonplace pastime from the 1950s through the 1970s. This high-speed class of so-called “hybrids” begat historical greats like the Iso Grifo, AC Frua/428, and Monteverdi High Speed. The aforementioned hybrids were rare birds on U.S soil, but you’re doubtlessly familiar with the AC Cobra and DeTomaso Pantera, both exemplary Eur-‘Merican hybrids in their own right.

The Gordon-Keeble is one such conglomeration. Masterminded by former Peerless engineer Jim Keeble and financier John Gordon, the duo envisioned the namesake car as a competitor to contemporaries Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Maserati. Pre-production saw Giorgetto Giugiaro pen the delicious bodywork during his early tenure at Bertone, wrapping a handsome steel shell over Keeble’s advanced spaceframe design and a Corvette-sourced 283-ci Chevy small-block. The prototype landed on Bertone’s stand at the 1960 Geneva auto show, creating significant buzz and attracting deposits.

Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

After some much-needed real-world testing and development, the prototype scooted over to Detroit, where GM management approved supply of engines and transmissions. During the original publicity photoshoot, a tortoise slowly wandered into the shot, inspiring the ironic usage of the aforementioned animal as the marque mascot. With a clever yellow-over-green tortoise badge on the snout, the Gordon-Keeble GK1 was born in earnest.

Well, not quite. The then-new Chevy 327 (5.4-liter) supplanted the prior 283ci (4.6-liter), and soaring production costs nixed the Bertone-built steel body for a locally sourced fiberglass body. So, the 300-hp and 140-mph GK1 was lighter and quicker than first advertised, but the downmarket composite construction did little to steal potential buyers from Aston and Maserati. Its initial £2,798 proved far too cheap to recoup costs, and struggles with suppliers quickly forced the new Gordon-Keeble into bankruptcy and subsequent obscurity in 1964.

Ninety cars made it through the workshop doors before the closure, with a final nine produced in 1966 under the reorganized and re-labeled Keeble Cars Ltd. That soon went legs up, and a final car was assembled from spares by a private party in 1967, rounding total production up to a cool 100 units.

Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

This is the 39th GK1 produced, and one of the best known amongst the Gordon-Keeble cognoscenti, according to the listing. Already scouting for the nearly non-existent prior reference sales? Careful. This particular GK1 is a thoroughly restored and semi-modernized example, with a G-K specialist performing a frame-off restoration to the tune of around $150,000 during a period between 1990 and 1992. In addition to the standard factory reset, the brakes and steering were comprehensively upgraded to a more modern set-up, alongside a new 5.7-liter (350ci) Chevrolet V-8 wearing electronic ignition and a gutsier Holly carburetor, all fed through a beefier 350 Turbo automatic transmission.

In any event, GK1 values vary widely. The U.K.-edition of the Hagerty Price Guide pegs the best in the world (#1) at £139,000 and a driver-condition (#3) at £45,200. (That’s roughly $174,000 and $56,300 in U.S. dollars.)

In keeping with the GK1’s trans-continental jet-set vibe, the restoration added upgraded air-conditioning, central locking, a modern sound-system, and red Connolly leather upholstery. The listing mentions the list of upgrades and revisions is actually “much, much longer.” Since the initial restoration 30 years ago, no. 39 received a further $37,000 lavishing in the past two years to bring it back up to snuff.

Jonny Shears / Courtesy Bonhams The Market

So, there’s quite a bit to take in with this gorgeous oddball, and it’s up to you to guess in the comments below what the final bid is when the bell sounds. Remember, closest to the pin without going over pockets a nifty $500 for your troubles. Our guess? That’s our secret. We’re excited to see just how varied these comments will be.

Ground rules:

  • The commenter who guesses closest to the hammer price without going over wins. (Hammer price excludes auction house fees and, in this case, will be in British pounds—no need to run currency conversions).
  • One guess per commenter.
  • If two people guess the same amount (within a dollar) the earlier guess wins.
  • Commenters must provide first and last name in addition to email address.
  • We will close the guessing on Monday, May 23rd at 2:45 pm EST.
  • Your privacy is important to us, and we’ll never sell your information. By providing your email you will receive the weekly Insider newsletter, and you can opt out at any time.
  • You can read the full rules here.
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