Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Invader Prince

Above is a 1976 advert for a Welsh car, the Gilbern Invader Prince. As you can see the insignia is a Welsh dragon and draped across the bonnet is a lady resplendent in traditional Welsh costume. The setting is Cardiff castle. Why does the notion of a Welsh car seem so odd? It probably has something to do with our colonial conditioning - there is, after all, no reason whatsoever why such a phenomenon shouldn't exist.

Giles Smith, a butcher from Church Village, Pontypridd, certainly wasn't constrained by such defeatist thinking. He along with German engineer Bernard Friese formed a company called Gilbern and set about producing Welsh motor cars. At first, circa 1959, they constructed their GTs in an out building behind Smith's butcher shop. In 1961 they moved to Llantwit Fadre, purchasing some disused pre-fabs at the former Red Ash Colliery site. In 1967 they produced the Gilbern Genie. In 1968 they were taken over by the ACE group best known for their slot machine manufacturing empire.

The Mk1 Invader followed and at the 1970 London Motor Show they announced the Mk11 version. There was also an Invader Estate. During the early '70s there were further changes in ownership and, sadly, during the oil crisis and 3-day week the company got into financial difficulties. By March 1974 the company had ceased trading. Given that Gilbern had by then gone out of business I'm not quite sure how the 1976 Invader Prince came into being, but as the above advert shows they were still heavily promoting their "Welshness" as a selling point.

If you want to find out more about the history of Gilbern check out this rather good and very comprehensive website. Petrol-heads will also find there some great pictures of the various models produced.