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Articles Index > GTM Cars Ltd Factory Visit
 
GTM Cars Ltd Factory Visit
By Darran Shepherd
3rd December 2003
Links: www.gtmcars.com, www.engdev.com

Undeterred by the onset of the British winter, Saturday morning found me wending my way northwards to Leicestershire.  The destination, Sutton Bonington just outside Loughborough, home of GTM.  Over their 25 year history, GTM have produced over 1000 cars.  120 of these are Libras, built since their introduction 4 years ago and just under 10 are attributed to the newly introduced Spyder.
 
Pulling up outside the factory a couple of Libras parked up to the side of the building immediately caught my eye.  Braving the rain, we wandered around to find that one of these was looking a little worse for wear with a crack in the offside of the bonnet – evidence of a little exuberance on track the previous weekend we were to find out and here for the necessary repairs. 
 

Keen to get into the dry, we found our way back to the front of the building and into the warmth of the showroom where we were presented with three Libras and a Spyder.  Before long, one of the original partners, Paddy Fitch, had greeted us, offered us coffee and before disappearing to brew up, urged us to take a good look at the cars on show. 

    

The first car we started examining was a red Libra powered by a 1.8 K series engine and fitted with the optional stainless grille set.  Settling down into the figure hugging Cobra bucket seats proved an interesting task for someone more recently used to the ergonomics of a sports saloon.  Once cocooned inside the cabin, the first impression was of a tardis like interior.  Externally, the Libra appears to be a very compact sports car with its almost non-existent overhangs front and rear and steeply raked bonnet.  Internally, passenger leg room is vast and the mid-engined configuration removes the need for a large, high transmission tunnel separating the cockpit as found in many kits.  The only apparent downside to the innovative packaging is the marked offset of the pedals, forced inboard due to their location level with the front offside wheel arch.  This particular car is fitted with the GTM instrument pack and a small diameter Sabelt steering wheel.  Although adding to the sporty ambience of the cockpit, it is a little too small in my opinion – the rim of the wheel obscuring the outer parts of the instrument binnacle. 

Pulling on the cord door release and climbing out over the sill proved easier having moved the seat back on it’s rails, the door opening wide enough to prevent too much difficulty.  Having extracted ourselves from the interior, drawn by the return of Paddy complete with mug of steaming coffee, our attention was once again drawn to the exterior.  Looking through the Perspex rear screen at the Rover engine mounted just in front of the rear axle, conversation came around to engine choice.  I had already discounted engines smaller than the 1.8 in my quest for high octane fuelled thrills, so the question in hand was how to choose between the 1.8 VVC (158bhp [160PS]) and the 2.5 KV6 (175bhp [177PS]).  Although the KV6 is found in 190PS form in the MG ZT 190, this is apparently mated to a heavier Getrag ‘box, whereas in 177PS form in the MG ZS it’s mated to the lighter aluminium PG1 ‘box made by Rover’s Powertrain Ltd. transmission subsidiary themselves.  Walking into the showroom my thoughts were swaying rapidly towards the torquier KV6, especially as I intend to use the car for daily transport including motorway miles, the logic of a V6 pulling a longer gear at lower revs pointed towards better refinement.  For the same reason, and those of cost, I had already considered and dismissed the VHPD 1.8 (190bhp) and 2.0 K2000 (250bhp @ £12,900 + VAT new from Engine Developments Ltd. http://www.engdev.com/).  Paddy pointed out that along with a more expensive kit due to changes required to the monocoque chassis and bodywork, the actual engine and ancillaries add more to the overall cost.  The figure quoted was approximately £3,500 which is a lot of money for a little more refinement – the additional power is swallowed by the increased weight resulting in almost identical power to weight ratios in the region of 220bhp/tonne and similar performance with the 62mph benchmark coming up in both in around 5.5 seconds.  When Paddy revealed that this non-VVC car had returned over 50mpg on the trip down to the Exeter show and back, the case for the 1.8 began looking ever stronger. 

Coffee duly consumed, Paddy guided us through to the assembly workshop where there were two export market Libras in differing states of completion (along with a Ford escort undergoing rhinoplasty in the form of a new front bumper).  The first car, destined for Australia, was little more than the 98Kg monocoque fitted with front and rear suspension, pipes and wires emerging from everywhere, a daunting site for a kit-car virgin considering the Libra as a first build.  Seeing the chassis in this state reminded me of a picture posted up to the PistonHeads kit car forum depicting a Libra sat in the middle of a French motorway having been rapidly disassembled from complete car back to bare chassis in a 3 figure speed spin on the way to Le Mans.  Testament to the strength of the pure composite monocoque is that both driver and passenger walked away from the high speed spill.  More recently, this driver has been in discussions with GTM about buying a replacement – something that speaks volumes about the car. 

    

The other part built example is to be fitted with a Honda VTEC engine once shipped out the United States.  The use of Japanese power certainly seems to be a popular development at the moment with Lotus recently announcing Toyota power for US market Elises and global Exiges.  GTM see the fitting of this federalised power source as being key to opening up the international market.  This car was in a much more advanced state of completion with all body panels fitted, wheels and tyres and even some of the interior trim in place.  GTMs technicians take an average of 200 hours to complete a standard Libra build in the workshop while kit customers are expected to take around 250.  Paddy highlighted the fact that there are almost always cars in the workshop at various stages of completion and customers are welcome to turn up as often as possible to get advice and take pictures of how the assembly in question should look when correctly installed.

Oily bits duly inspected, we returned to the showroom to take a further look around the cars on show.  Moving on from the red 1.8, we took a look at the yellow 1.8 recently acquired by GTM from a previous owner to use as next year’s demonstrator.  This particular car had been fitted with a somewhat dubious rear spoiler and slightly more appealing front splitter complete with angle adjustors to complete the street racer feel.  The final Libra on display was a maroon car with a unique interior with red white and blue striped padding on the door trim panels and alcantara trim on top of the dash in place of the more common leather cloth. 

Inspired by the unusual finish of this car and the many photographs of the black V6 GTM that adorn the walls of the showroom, we began talking about the exterior colour of the monocoque.  All Libra chassis are gel coated before leaving the factory giving them a fully prepared colour without the need to spray paint.  The best colours to choose for this are apparently the lighter ones, with white being the best and black the worst.  The explanation is that lighter colours reflect the sunlight whereas darker colours, black especially, absorb the heat, baking the composite which causes the fibres to move and show through the gel coat.  One possible mitigation discussed is to allow this baking process to occur and once complete to spray the body, covering any newly apparent imperfections. 

Having taken in the styling and engineering of the Libra, our attention turned to the more practical aspects of ownership.  Storage space is split between the area behind the seats and a boot built into the engine cover.  The boot in the engine cover is waterproof, lockable and out of sight.  The main purpose of integrating this into the design was to provide storage space for valuables that placed them out of sight of any nefarious characters that might see a laptop behind the seats as an invitation.  The boot is a reasonable size for soft bags or indeed, as stated in GTMs literature and so often the measure of a cars boot space, golf clubs.  Behind the seats there is ample room for a couple of soft bags or hold alls, or perhaps the weekly shop on a more mundane journey.  Both these storage areas are diminished in the case of the KV6 engined cars due to the increased with of the cylinder heads.  This results in a loss of about 6 inches in the length of the boot and a protrusion into the load area provided between the seats. 

The final vehicle in the corner of the showroom was a blue Spyder, the new convertible version of the Libra.  Of course referring to it purely as a drop top derivative fails to convey the engineering challenges involved in cutting out the roof from a monocoque chassis.  In the case of the fixed head Libra, the exceptional torsional stiffness of 14,000Nm/deg (with windscreen in place) is in part down to the bracing provided by the roof structure.  With this structure removed, additional strengthening had to be added to the chassis in other places, resulting in an overall increase in 30Kg to the weight of the monocoque. 

    

Discussing the modifications made to the Spyder, including the new styling details to the bonnet and rear of the car by Richard Oakes, Paddy pointed out that the development that has taken place on the Spyder is in many cases transferable to the Libra.  As an example GTM now offer the option of a Spyder bonnet when ordering a Libra kit.  Although no new models are even on the drawing board at this stage, development work on the Honda VTEC powered model for the USA will no doubt offer more modifications and enhancements that will become available on the rest of the Libra and Spyder range. 

Despite no let up in the abysmal weather, Paddy offered to take me out for a demonstration drive along the local country roads surrounding the factory.  With the yellow spoilered Libra extracted from the extremely narrow showroom doors we made our way out onto the open road, narrowly missing a banzai postie as he swung his van into the factory grounds.  On the road I was informed that the suspension was set somewhere in the mid range offered by the fully adjustable Avo coil-overs.  The roads were drenched, precluding any hooliganism other than a few judicious prods of the loud pedal once all four wheels were firmly pointing in the same direction.  This was enough to give a good impression of the performance in reserve even without the full grunt of the 160PS VVC power plant.  Despite the appalling conditions, the chassis felt very composed on both the smoother A roads and the less than perfect tarmac leading right back to the factory. 

To GTMs credit, it wasn’t until this very late stage that any sign of a sales patter became apparent.  On the way back to the factory Paddy asked if I could be tempted to put down the £300 deposit there and then to secure a delivery date some time in February.  As tempted as I was I thought it best to consider my options in the cold light of day and take my time making my final decision over engine choice.  Paddy seemed happy with this and made no further attempt to push the matter. 

Before bidding our final farewells Paddy gave us details of the recommended engine and donor supplier, brochures and price lists for the Libra and Spyder.  Saying our goodbyes we ended what I am sure will not be our last visit to the GTM factory.

 

GTM cars can be found at

Trowell Lane
Sutton Bonington
Loughborough
Leicestershire
LE12 5RW

Tel: +44 (0)1509 852646
Fax: +44 (0)1509 853609
email: info@gtmcars.com

Hours of business: Monday to Friday 9:00am - 5:00pm. Saturday 9:00am - 12:00 noon.



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