By Will Silk
A new diecast company has joined the world of sports car replication in scale. Automodello of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, USA has emerged with the debut of a 1:43 scale replica of perhaps the most feared 1960s sports car ever to turn a wheel on public roads, the Griffith 200.
The story of the Griffith is one of sports car manufacturing’s wilder ones. The early 1960s was a splendid time to be a sports car fan. In England, companies were constantly emerging to build a variety of sports and racing cars. One of these companies was started by Trevor Wilkinson of Blackpool, England; and after a rough start getting things going in the 1950s, TVR was beginning to see its Grantura fiberglass-bodied sports car becoming more widely accepted, particularly in America.
The Grantura was initially offered as a kit, like many constructors of the day in England, this was done to dodge the tax collector and hopefully establish the company enough to gain recognition in other parts of the world so exporting could begin. One of TVR’s biggest markets in the early 1960s was America. While the Grantura was a capable sporting GT car with its lightweight fiberglass body and tubular frame that carried a four cylinder power plant made by MG, Coventry Climax, or Ford; the Grantura’s performance was sprightly when compared to other cars in its segment. A 1600cc MG powered Grantura made the dash from 0-60 in 12.0 seconds, while the Coventry Climax unit knocked 1.2 seconds off the MG equipped car’s time. However, things were about to get substantially hotter under the hood.
It was 1963, and Jack Griffith had a shop in Hicksville, New York. Jack was a mogul of sorts in the Northeast as far as car dealerships were concerned as he established a Packard franchise in 1949 after starting out selling Kaiser-Frazers just after the Second World War. Jack finally settled with a Ford franchise and became an instrumental part in the history of the Shelby Cobra by transporting AC body and chassis units to Shelby’s facility in Southern California. Jack witnessed the explosion that the Shelby Cobras caused in 1962 and desired to create a car in a similar manner.
Enter Gerry Sagerman who was TVR’s man in the U.S. Gerry stopped to have lunch with Jack Griffith in July of 1963 and parked his Grantura next to a racing Cobra at Jack’s shop. One of Griffith’s mechanics remarked jokingly about pulling the Cobra engine out and installing it in the TVR. Griffith instantly recognized the idea as the perfect opportunity to put his name on a car and become a manufacturer. By August, Jack Griffith had George Clark, a mechanic at his Ford dealership, hashing out what would become the Griffith 200. Clark was the man responsible for shoehorning the Ford 289 cubic inch engine into the tubular chassis of the TVR Grantura.
With the first car built, none other than Mark Donohue, who was a young, up-and-coming race driver that had driven for the TVR works team at Sebring in 1962, tested the vehicle and theorized it to be quicker than the Shelby Cobra he was driving at the time for Jack Griffith in SCCA competition. Performance numbers were mind-blowing for the time period, with 0-60 being accomplished in 3.9 seconds and a genuine 150 mph top speed.
TVR, operating as Grantura Engineering at the time, was in rough financial waters. Trevor Wilkinson, the company’s founder had left, and the strain of having to produce bodies and chassis units for Griffith was making for a difficult recovery for the English company. This didn’t stop Jack, as he had gained Ford’s blessing and moved to a new location on Long Island to begin production of this new super car.
The Griffith first appeared in public at the 1964 Boston Auto Show, followed a month later at April’s New York Show. Orders began to come in and Jack offered the Griffith 200 with either a 195 or 271 horsepower 289 V-8 for just $3,995. Shelby’s Cobras started at $5,000, and the price increased pending what performance modifications were checked off upon ordering, so it’s easy to see that the Griffith appealed to many on paper from both an economic standpoint, as well as pure performance. Despite this great buy in terms of economics and sheer performance, a dock workers strike conspired to kill the fledgling Griffith 200 after just 59 units had been produced. In the end, it is believed that around 190 cars were eventually constructed, with experts continuing to dispute the exact number over 40 years later.
Jim Cowen, a British car enthusiast and proprietor of Diecasm LLC online diecast store, assembled a small team of enthusiasts from the scale and full size auto industries to create Automodello. The goal of Automodello is to model the world’s most iconic and prestigious sports cars in 1:43 scale, but to concentrate their production on cars that have never been modeled before.
The first offering to come from their work is a Regal Red Griffith 200. The amount of detail that Automodello captures with this piece is excellent for a first attempt by Automodello, especially for a new-comer in the business of 1:43 scale sports car replicas. The first thing that draws you in are the wire wheels. Finely crafted and laced photo-etched metal form the wire wheels giving them a profound presence. Even the double-eared spinners are in place, which is amazing given the scale they selected to work in. The rubber moldings around the front and rear wind screens are painted on in black, and give the replica a true appearance. The windscreen wipers appear to be made in two pieces of photo-etched metal, which again is something unseen on many other models in 1:43 scale.
The interior will captivate you even more, with pleats on the tan seats and a fully decorated dash. The rear view mirror is mounted directly between two sun screens on the headliner. The pedals, emergency brake handle, and shifter are all appropriately painted; however, what truly amaze the eyes upon gazing into the interior are the door trim details, mainly the presence of the window cranks and the door latch handles. Details that sometimes get overlooked in the realm of 1:43 scale modeling.
The Automodello 1:43 scale Griffith 200 in Regal Red was selected as the Official Model for the 2010 Desert Classic Concours. After reviewing the model it is easy to see why a fine event like the Desert Classic Concours would select the Automodello Griffith 200. The model offers exquisite detail overall, and the fact that Automodello selected to replicate such a rare sports car as their first offering to the market shows a cavalier mindset indeed. Though at $95.00 USD, the model may be priced higher than some of the competition in its segment, the price difference is not vast by any means, and the quality that this model exhibits is well worth the extra few dollars.
For more information, visit www.automodello.com.