by Jim Evans
|The Early Years
Cyril Kieft was born in Swansea and followed his father into the
steel industry. By the time war broke out he was managing the giant
steel-works at Scunthorpe and was a regular visitor to Donington Park
where he saw the legendary pre-war grand prix. His appetite for cars and
for motor sport had been whetted and the memory of those races led him
to buy a Marwyn 500cc car after the war - but his competition career was
brief. He entered a hill climb at Lydstep in Wales and recalled: "I was
on the starting line when one of my two daughters ran up and said:
‘Mummy says: be careful.’" I did one run and retired. I realized it was
madness for me to be doing it and, afterwards, I never employed a driver
who had children."
Kieft's 'K' type lock.
|In 1947 Cyril left the steel industry when it was
nationalised, fearing he would become no more than a civil
servant. He set up Cyril Kieft and Co Ltd., forging and pressing
companies of his own, based at Bridgend South Wales. Rolls-Royce
was a customer. He also started to manufacture a cylinder pin
tumbler lock known as the ‘K’ type, which differed from the
normal design in that the pins were in an almost straight line,
end on to the face of the cylinder.
Another feature of the lock
was that the plug could be locked in two positions, which was
used to deadlock the latch. It was manufactured in the early
1950s. Initially it sold well but some problems were experienced
and the troublesome lock disappeared from the market.
Motor racing offered Cyril a new challenge. When Marwyn
folded, Cyril acquired the remnants of the company and then
designed his own car. The chassis of the first Kieft 500cc car
was similar to the Marwyn but the suspension, by Metalastic
bushes in tension, was completely different.
|The early Kieft's enjoyed some success but were heavy compared to the
rival Coopers. Michael Christie, however, fitted one with an 1100cc
V-twin JAP engine and ran it in hill climbs. Michael, who was five times
runner-up in the RAC Hill Climb Championship, says: "It was a brute
force and ignorance car, but it gave me some wins."
In the early days of 500cc racing everyone was on a learning curve
and Kieft did better than most. For one thing, Cyril sold several cars -
eight of the original design -and was a professional in an amateur age.
He understood presentation and the press: his transporter was always
smartly turned out and he was the most quoted manufacturer of his time.
The first Kieft Sports car was essentially a wider Formula 3 car with
cycle mudguards, headlights and a 650cc BSA engine. It would do 75mph
and return 40mpg, respectable figures for the day. Cyril made it known
that he would take orders for others, but nobody took him up. In late
1950, Kieft tackled 350cc and 500cc international records at Montlhery.
The driving team consisted of Stirling Moss, Ken Gregory (Moss’ manager)
and a Kieft owner called John Neill. They came away with 14 records.
Cyril asked Moss to drive for him, but Stirling did not rate the cars.
Instead, Kieft Cars took over a 500cc design conceived by Dean Delamont,
John A Cooper (technical editor of The Autocar) and Ray Martin, to
Stirling’s specifications. It was an advanced design with
all-independent suspension by rubber bands. As part of the deal, Moss
became a director of Kieft Cars Ltd and they moved to Reliance Works
Derry Street Wolverhampton.
While the new car was being made, Stirling drove one of the older
models in the Luxembourg Grand Prix. In the back of the car was a
double-knocker Norton engine, up-rated by Steve Lancefleld, the best
motorcycle tuner of his day. Norton wanted nothing to do with the car
brigade so people had gone to the trouble of buying motorcycles just to
get their hands on the engine. Cyril, however, sponsored Eric Harding,
one of the works Norton riders, so he enjoyed unusual influence.
Stirling retired at Luxembourg but it was there that the designer of the
Mackson 500cc car, Gordon Bedson, made an approach to Cyril. He was
working with Vickers Aircraft and wanted to move over to cars. Towards
the end of 1951 Cyril gave him the job and, with typical generosity,
fixed him up with a house. Moss received the new 500cc car in time for
Whit Monday at Goodwood, where he duly won the final, setting the
fastest lap and a new lap record. For 12 months Moss and the prototype
Kieft were the headline news in Formula 3. Then the prototype was
written off in a multiple shunt in Belgium and Stirling was less happy
with production versions. At Boreham, on the 21st June 1952,
Stirling had entered his usual Kieft but arranged to borrow a works
Cooper for the event, the Kieft in his words "finally having run out of
steam". As the Motor
wryly observed "a director of Kieft Cars was thus competing against
Kieft in his rival’s product!" During the year Moss drifted back to
|Kieft remained Moss’ biggest rival in the form of
the works driver Don Parker, who was taken on for 1952. Don was
over 40 before he even saw a racing car and was 44 when he
became Kieft’s works driver. He was built like a jockey; he had
a lot of aggression and was a fine engineer who honed his cars
to the limit; he even raced without underwear or socks to save
Don won most of his 126 Formula 3 victories in Kieft’s,
and was the only driver to beat Moss on a regular basis. He was
British Champion in 1952 and 1953 and thought he had won in 1954
as well. He was hailed as the champion in October but then the
BRSCC organized the first Boxing Day Brands Hatch meeting and an
extra round was added. Les Leston finished above Parker and took
the title by half a point.
Parker, who died in 1997, had a
volunteer mechanic, a young chap who hitchhiked to meetings to
lend a hand and who remembered: "He picked me because he thought
I could persuade Cyril to give him a drive." His name was Graham
|There are no precise records as to the number of F3 cars built but it
seems to be a total of around 15 during 1952-53. The 1954 version
featured tubular wishbone and coil spring front suspension, but probably
only a couple of these cars were built.
Bedson's brief was to design a Bristol-powered Formula 2 car, but
this was never completed and instead the same basic design was adapted
as a sports/racing car in 1953. The basis of the sports Kieft was a
multi-tubular chassis with the then unconventional feature that the
central seat of the proposed Formula 2 car was retained. Cyril had been
impressed by the center-seat Veritas Meteors at the Nurburgring. The
idea was that sitting in the center seat would give optimum weight
distribution. But the driver sat high over the prop shaft with the gear
lever between the legs, the intention being that there should be small
seats on either side of the driver outside the main chassis frame. Thus
it was, strictly speaking, a 3-seater and complied with international
regulations, although in practice the seat to the right of the driver
was usually removed. There were unequal-length tubular wishbones front
and rear with coil spring/damper units at the front and a transverse
leaf spring at the rear, mounted on top of the Elektron housing for the
final drive. Kieft used a form of wheel and brake inspired by Cooper
practice, so that the ribbed Elektron drums for the Lockheed brakes also
formed the wheel centers and were bolted to detachable steel 15 in.
rims. There was full width ‘aerodynamic’ bodywork constructed in
aluminium, with front and rear body sections hinged to give excellent
accessibility, a passenger door on the left (getting into the driver’s
seat was a bit of a scramble!) and a metal tonneau over the right-hand
side of the cockpit. Prices quoted were £750 (less engine and gearbox),
£1125 (MG engine and gearbox) and £1365 (Bristol engine and gearbox).
According to Kieft, eight cars were built in 1953 and early 1954 and
were registered consecutively LDA1 to LDA8. If an attempt is made to
trace these numbers through illustrations in magazines and photographs
of the period, it is not possible to trace them all. However, early in
the year arrangements were made for three cars to be raced by "The
Monkey Stable" and these were registered LDA1 to LDA3. Originally The
Monkey Stable was to have four cars but it seems that only three were
delivered. According to Cyril Kieft the cars were leased but, on the
face of things, this was not correct. Peter Avern, The Monkey Stable
racing manager, advertised two cars for sale in October 1953, whereas if
they were leased they would presumably have been returned to Kieft. It
may be - and this is speculation - that the cars were originally sold
but a replacement supplied later in the year was on lease. The Monkey
Stable cars used MG 1467 cc engines and MG TC gearboxes and the engines
were tuned by team drivers Jim Mayers and Ian Wilson. Of the remaining
cars built it appears that one (supplied to a private owner for road
use) was MG-powered and the remaining four were all fitted with Bristol
2-litre engines and gearboxes.
In 1953 The Monkey Stable was very professionally organised and
tackled a full season of International races with some success. The full
team of three cars was entered in the Production Sports Car race at
Silverstone and, although they were beaten in the 1500 cc class by Cliff
Davis’s Cooper-MG, they finished second and third in the class, in the
order Mayers, Griffith; but Keen was right at the tail of the field
after mechanical problems. In this race Michael Christie drove the first
of the Bristol-powered cars entered by ‘Kieft Cars’ but he was never in
serious contention in his class. The Kieft’s were again beaten by
Davis's Cooper in the 1100 cc heat of the British Empire Trophy on the
Douglas circuit but, in the handicap final, although Meyers non-started
because of clutch trouble, Griffith came through to win the class at
63.80 mph after the Cooper broke a half-shaft. On 26 July The Monkey
Stable competed in the Lisbon Jubilee Sports Car Grand Prix. The race
was won by Bonetto’s Lancia, with Moss (works Jaguar) second, and the
Kieft-MGs won the 2000 cc class in the order Mayers, Line.
The Monkey Stable's transporter, with two Kieft-MGs, was driven
direct to Nurburgring so that the team could compete in the 7-lap Sports
Car race prior to the German Grand Prix. The third car for Mike Keen
came direct from England. On the way the transporter was wrecked and the
cars badly damaged. Gordon Bedson organized a replacement which was
driven to Germany and that was wrecked on the way too! David Blakely was
to have driven one of the cars but was now a non-starter, and Alan Brown
took over a car that Kieft was about to sell to a private customer. In
the race Brown was right out of the picture because of engine trouble
but Keen finished fifth in the face of strong local opposition from
Porsche, Borgward and EMW.
Because of the problems encountered abroad, The Monkey Stable missed
the Goodwood Nine Hours race, although Hazleton/Thompson drove a 2 litre
Bristol-powered car. It was plagued by an engine misfire and retired
because of a blown gasket. A week later The Monkey Stable ran their trio
of cars in the Nurburgring 1000 km race but the sole finisher was the
car of Mayers/Griffith, fifth and last in its class. Line over-revved
his engine on the first lap and Keen led his class but retired out on
the circuit because of a broken wheel rim. In the Tourist Trophy on the
Dundrod circuit a trio of Kieft-Bristol’s was entered under the name of
Kieft Cars but at least two of these belonged to private owners. None
finished and two of the three were eliminated by accidents. Mayers wound
up The Monkey Stable’s season by winning the 1500cc sports car race at
Castle Coombe in October and setting a new class lap record of 78.85
||At the end of 1953 The Monkey Stable temporarily
pulled out of racing and most of the Kieft’s changed hands.
Horace Gould acquired one of the Bristol-powered cars to replace
his Cooper-MG but, even with his very press-on driving (not for
nothing was he known as ‘the Gonzalez of the West Country’), he
could not achieve success.
Probably his best performance was a
class second at the May Silverstone International meeting. In
British events the 1953 Kieft’s scored nothing apart from a
class win by Byrnes with a Bristol-powered car at Shelsley
Walsh. Much better luck was enjoyed by a Bristol-engined car
which went to America. Owned by Paul Ceresole and driven by
Carpenter/van Driel, it finished sixth and won its class in the
1954 Sebring 12 Hours race.
Three MG powered cars were entered,
Allen and Ehrmon finishing 11th
overall and 5th in its class; the other cars retired.
By the end of 1953 Cyril Kieft had his mind on a host of new
projects, despite the comparative failure of these early
|A Formula 1 design was completed during 1954 with the intention of
using the Coventry Climax ‘Godiva’ V8 engine but, when Climax did not
release the unit, the project was stillborn. A car and a spare chassis
were made and Bill Morris, who has some Godiva engines, was still
completing the Fl Kieft in 1999, 44 years after it was intended to run.
However a Kieft did take part in a Formula 1 race. At Davidstow in
Cornwall, on the 7th June 1954, Horace Gould had entered his Cooper
Bristol for the Formula 1 race. The Cooper Bristol had retired from an
earlier race with engine problems but Horace was not going to miss the
Formula 1 race. So he came out in his Kieft Bristol Sports Car to do
battle. Rather strangely though, he was on the front row, while
technically he should have been at the back. The lighter single seaters
soon overtook him and, as the steering of the Kieft was causing handling
problems, Horace switched off the engine and retired. A little gem of
motor racing history that most people seem to have missed.
This however was not the end of Horace’s eventful day, with both his
cars out of action he loaded them into his converted bus/transporter and
headed for home. On leaving the paddock he took a wrong turn and headed
down the main straight towards the footbridge. The bridge was low and
the bus was high. And the inevitable happened! The bridge collapsed and
the bus was almost cut in half. Fortunately no one was injured but the
remaining two races had to be cancelled. Horace was to live and fight
another day and entertain crowd through out England and Europe.
A one-off sports racer with a 5.5 litre V8 De Soto engine and a Moss
gearbox was built for an American amateur, Erwin Goldschmidt. It had an
aluminium body, which looked not unlike the Cunningham CR4. Goldschmidt
did quite well on the car’s debut in a hill climb; and then he pranged
it. Kieft sent out replacement parts and heard nothing for about 15
years, when someone discovered it on an airfield.
The real headline of 1954, however, was a new sports car with
conventional side-by-side seating. This was interesting because it was
the first car to have a one-piece glassfibre body. This was based on a
simple twin-tubular chassis with two main 3 in. steel members and the
familiar suspension arrangement of wishbones and coil spring/damper
units at the front and transverse leaf spring and wishbones at the rear.
It was the first car to use the new Coventry-Climax FWA single overhead
camshaft 1098 cc engine developing 72 bhp at 6300 rpm. Transmission was
by a Moss 4-speed gearbox. As Cyril explains: "Gordon Bedson sketched
out the body and I added my bit. We then had a one-fifth model made and,
because I was buying Bristol engines, we were able to put it in the
Bristol wind tunnel. The Climax FW was then a fire pump engine and that
is how I bought the first one. Then I had a crankshaft forged at my
works and machined at Laystall, and had new conrods made." As events
were to prove, its competition potential was limited, but it had good
prospects as a production sports car.
A four-cylinder water-cooled twin overhead cam 500cc unit, made by
Jack Turner of Turner Sports Cars, Merridale Street, Wolverhampton, had
intrigued Cyril. On paper the engine looked a winner and Cyril spoke of
building a batch of 25 sports car using it. The one engine which Turner
made was run in a Kieft in a couple of hill climbs and was found wanting
- it produced only 35bhp against the 50bhp of a decent Norton. Jack
Turner later adapted the dohc cylinder head to a BMC A-Series engine and
ran it in a Morris Minor.
Another unusual engine that Cyril took on board was the AJB
air-cooled flat four, designed by Archie Butterworth. He took delivery
of one of the early examples, which had Steyr cylinder barrels and
heads, and had these swapped for Norton equivalents. At the time, Cyril
spoke of mounting a challenge to Porsche, but the engine proved hard to
cool. The AJB-Norton-Kieft engine passed through various hands and, in
the 1970s, Ian Richardson used it in his successful sprint motorcycle,
Moonraker. Richardson used the engine for years with no problems and his
many wins make you wonder what might have been.
The main thrust of Kieft activities in 1954 was on production of the
new 1100 cc sports/racing car. Using the Coventry Climax FWA engine is
Cyril’s crowning achievement; Kieft Cars did not benefit, but the FWA
begat the 1100cc sports car class, which replaced Formula 3 as the class
for the aspiring driver.
A Kieft-Climax appeared at Le Mans in 1954, entered for Rippon/Black
and, although it was no match for the Duntov/Oliver 1100 cc Porsche 550,
it ran steadily until the back axle failed in the eleventh hour. Don
Parker drove one of these cars in the 1500cc sports car race at
Silverstone in July, finishing well down the field, but lasting the
distance to take third place in the 1100 cc class behind von Hanstein
(Porsche) and Reece (OSCA). At the Tourist Trophy on the Dundrod
circuit, two 1100 cc cars were entered by Kieft Cars Ltd. (in fact the
company was still known as Cyril Kieft & Co. Ltd.) for Ferguson/Rippon
and Parker/Boshier-Jones; and the private 1953 MG-powered car of
Westcott/ Bridget also ran as a member of the works team. Byrnes entered
his 2-litre car for himself and Adams. Ferguson/Rippon were the sole
finishers in the 1100 cc class, in twentieth place and second in class,
the first major success for Coventry Climax. Cooper and Lotus were both
soon on the case. Parker was at the wheel of the car he was sharing with
Boshier-Jones when the front suspension broke and poked through the
bodywork, while a broken gearbox eliminated the Westcott/ Bridget car
and the Byrnes/Adams entry was compulsorily retired because of body
damage after striking a bank.
In January 1955 John Bolster tested one of these cars for Autosport.
The performance figures encompassed a maximum speed of 104.5 mph, 0-60
mph in 12.6 sec (quite respectable in those days), a standing
quarter-mile in 18.2 sec and a fuel consumption of 30 mpg or
thereabouts. Bolster wrote:
"The 1100 cc Kieft is two cars in one. First of all, it is a
smooth, quiet and tractable sports model, with perfect road manners.
Fitted with the standard full-width screen, it would be quite
practical as an everyday conveyance, and the remarkable resistance
to impact possessed by fibreglass bodies might well prove valuable
on our grossly overcrowded roads.
"Secondly, it is a competition model, designed ab initio
for this work. Thus it already has brakes, road holding and steering
that are quite adequate for racing, and requires no extra equipment
for this purpose. The engine gave every sign that it will stand up
to the most grueling event, and this is the sort of car that may
well win victories by going on motoring when the rest have stopped."
In other words, a nice little club racer that could be used as an
everyday car as well.
By this time Cyril had his mind on other things, since the
Conservative government was in the process of privatising the steel
industry and he was preparing to return. He left motor racing before the
end of the year but was to leave it on a high note. Kieft’s achievement
in winning its class at Sebring and second place in its class in the
Tourist Trophy was the British motor racing highlight of the year. In
recognition of the feat, Kieft Cars was given a stand at the London
Motor Show at Earls Court. They exhibited two 1100s, one in racing trim,
the other offered as a road car. The asking price was £1569, £500 more
than an Austin-Healey 100; and its one-piece body meant that the doors,
boot and bonnet lid had to be cut with a jigsaw - OK on a racer, but not
for a production car. Nobody bought one for the road. But the clock was
winding down and Cyril Kieft had lost vast sums of money on various
projects that were not pursued. Before the end of 1954 Cyril sold Kieft
Cars to fellow Welshman Berwyn Baxter, an able club racer. The sale was
kept quiet because Cyril felt that the team would have a better chance
of gaining entries in major races if the organisers believed that it was
business as usual.
In May 1955, one of the sports cars was fitted with an aluminium body
made by Panelcraft and a 1500cc Turner unit. The engine was a stroked
alloy-block Lea-Francis unit with a twin-plug head. It ran in the Paris
24 Hour race at Montlhery, but retired. In the early part of 1955 Baxter
drove this car, registered LDA 3 (the number was probably switched from
one of those allotted to a 1953 car, but exported), in Club events and
then ran it at Le Mans. For this race the fuel injection was replaced by
special Solex carburettors, which necessitated an enormous air scoop on
the bonnet. Baxter co-drove with John Deeley (an AustinHealey racer),
but the Kieft retired because of overheating on the sixth lap. A
Climax-powered car driven by Rippon and Merrick was also slow and failed
to finish. The Kieft-Turner failed to finish in the Goodwood Nine Hour
race. Baxter was now thoroughly fed up with the unreliability of the
inadequately developed Turner and substituted an Austin A50 engine for
the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, where Baxter’s co-driver was Max Trimble.
An 1100 cc car was also entered for Lord Louth/Rippon, and a Bristol
engined car for Fisher and Adams. This car retired due to an accident
but the other two finished, but right at the tail of the field, the
Bristol engined car in 25th and the Austin engined car one
place lower. Berwyn Baxter entered the Kieft-MG in selected races during
1956, but only in British races, and then he called it a day. A total of
six two-seat Kieft sports cars were made.
Kieft Cars Ltd ceased to make cars in Derry Street, Wolverhampton
during 1956 and Berwyn Baxter transferred the company to Nixon’s Garage,
Soho Road, Birmingham, and shortly afterwards transferred to new
premises in Bordesley Road Birmingham. The company undertook the
preparation of competition cars in addition to Baxter’s own Aston Martin
DB3S and Max Trimble’s Jaguars. There were ambitious plans for marketing
a production version of the Kieft 1100ccc sports car but they came to
nothing. The company quietly faded away until the spring of 1960 when
John Turvey and Lionel Mayman bought the company and called it Burmans,
which, in 1961, made a few Formula Junior cars under the Kieft name; but
they were not successful.
Cyril had more tricks up his sleeve and his name was the ‘K’ in the
DKR scooter introduced in 1957. The initials were those of the three
people behind the project: Barry Day, Managing director of Willenhall
Motor Radiator, Cyril Kieft and Noah Robinson, a director of Willenhall
Motor Radiator. Cyril designed the frame and it was highly praised by
the motorcycle press. Willenhall Motor Radiator supplied the ten main
pressings and assembly took place in premises at Pendeford Airport,
Wolverhampton, where the machines were taken for final checking. But
scooters had to be Italian for credibility. About 2000 were made and
production finished in 1966.
Cyril Kieft shot across motor racing like a star for only a few
seasons, but he left an indelible mark.
Article in Classic Car and Sports car.
Locks and Keys (A newsletter for lock & key collectors) edited by
Richard Phillips, Nov. 2000
Powered Vehicles of the Black Country, by Jim Boulton, pub. by the Black
Country Soc., 1990.
Sport Racing Cars of the Fifties and Sixties, by Anthony Pritchard,
published by Osprey, 1986.
Formula 3 Year Book 1953-54, published by Motor Racing
Boreham: the History of the Motor RacingCircuit, by B Jones and J
Davidstow: a History of Cornwall's Formula 1 Race Circuit by Peter
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