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GSM Dart. Two South Africans, lots of fiberglass and a deformable chassis

Reviewing what we know about the classic car in South Africa we get few references. But yes, all of them very interesting. To begin with, and as self-confessed followers of the Scudería, we remember Jody Scheckter. The South African F1 driver who raced from 1972 to 1980, becoming champion in 1979 aboard the Ferrari 312T4, also giving Maranello their sixth constructors' title. Second we cannot forget the interview with kind Jethro Bronner. The passionate alfista who crossed all of Africa on his journey from South Africa to Ireland aboard a 1964 Giulia Sprint GT. By the way, no notable breakdowns.

And, of course, we cannot ignore the history of the BMW 333i E30. The local M3 variant designed from Germany by BMW Motorsport in collaboration with Alpina to save trade embargoes during the last years of Apartheid. A South African-assembled beast under the hood of which the 3,2-liter inline six-cylinder engine from the 733i was mounted. The ingenuity known as the Big Six, whose size forced buyers to choose between having air conditioning or power steering.

However, and to be honest, after these three references we could not tell you anything more about the world of classics in South Africa beyond some indications about the manufacture of a couple of Alfa Romeo models in the place. However, just a few days ago we discovered the history of GSM and its first model. A small artisan sports car with a fiberglass body of which only about 168 units were made, counting those assembled in the United Kingdom, which were little more than fifty. The dream of two young engineers who could only stay afloat from 1958 to 1964 and now represents a rarity for connoisseurs.

GSM DART. DREAMS IN FIBERGLASS

When Chevrolet launched the Corvette in 1953, it put the benefits of fiberglass on the table. And, until then, no mass-produced sports car had had a body made of this material. A compound that made things quite easy for small manufacturers, since its cost is much cheaper than that of aluminum. In addition, while working aluminum sheets requires expert bodybuilders ... Shaping fiberglass is much easier. For all this, During the fifties and sixties, countries such as Italy and the United Kingdom experienced a real explosion when it comes to small artisan racing cars bodied with this material..

In fact, if it weren't for fiberglass, we might not be talking about GSM. A brand that, even in its name, reveals the influence of this marterial: Glass Sport Motors. But, Why was it so important to young engineers Bob Van Niekerk and Willie Meissner? Simply because it allowed them to move forward with their business idea. And it is that, recently graduated, they had the technical means to manufacture a chassis and the contacts to get engines. However, in poorly industrial South Africa it was impossible to find bodybuilders.

Something that changed when Meissner traveled to the United Kingdom, discovering the benefits of fiberglass there. In addition, and after writing a letter to Niekerk requesting his presence in England, they met the South African designer Verster de Wit. Collaborator in the design of the Sunbeam AlpineIt was he who taught them to work with the new material. With this training they returned to South Africa, where after twelve or thirteen attempts they finally managed to shape a valid body mold. Thus, the only thing left to do was to build a simple frame chassis on which they mounted 1.300cc engines, mostly from the Ford Anglia 100E and 105E.

GOOD DESIGN, EXCELLENT BEHAVIOR AND PIONEERING SAFETY

One of the interesting things about the GSM Darts is their character as quasi-unique pieces. Due to its artisan manufacture, many units go beyond the norm to assemble parts that were not originally selected. It is because of that some GSM Dart units are powered by Alfa Romeo 1300 double overhead camshaft or Coventry Climax engines. However, it is true that most of the bodies are highly homogeneous. With those rear fins that seem inspired by the Alfa Romeo BAT by Franco Scaglione and the inverted rear window that three years later -in 1961- popularized the first-series Citroën Ami 6.

In addition to its design, something interesting about the GSM Dart was its low weight. An advantage for which they achieved remarkable results in South African and British races, bringing out the colors of much more powerful cars thanks to their excellent weight / power ratio. This way, For six years certain British motor circles echoed this small African brand, which was the second in the country after the 1957 premiere of Protea and its small racing car. However, and as a very interesting piece of information, we must point out GSM's concern for security.

And is that the GSM Dart is one of the first cars with programmed crumple zones on the chassis. An essential element in safety today, but nonexistent in the small racing cars made six or seven decades ago. A reason that, by itself, would already make our protagonist worthy of a prominent place in the annals of motorsport. However, due to financial problems, GSM was dissolved in 1964, six years after it was founded. He only had time to launch the Dart and an interesting V8 model that seems similar to the Cheeta in its approach. Something that we will inform you about in future articles about the history of GSM.

P.S: Interestingly, the GSM Dart have a much cheaper price than it might seem. Although it is difficult to find a unit for sale, when it appears it moves in a range between 9.000 and 14.000 euros. Just what was planned for the auction that Bonhams will hold one copy on July 17.

Photographs: Bonhams / GSM / Frankschhoek Museum

What do you think?

Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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