Gor­don Mur­ray saves a GSM, South Africa’s own home-grown sports car

Fond mem­o­ries of GSM Darts com­pet­ing in his na­tive South Africa won the rare model a place in Gor­don’s heart and in his grow­ing clas­sic col­lec­tion

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Gor­don Mur­ray is one of the most in­no­va­tive au­to­mo­tive de­sign­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. He de­signed Gp-win­ning F1 cars for Brab­ham and Mclaren and the Mclaren F1 road car.

The lat­est ad­di­tion to my clas­sic car col­lec­tion has a strong con­nec­tion to my early rac­ing days in South Africa. It’s a GSM Dart. I well re­mem­ber watch­ing th­ese lit­tle cars rac­ing back in the Six­ties at the Roy Hes­keth and Kyalami cir­cuits where they were very suc­cess­ful.

GSM (Glass Sports Mo­tors) re­mains the only true South African in­de­pen­dent car man­u­fac­turer and was the brain­child of South African en­gi­neers Bob Van Niek­erk and Wil­lie Meiss­ner. The two met while study­ing engi­neer­ing at Cape Town Univer­sity, where Van Niek­erk in­tro­duced Meiss­ner to mo­tor rac­ing. Dur­ing his univer­sity course Van Niek­erk be­gan build­ing and rac­ing spe­cials (a story not too dis­sim­i­lar to my own). It was also dur­ing this pe­riod of the mid-fifties that they first dis­cussed their dream of one day build­ing a light­weight sports car.

Dur­ing a trip to Eng­land in 1956 Meiss­ner dis­cov­ered a new light­weight ma­te­rial called glass­fi­bre. He per­suaded Van Niek­erk to join him and the two soon be­gan mak­ing plans to pro­duce their own car. While in­ves­ti­gat­ing the process of pat­tern-mak­ing and mould­ing a glass­fi­bre body, they were in­tro­duced to Ver­ster de Wit, who worked in the Rootes Group styling depart­ment. De Wit was another South African who had moved to Eng­land in the Fifties. Meiss­ner had pre­vi­ously met him in South Africa through mo­tor rac­ing in the Cape. De Wit agreed to style the new car, which goes a long way to ex­plain­ing why its shape and proportions have stood the test of time so well.

The team set up shop in a rented garage in Streatham and set about mak­ing the pat­tern from de Wit’s de­sign, fol­lowed by the body mould. The first two bod­ies were sold to fund the project, but by now Meiss­ner had had enough of the un­heated garage and re­turned to South Africa where he set up a com­pany to pro­duce the Dart.

Van Niek­erk de­cided to re­join him in South Africa and Dart pro­duc­tion be­gan in 1958. The car achieved rac­ing suc­cess al­most im­me­di­ately. A Cli­max-en­gined Dart won the 1959 nine-hour en­durance race at Kyalami and I re­call Darts be­ing cam­paigned at Roy Hes­keth, my lo­cal cir­cuit, by the likes of Ritchie Jute, John Truter, Peter Gough and Jack Holme.

Only 122 Darts were pro­duced, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to track one down for my col­lec­tion, but I en­listed the help of An­dré Loub­ser, who has long since been part of the South African au­to­mo­tive scene and knows a lot about GSM prod­ucts.

An­dré knew of a Dart with a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and di­rected me to its owner in Jersey. The chas­sis num­ber is 5913 (the 13th car built in 1959) and it has been owned by South African Ed Rossler since he bought the car in 1961. Ed raced 5913 in South Africa for two sea­sons be­fore shipping it to Eng­land to fur­ther his rac­ing ca­reer. It was stored un­til 1970 when it was re-en­gined and mod­i­fied for road use.

Ed moved to Jersey and stored the Dart un­til 2004 when it went back to South Africa for restora­tion. In 2014 it re­turned to Jersey and just last month I fi­nalised its pur­chase for my col­lec­tion – a great piece of South African au­to­mo­tive his­tory.

Still wear­ing its Jersey plates, Gor­don’s GSM Dart is a rare ad­di­tion to his clas­sic col­lec­tion

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