Escapade: "Griffith build his Dream Machine" by Eric Nielssen
When TVR went under, Griffith Motors was left in an awkward but not entirely impossible situation. Much earlier, Jack, with Dick Monnich and Don Johnson, the firm's vice president and general manager, had begun a search for a new design direction to take the place of the ill-fated Trident. At several times Griffith had come in contact with proprietors of the Apollo car-building project, using Buick components in an Italian-made chassis and body, and he had even considered adopting as a Griffith a new four-seater coupe that had been built as an Apollo prototype at a time when it looked like Apollo wouldn't be able to make use of the design.
While looking at the Apollo possibilities, Griffith met the man whose firm in Turin, Carrozzeria Intermeccanica, makes the Apollo bodies: not an Italian, but a Hungarian of Canadian citizenship and American education, Frank Reisner. His firm had started out as North-East Engineering, making speed equipment, Peugeot-based Formula junior cars and a little GT coupe fitted with the Steyr engine for sale in Austria. Later he had switched primarily to body construction, and for Apollo he had produced some bodies of excellent trim and soundness. This was just what Jack Griffith had been looking for. In April, 1965, he arranged to purchase chassis-body units for a future Griffith from Reisner's Intermeccanica.
Jack Griffith also knew where the design for his new car would be coming from. From early 1964 he had under contract one of the few experienced independent automobile stylists, Robert Cumberford. Bob had been with the General Motors styling staff on advanced projects, and after leaving them had done design work on a number of automobiles, including a body for a stillborn Holman Moody Indianapolis car.
Associated with Bob in Robert Cumberford Design International is John Crosthwaite, a Britisher with experience on both sides of the pond: John's chassis design and fabrication experience includes cars from Lotus, Cooper Dolphin of San Diego, Mickey Thompson and B.R.M., for whom he still does some work on a contract basis. Crosthwaite's responsibility included the review and amendment of Frank Reisner's structure and suspension design for the new Griffith, while Cumberford did the shape and worked out the general concept and proportion of the car.
One feature of the earlier product Griffith had no intention of changing: the comprehensive use of Ford parts. In fact, the new Griffith will extend their use to include the rear axle as well as the engine transmission, the latter being either four-speed or automatic as desired no difference in price. Griffith Motors is recognized as an original equipment automobile manufacturer by the National Automobile Dealers Association and by the Ford Industrial Engine Division, which sells it engines and other assemblies at "o.e.m." prices, more favorable than those enjoyed by Ford dealers, for example.
Specifically, the 1966 Griffith continues to use the 289 cubic-inch Ford V8 engine, and if in the future Ford should decide to effect any improvements in this engine Griffith Motors would enjoy the benefits of those improvements. Griffith hopes to be able to offer the three-speed automatic with manual override as used in the Fairlane GT/A, and if he can't get it he'll consider going to another source to get the kind of gearing he feels he needs. Either way a Griffith owner can take confidence in the fact that the drive components of his car can easily be serviced anywhere in the United States.
The concept of the 1966 Griffith can be summed up most simply this way: It's conceived as direct competition for the Jaguar XKE and Corvette Sting Ray. It resembles them both very closely in terms of size, with a 94 1/2-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 175 inches. Unlike its raw and uncultured predecessor, the new car is very much a luxury machine, with a strong appeal to those "personal car" customers who don't need a full four-seater.
There is no direct resemblance to the other cars in its class in terms of appearance but the new Griffith does have much of the animal grace of the XKE combined with no small amount of the sharp, machine like character definition of the Sting Ray. It is a nice combination and it is without argument a very good-looking automobile. At the moment it comes either as a convertible or a hardtop, again with no change in the price which is expected to be substantially less than $7500, including as standard most accessories except for radio and air conditioning. This year Griffith expects to show another version, about which we will say only that it should be one bell of a fine way to carry your golf clubs and/or skeet-shooting-car.
An integral body-frame has been designed for the new car, for fabrication in steel by Intermeccanica. It has a live rear axle (increasingly a rarity in this class of car) and independent front suspension with rack and pinion steering. Disc brakes are used at all four wheels. A major
advantage of the new semi-monocoque frame layout is the elimination of the gigantic center tunnel required by the backbone-type frame of the old TVR chassis. Good riddance! (Jack Griffith is not so happy, however, about being rid of the TVR line as such, and he is still on the lookout for another car, possibly British, that will allow him to offer a lower-priced series as well.)
With the Griffith contract in hand, Frank Reisner is putting up a new building in Turin which will allow him to meet the target of 650 cars in 1966. The leased premises at Plainview, Long Island, with a total of 18,000 square feet including offices are being reorganized to accommodate the different assembly procedure the new design requires. Griffith candidly hungry for cars to feed his dealers since the mid-1965 TVR shutdown, had the completed prototype and the first nine bodies flown to the U.S. to meet press and dealer preview needs and get the new program off to a swinging start.
Your nearest dealer? Well, that depends on where you hang your hat. Griffith distribution to date has been through some 45 outlets in the eastern United States, extending from Pittsburgh and Washington up through New England; some but not all of these will be carrying the more expensive, more luxurious new Griffith, an upgraded car which deserves, Jack Griffith feels, upgraded dealers carrying more parts and offering a factory warranty that he says will be comparable with such competition as Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. Griffith also plans to solicit dealers in other parts of the country through factory branch offices to be established in Chicago, Florida and Los Angeles with the help of interested new capital.
As I talked with Jack Griffith in his handsome office, and as this tall figure, like a James Carrier with glasses showed me his excellent facilities with pardonable pride. I thought to myself that here was one man who, much more than most, had come close to making his daydream a living reality. How close he's come we'll all know later this year. Meanwhile, Jack Griffith might want to have embroidered for his office wall the following adage, a quote from the British Motor: "It is dangerously easy to become a motor manufacturer; far more difficult to become a successful one. "