Cyril Kieft

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.

The Wolverhampton Era

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 Cooper.

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 weight.

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 Hill.

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.

More Racing

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 mph.

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 projects.

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 Frankland, 1999.
Davidstow: a History of Cornwall's Formula 1 Race Circuit by Peter Tutthill, 1996.

Return to the
previous page