GSM: South Africa’s Almost forgotten Sportscars
The South African built GSM Dart and Flamingo were our local contenders against Europe’s finest, but barely anyone knows about them.
Did you know that South Africa had its own sportscar manufacturer? Yes, I do know that we have several companies which produce replicas like Backdraft and Hi-Tech Automotive with their infamous Cobras, CAV and their Ford GT40, and Universal Products with their Porsche 356 and 550 Spyder replicas. But there was one local manufacturer which produced their very own sportscars and weirdly (not to mention sadly) loads of South African barely know about them.
That manufacturer was Glassport Motor Company or GSM which was founded in Cape Town back in 1958 by the late Bob van Niekerk and Willie Meissner. Their car manufacturing journey began when Meissner travelled to England and happened to find out about fibreglass, a new material at the time. He was so intrigued that he sent a letter to van Niekerk telling him to come to England to learn more about fibreglass and most importantly, how they could use it to build a car.
While learning about the new material, the pair got in contact with South African designer Verster de Wit who helped them to not only design their first car but also the fundamentals of car designs, and together they produced a design they were happy with, and then began building a mould for the body. That body would become the GSM Dart.
With the mould complete, the first body was sold to a client in England so van Niekerk could pay for his, and the mould’s trip home. Once back on local soil, the duo began building their first GSM Darts.
The GSM Dart
The GSM Dart was an open-top, two-seat roadster built on a ladder-type chassis which used transverse springs at the front and coil springs at the rear. When it came to engine options, GSM offered an array of choices ranging from the Coventry Climax (if you know your F1 history, that name should ring a bell) to the 100E and 105E from the Ford Anglia, while four Darts were fitted with 1300cc Alfa Romeo engines.
Style-wise, the Dart offered all the hallmarks of a small European sports car and to the untrained eye, you would think it left the factory of MG or Triumph in England.
Production of the Dart ended in 1965 but in 1980, a local enthusiast, the late Jeff Levy, together with Verster de Wit produced began building accurate replicas which are known as Levy Darts. In the 1990s, another Dart replica hit the scene, the Hayden Dart II which looked similar but underneath the reworked body, it featured independent suspension and buyers have been known to fit a variety of motors including Toyota twin cams and Mazda rotaries. The Dart was also not the only car produced by GSM, it had a sister, the Flamingo.
The GSM Flamingo
In 1962, GSM introduced the Flamingo, a curvaceous, and dare I say sexy, coupe…honestly, it's stunning! Unlike the Dart, the Flamingo was a little more advanced as it was originally designed to be fitted with a Ford V6 but ended up with the 1.7-litre engine from the Ford Taunus, which was later replaced by the 1.5-litre engine from the Cortina.
The preparation for the V6 meant that the chassis had to be updated and instead of transverse leaf springs, early Flamingos featured wishbones with rubber compression cones like those used in the Mini, while later cars used small coil springs.
Sadly, GSM shut its doors in 1964 and with it came the end of an era. As a car guy and motoring journalist, the story of the GSM is both inspiring and heartbreaking, and whenever I find myself reading about the GSM Dart and Flamingo, or attending car shows where I’ve seen them in the flesh, I wonder what the company could have evolved into. If finances, marketing and history had turned out differently, would we have a modern, mainstream Dart competing with the likes of the Audi TT and BMW Z4?
Well, I guess we will never know but we can take solace in the fact that these cars have made their mark on history which is evident in how collectable and valuable they have become, even the designer of the McLaren F1, Gordon Murray owns a GSM Flamingo!
Are you looking for your future classic? Then make sure you find it in the ClickaCar Virtual Showroom!