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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Farewell to Welsh sports car pioneer
Giles Smith was remembered at the service
The funeral in Pontypridd was held without much fanfare.

A quiet service on an overcast Friday at Glyntaff Crematorium in the gateway to the Valleys - to the casual passer-by there would have been little to remark upon.

But it was only a few miles away that the man mourners had come to pay tribute to, had created a piece of motoring history that ensures his name lives on around the world.

Giles Smith, who died on Sunday, began his working life as a master butcher but it was a quite different preoccupation that was to bring him to the attentions of Prince Charles and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

For along with his friend Bernard Friese, Giles Smith founded the Gilbern - the only production car to have been made in Wales.

The first car was built in 1959 in an old slaughterhouse behind his butchers shop in Church Village, near Pontypridd.

Within a few years, they had set up a factory in nearby Llantwit Fardre producing around 1,000 vehicles - two of which were driven by actors and royalty.

Prince Charles had one of the cars on loan for about six week but as far as I know, I don't think he ever bought it
Philip Ivimey, Gilbern Owner's Club

Philip Ivimey - a member of the Gilbern Owners' Club which boasts 400 members from the UK, Australia, US and across Europe - said the car could easily be compared to the vintage greats.

And he recalled how Anthony Hopkins bought one of the cars in the 1960s when he was a theatre actor living in London.

"Sir Anthony's car was serviced by the London dealer. It was an early model - a GT1800," he said.

"Prince Charles had one of the cars on loan for about six week but as far as I know, I don't think he ever bought it.

"The Gilbern was in its time the very best in terms of quality and I think that it is up there with Lotus and TVR.

Giles Smith and a Gilbern car (pic courtesy of Gilbern Owners Club)
Creator Giles Smith with one of his beloved Gilberns

"I met Giles a couple of years ago and he was quite a character.

"He wanted a special car of his own and it was his chance meeting with Bernard Friese that they started to put this car together," he said.

Mr Smith and Mr Friese used the first parts of their names - Gil and Bern - to christen their pride and joy.

They showed their work to local racing driver Peter Cottrell - who also died earlier this year - and he suggested that they put the car into production.

"Giles set up the factory in Llantwit Fardre and at its height there were about 100 cars being produced a week," said Mr Ivimey.

"At the time they sold largely professional people like solicitors and bankers - people who were interested in cars but wanted something completely different and distinctive."

Mr Ivimey said Mr Smith would attend Gilbern enthusiasts' meetings and retained his love for the car.

"When Giles sold the company in the late 1960s, I think he was quite sad at its demise.

"But he used to attend our meetings and was very delighted with the effort people were still putting into the cars.

"It is a very sad day for all Gilbern enthusiasts," he said.

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