Graham Bell samples Ginetta’s budget roadster on road and track
Whereas the roadster version of the G4 boasts such luxuries as carpets, a hood, a heater and - er, doors - the G20 has none of these, being designed as a cheap and cheerful road and track car using the principle that if it isn't needed then it isn't fitted.
Despite the modified body, the G20's G4 ancestry is obvious from that classically curvaceous styling, while its race-proven chassis is derived from its more immediate ancestor the G27, and utilises the same all round wishbone suspension with its mixture of Ginetta and Ford Sierra parts.
As with the current G4, the G20's standard engine installation is Ford's Zetec. In the G20's case this is the 1800cc unit, bog standard save for the induction and exhaust systems which have to be changed because the Ford parts won't fit. Most specialist companies using the Zetec (including Dare) use an 'off the shelf' induction system from Weber, but Ginetta use a custom made system originally developed for their Class A racers, which is designed to take the Ford throttle body and injectors. In this form the engine might only develop around 125bhp, but then the G20 only weighs 660kg, equating to a useful 190bhp per ton, which is better than a Boxster and translates to 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and 125mph.
What, no doors?
The whole ethos of the G20 was keep it keep it simple and keep it cheap, and a one piece body is not only simpler and cheaper to make than one made from several panels, it's also simpler to replace or repair should you stuff it into the Armco…
With no doors to facilitate access, G20 entry procedure goes like this: Step 1. Lift left leg over side of car and stand on seat. Step 2. Grab centre of roll bar with left hand. Step 3. Lift right leg over side of car and stand on seat. Step 4. Place right hand on top of side of car. Step 5. Take weight on arms and lower body into seat. Don't forget to check that you haven't stepped in something nasty before steps 1 and 3 or people might think you've frightened yourself while driving. And if you do frighten yourself when driving then you can always claim that you forgot to check…
Once you've got your bum in place you'll find the G20's driving position akin to that of a single-seater, with little room to move. The floor mounted pedals that are well spaced and just where your feet expect them to be. The fact I had to move the seat forward indicates there's enough leg-room for six footers, while with no hood available even as an option, lack of head-room certainly won't be a problem.
Although the G20 doesn't have a boot there is space for stowage behind the seats, though you need to carefully consider before putting anything in there because you might have to remove those non-tilting Richfield buckets to get it out again. There are also a couple of handy net pockets for storing maps etc. but apart from that the G20's interior is race car spartan, right down to the bare floor and painted fibreglass panels.
On the Road
Considering the standard spec of the engine I was surprised at how untractable it was, needing the revs to be kept up to get away without stalling, idling unevenly and juddering in low speed traffic. I don't know if that's just a problem with this car (they were trying to improve the low speed running when I arrived) or a characteristic of that special induction system with its forward favouring plenum chamber.
Either way, below 2000rpm the car was an embarrassing pig in town, the poor running compounded by a pronounced resonance from the induction system at the front and a metallic rattle from something else at the back. Out of town and above 2000rpm though and it was transformed. The resonance and the rattle stopped, the engine perked up and things started to get interesting…
Keep the engine spinning in the mid-range and that race derived induction system really comes into its own, and even when conservatively keeping it in fourth gear along unfamiliar blind roads, every straight-line stab of the throttle was greeted by an instant surge of acceleration.
Equally responsive was the steering at just 2.2 turns lock to lock, which works nicely in partnership with the suspension to provide suitably high levels of feedback and control. Bearing in mind the G20's track intentions I did wonder if it would suffer from that disconcerting high-speed skittishness over poor road services that stiffly sprung cars can suffer from. In the event the car's adjustable suspension was nicely set up to cope with the local roads, which seemed amazingly free of the dreaded patchwork repairs, though it did bounce about on one washboard section.
As usual with lightweight roadsters, no servo is fitted - or needed - and the Sierra vented front/solid rear discs slowed the G20 down quite nicely when confronted with one of those unexpected T-junctions that have a nasty habit of popping up on country roads. No ABS of course so the fronts can lock up under heavy braking, though a quick pump on the pedal soon cures that.
Driving the G20 along twisting roads at speed proved to be not only enormous fun in the sun, it also conferred a level of sensory involvement few modern cars can match. In addition to the surge of acceleration and the feedback from the steering and suspension, you can smell the petrol fumes from the tank behind you, you can hear the stones thrown up by the wheels hitting the glassfibre body and you can feel the stones thrown up by other vehicles hitting your face!
No question about it - some form of eye protection is essential when driving a G20, not least because that windscreen only seems to deflect the wind AT your head rather than over it, and the effect on your face at anything above the legal limit is akin to those 'G-Force' scenes in sci-fi programmes. A full-face helmet would be the best solution, but at the very least you need a pair of goggles or - as I was using - wraparound sunglasses. However, while these might protect your eyes from stones and stop them watering they'll do nothing to protect your locks from the effects of what feels like a hurricane force hair dryer. Still, at least I finally got rid of my dandruff.
On the Track
The opportunity to sample the G20 in both its intended environments came courtesy of Ginetta dealers Four Elms near Yeovil, which besides being surrounded by twisty country roads also happens to be just down the road from the Haynes Motor Museum - which has a track you can hire…
Admittedly Haynes' track is hardly Silverstone, being so small and tight that by working the engine hard you can keep lapping without ever getting into third, but it does offer a smooth surface and a safe environment in which to explore a car's handling.
The result? Overall I found the G20 to have a neutral balance with no nasty vices. Repeatedly pushing it round the hairpin at the top end of the track revealed the G20's preference for following exactly the line you choose for it, with no trace of the front running wide on the way in and no tendency for the back end to swing round on exit. That's not to say that you can't get the back out, but with only 125bhp and a dry track it takes some effort, so it's not likely to be something that catches you unawares.
Lapping the track clockwise as I was, coming out of the hairpin gives you the choice of either carrying straight on until the (not so) far end of the rack or making a quick right/left/right manoeuvre through the chicane. Several runs through the latter accompanied by squeals of protest from the overworked 195/50 x 15 Dunlop SP Sports showed the G20's ability to change direction quickly and remain totally controllable even on the limit of adhesion.
Obviously you can only push any car so far before losing it, but the impression I got from my brief track stint in the G20 (brought to a premature end when a hose blew off!) was that drive it sensibly and you shouldn't have to make any excuses about soiled upholstery.
On the Cards?
The G20 might not be the last word in automotive performance or sophistication, but for anyone considering buying a sports car purely for driving fun and track days it has to be worth a look, especially at these prices.
Four Elms will sell you an all new fully legal turnkey G20 for £12,999, or if you buy a kit, use second hand parts and build it yourself you could have one on the road for as little as £5,500. In fact the ex-factory demonstrator featured here was made from salvaged parts to show how little a G20 could be built for, and considering it’s been well thrashed everywhere including round the Nurburgring it seems to be holding up pretty well.
Ginetta have had a rough time over the years since Martin Phaff took over, but with around 50 G20s having already been sold across Europe and the USA (where Mazda MX5/Miata engines are used) and around 60 more on order it looks like they might finally have the success they deserve.
There are a number of less well-known kit car companies that provide similar cars for similar money, so if you'd like to see those reviewed on Pistonheads you know what to do.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2002