Cyril Kieft

Cyril Kieft

Cyril William Kieft was born in Swansea on September 27 1911, a proud Welshman in spite of his Dutch surname. After his education at Wellington, where he excelled at shooting, he followed his father, Albert, into the steel industry, training under him at Richard Thomas & Baldwin. At 22 he was appointed assistant plant manager at the Redbourne works near Scunthorpe. In 1937 they restarted the Haybridge steel works in Shropshire producing steel sections for the war effort. Cyril joined the Home Guard where, with his love for all things mechanical, he served as an officer in the bomb disposal unit. In 1943 he moved to become managing director of Wolverhampton steel works and he purchased a drop forging company and pressing company. The forge company was based in Derry Street, Wolverhampton, which after the war was to be home to Kieft Cars. In 1946, aware of the impending nationalisation of the steel industry and “not wishing to become a civil servant”, Kieft set up a manufacturing company in Bridgend, South Wales.

He had always had an interest in cars and motor racing inherited from his father, who had been at the opening meeting at Brooklands in 1907. Before the war Cyril attended meetings at Donington Park, and in 1948, at the relatively late age of 38, he decided to try his hand at motor racing. Tenby Motor Club ran a hill climb in the grounds of Lydstep House, Pembrokeshire and, on 17th September 1949, Kieft entered a Marwyn, the first production 500. At the end of 1949 the Marwyn company went into liquidation and, although unhappy with the design, Kieft bought the remnants of the company from the receiver and set about designing and building his own car.

The prototype appeared the following spring at Lydstep on the 8th of April with Kieft at the wheel. Unfortunately Jack Moor rolled his Wasp just prior to Cyril's run causing Megan Kieft to worry. Cyril completed the run over 10 seconds slower than Jack's winning time, but still ahead of the JLR, and then promised her that he would never compete again.

In 1950 the Kieft Mk1 appeared at hill climbs and race meetings, several times in the hands of  Ken Gregory. While undoubtedly a step forward from the Marwyn, the handling was not up to the level set by the Cooper Mk IV however, at the end of the year, Kieft took two cars to Montlhéry and set 13 records. The drivers at Montlhéry were Ken Gregory, Stirling Moss and Jack Neil. Cyril tried to persuade Moss to become a works driver but Stirling, recognising the car's deficiencies, declined. However Ken Gregory, Moss, John A Cooper, Ray Martin, and Dean Delamont recognised the opportunity to fund the ideas they were developing. Ray would build a prototype, funded by Kieft who would then manufacture the production cars. Ken and Stirling became directors of Kieft Cars. Development of the CK51 fell behind schedule during the spring of '51 and Moss was forced to use a Kieft Mk I car for his first race of the year, at Castle Combe on 12th April, he won but only against other Kieft Mk Is! Against more serious opposition at the Luxembourg Grand Prix, a poor result was inevitable and Stirling failed to finish his heat. By the 9th May, the new car was ready for a shakedown at Brands Hatch and finally made its debut in the International Trophy at Goodwood on the 14th May 1951. After problems in the heats, where he finished eight, Stirling ran away in the final to win by 27 seconds from Alan Brown's Cooper Mk V. Significantly, Don Parker was allowed to try the car and matched Stirling's time. Don ordered a car in kit form and applied his experience to a meticulous build incorporating many small modifications of his own.

Cyril poses in the production CK51

The new car only only made a limited programme of events during '51, partly due to its late arrival but also because Moss was very much in demand by this time. It was, however, quick and Moss took a number of high profile victories, sufficient for Charlie Headland to acquire a car before the end of the year. Don Parker's car appeared in 1952 to run a full season and demonstrate its real potential, winning the Formula Three Championship in 1952 and '53. In 1952 the car was exhibited at Earls Court, in recognition of its success. Throughout this time Kieft was still running his engineering business, relocating it from Bridgend to Wolverhampton. He also set up the Welsh Motor Racing Club and a race circuit at Fairwood Common, just outside Swansea.

During 1953 and 1954 Kieft continued to design and build racing cars of varying engine sizes and formula. These included a very pretty sports car that ran at Le Mans in 1954, and a Formula One car which, although not completed at that time, was to see the light of day nearly 50 years later. In 1953 the Conservative Government began denationalising the steel industry, and Kieft, working with the merchant bankers Close Brothers, was to play a major role in this. Accordingly, in 1955 he sold Kieft Cars, although it continued trading in various guises until 1961.

Kieft now concentrated on his business ventures. As well as his own companies, Kieft Oil Products and Drop Forgings, he was managing director of Raine Co, Newcastle upon Tyne; Millom Askam & Hodbarrow of Cumbria; and Darwyn & Mostyn of North Wales. In the mid-1960s he became managing director of the Arusha Group and from the mid-1970s he was managing director and a major shareholder in the Wrexham Wire Company. He liked to be occupied, even in his spare time. He built up a collection of porcelain, on which he was a noted authority, as well as being an avid stamp collector.

In 1961 he also bought a motor cruiser, in which he enjoyed cruising around Britain and the Mediterranean and became an active member of the Royal Motor Yacht Club. It was while on his cruiser that his interest in motor racing was rekindled when, while berthed on the Seine, he was joined on his boat by a near neighbour from Wolverhampton, Richard Atwood, who at that time was driving for BRM. Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme were also of the company, and they soon got Kieft into the habit of watching grand prix races on television wherever he was on his travels. Almost from the day he had sold Kieft Cars he had been contacted by enthusiasts and owners for information on his cars. He was always happy to oblige, and on a number of occasions he attended events organised by the 500 Owners Association. Perhaps his proudest moment came in September 2002, at Silverstone, when he finally saw the completed Kieft Formula One car from 1954. After the death of his wife, Megan, Cyril moved to Spain, where he set about having a house built to his own design. He died on May 10, 2004, aged 92. Also see an appreciation of Cyril Kieft by Tony Cotton.

Cyril with Steve Lancefield and Stirling

This interview was published in Iota in March 1953: