Ben Shepherd – tells his story of seven ownership from a twinkle in his eye to running the GBS Owners and Enthusiasts group. A journey that takes us from Spain to the UK and from a container of parts to a fully built car.
Since childhood, I'd had a dream to build my own Seven, but it really remained a dream until one afternoon in 2014 when I was browsing Auto Trader looking for a 4x4 to pull a horse trailer and I saw a Robin Hood 2B for sale. After a bit more research, I realised that this dream was quite achievable and something that was (hopefully easily) within my grasp. But of course, Robin Hood was no more; all of the company assets had been bought in 2006 by Great British Sports Cars (GBS) who used their extensive engineering expertise to morph the 2B into the GBS Zero. I was intrigued to learn more and after organising a factory visit to GBS, I was hooked.
By this time, I was 36 years old and serving with the Royal Air Force as an instructor at the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) in Albacete, Spain. The RAF had provided me with a house which included a large garage, and I had a reasonable collection of tools, but these were all in storage back in the UK. My job had a very forgiving schedule; TLP runs intensive courses for fighter pilots which last for 4 weeks, but then we would have a few weeks between each course to recuperate and prepare for the next one. This would afford me some consolidated periods to concentrate on ‘a build’ with breaks built in where I would be fully focused on work with very little spare time. The primary issue that I would need to overcome was one of logistics; I was located in Spain, the GBS factory was 1500 miles away near Newark, England and all my tools were in storage in Norfolk.
Regardless, I placed an order with GBS and the chassis went into production. In the meantime, I visited home and picked up 20kg (Ryan Air baggage allowance!) worth of tools: socket set, spanners, torque wrench and a drill with some bits were pretty much it! On advice from GBS, I would also need a rivnut gun, so I ordered one to be included with the kit. I figured that I would buy, borrow, or otherwise acquire anything else I needed as the project progressed.
The first issue I faced was delivery of the kit. Luckily, one of my colleagues was due to move back to the UK in March 2015 and I discovered that the removals company assigned to move all of his house contents was located at Ollerton, which is only 2 miles away from the GBS HQ. It was serendipity; they could earn some extra money on an empty leg to Spain, and I would have my kit delivered at an extremely reasonable cost!
When the kit finally arrived in Spain, the next problem became readily apparent - the large pallet holding the chassis with lots of ancillaries stuffed inside had been loaded at GBS with a forklift, but the removal van was designed for domestic work and did not have any lifting gear. This was where being a member of the armed forces came in handy as there was a ready supply of manpower nearby who love nothing more than completing basic military tasks such as moving heavy objects from one place to another! Between us, we got the chassis into the garage and then set about stripping down the other pallet containing the engine, gearbox, wheels, and some other bits and continued humping and dumping until the wagon was fully unloaded.
I found getting stuck into the build process very enjoyable, particularly as I was able to spend days working back-to-back and this really helped me to maintain momentum on some of the more drawn out or tricky phases. I've read many stories of 7 builders who take some time off the build but when they got back to the garage, they spend days figuring out where they had got to and what they were planning. I was very fortunate that I could normally complete a significant phase of the build each time my work schedule gave me a break.
One of the more exciting aspects of building the car in Spain was that it forced me to go out and find my way around a new city using my basic Spanish language skills. The things that I take for granted in the UK, like popping to the ironmongers to buy an 8.8 grade bolt become much more difficult when no normal person has a clue what you are talking about! Eventually, I found a fantastic hardware shop hidden away in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city and once I'd explained to the guys working there what I was doing, they were always happy to help me. I learnt that Spanish law prevents anyone from modifying their car unless they use parts which have been homologated by the original manufacturer; this means that there is virtually no modified car scene and kit car building is unheard-of. Consequently, I found that there is no real knowledge about car building locally and my technical Spanish was nowhere near good enough to explain some of the intricacies of building a car, so I would quite often research what I needed online and take a photo of whatever it was to the hardware shop and ask them, "do you sell these?"
By August 2015 I had completed the build and even managed to sneak a cheeky test drive around the private estate where we were living. The next big challenge was having the car tested and approved for use on the public highway. There is no method for doing this in Spain, so I was reliant on shipping my car back to the UK so that I could use GBS's IVA service to get the car through its test. There is several companies who specialise in transporting vehicles to the UK from Spain, so getting the car home was no big issue. But the journey took seven days and then the car had to be prepped before it finally went for IVA, it seemed like forever! But 18 days after leaving Spain, I got the good news I had been waiting for - it had passed its IVA!
The rest was easy. Once the car was registered, taxed, and insured, I booked a one-way flight back to the UK to collect it and drive it back to Albacete via the Portsmouth-Santander ferry.
As one of only two GBS Zeros in Spain (the other being a factory-built left-hand drive model in Extremadura), my Zero attracted lots of attention wherever we went, normally from people who wanted to have their photograph taken next to it, or from the local police! The police seemed to be a mixed bag of car enthusiasts who wanted to have a good look at the car and sceptics who could not believe that the car was road legal. It is a legal requirement to carry all of the vehicle's paperwork when travelling in Spain, and I kept mine in a waterproof folder under the passenger seat, so they were available for inspection at a moment's notice.
In the two years that we had the Zero in Spain, we covered 13,500 miles on some fantastic roads in the most perfect climate that you could wish for. It was great fun having an excuse to drive around visiting new places and the Zero definitely helped introduce us to some fascinating people; we got own guided tour of an abandoned village from the caretaker after meeting him at a wild swimming spot, we were given a freshly shot rabbit in exchange for a passenger ride around our village and were invited for lunch with the Castilla La Mancha Classic Car Club. But my lasting memory will be one of seeing people wave and shout, "¡Que chulo, que chulo!" (How cool, how cool!) as we drove past.
We finally left Albacete in 2017 and drove the Zero home via the east coast of Spain to Barcelona, through the Pyrenees to Toulouse and then all the way through France, a journey which would need a whole article by itself! Now back in Norfolk, the Zero still comes out whenever the Sun shines, which is not nearly as often as I'd like! With the increase in rainy days bringing fewer driving opportunities, I volunteered to take over running the GBS Owners and Enthusiasts group - this is a friendly place for GBS owners and fans to share photos of their cars, exchange ideas, arrange meets and provide mutual support and assistance by helping with answers to questions about building, owning and running a Zero. We have well over 1500 members now with a broad spectrum of experience and knowledge on the Zero. Please find us on Facebook and say hello!