I know that many local residents of Cuckfield will vividly recall Major Cyril Pike’s red sports car. For decades it was either regularly parked outside his home Picknells or in the village car park. But was it an Aston Martin - a Ferrari - a Maserati - or an Alfa Romeo maybe? And they almost certainly wouldn't know how rare it was.
I have, with help, traced the new owner and pieced together the story of the car, its British manufacture and learned the reason why it was so rare - and from their owners realised why Cyril enjoyed driving it so much.
Cyril and I were both officers in the Cuckfield Sealed Knot (the historical reenactment group) back in the early 70s, and I can vividly recall being driven by Cyril in a characteristically lively and enthusiastic style towards Balcombe on that flat straight and then beyond to Horley in his Peerless GT. And while I enjoyed the fun and spirited drive, my prevailing memory was the stink of oil! Maybe it was a temporary glitch - or being a classic car owner myself now, I now understand that that’s all part and parcel of the experience and 'fun' of early car ownership!
Stylish motor The car was, and indeed still is, very stylish. In those non-PC days it would be, what 'us fellers' would have called, a ‘bird puller’ or 'babe magnet' In my researches for this article I have been given a number of personal accounts and even photographs to support the truth of this claim - but my lips are sealed! All I can say is - girls you have got good taste!
Cyril’s Peerless GT car, 5853 KH, was registered in September 1959. The first owner, E Barker Ltd - located in Hull - was a company involved in commercial buildings. The second owner was somebody in Lancashire.
Cyril, the third owner, bought it from the famous Chequered Flag Garage in Chiswick High Road, Edgware in 1963. This was not far from today’s Chiswick Flyover and then the home of a well known racing team. Sadly the garage was demolished in 2000 to make way for a block of flats. Motoring history gone forever.
Initially the prototype of this sports saloon, was called the 'Warwick' and was alloy bodied. A works car was entered in the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing a creditable 16th. The interest and the demand to be able to buy this lovely car was considerable.
So a production factory was set up to manufacture it by a company called Peerless Cars Ltd on Slough Trading Estate, now in Berkshire (then Buckinghamshire). The founders had a background in motor sport and racing and saw the market potential for a well thought-out car specifically designed for driving enthusiasts. Paris Motor Show alone had suggested that the sales potential could be at least 1500 cars a year.
When production started in 1957 they restyled the works car prototype and called it the Peerless GT and the company switched to a four seater fibreglass body. It featured Triumph TR3 running gear in a tubular space frame with de Dion tube rear suspension. The Phase II version, the type Cyril owned, had a lighter and more rigid body with the shell largely moulded in one piece.
The first iteration of the car, between 1957 and 1960, resulted in financial failure. However it was resurrected by one of the founders, and the second generation car marketed as the 'Warwick' was marketed from its base in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, between 1960 and 1962.
The car was a good car to drive and mechanically well conceived, and the customers loved them, but there were manufacturing issues and fierce competition from mainstream manufacturers. And this combination ultimately led to the concept's final downfall. the story is more complex than this and I refer you to the Peerless GT website for a comprehensive account.
Only 14 on the road in the UK
The total number of Peerless and Warwick versions manufactured in the six years was 325, with 70 for left hand drive export models. The company simply couldn’t keep up with the orders for the hand-built vehicle. According to the Peerless and Warwick Register of the 340 cars that are now in their register records half are located abroad. ''Of the ones we know that exist today, 14 cars are on the road in the UK and about 50 worldwide. More are being restored today than ever before in our history.’
A 1958 Peerless GT was sold at a Bonhams auction, in an excellent reconditioned state recently for £40,000.
Performance sports car of the time
As for performance, it was tested by the British magazine ‘The Motor’ after the car's relaunch in 1961. It was found to have a top speed of 105.3 mph (169.5 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.6 seconds. An average fuel consumption of 32 mpg was recorded. This needs to be judged alongside cars of the day - it was not being sold at a 'super car' price. It was performance within reach of many consumers.
Cyril’s two litre version car would have cost £1666 new (including taxes) equivalent to £35,000 today . He had decided to buy the Peerless, as it was more suitable than his MG VA for his longer distance motorway journeys. He also had issues with the MG VA that needed sorting. You can read more about the fascinating story of the MG VA which had had a very important previous owner in our article ‘Cyril's MG: theft and amazing discovery’
Nigel Cluley of the Warwick Register, who Malcolm Simmonds (the MG VA story contact) put me in touch with, was most helpful by not only sending me a copy of 5853 KH’s record, but also putting me in touch with the new owner.
Today the car is still in Sussex owned by Alan from near Robertsbridge. He already owned a Peerless and couldn’t believe his eyes to see another - such a rare car - as he was driving through the village it was parked in Cuckfield car park. Surprise, surprise it didn’t take long for him to track down its owner Cyril and to ask him if he was interested in a sale.
Cyril sold it in c2000 when he was in his early 80’s, and not for a large sum. Alan was delighted with his acquisition and made good use of it until relatively recently. But the car, after over 60 years of driving now needed some TLC.
When the fibreglass bodyshell was removed the true extent of the work needed was revealed. There was serious corrosion evident and structural issues on the steel framework that needed urgent attention, and that was just the start. So he embarked on a comprehensive overhaul and rebuild.
Alan kindly invited me to see the ‘car’, albeit in a thousand pieces on his garage floor, and said that sadly a finished photograph would be some way off. We wish Alan well in an enjoyable and satisfying rebuild.
Happily though, and thanks to Malcolm Simmonds, we have been able to scan in Cyril’s own photographs and the originals passed on to Alan to add to his car's records.
Cyril loved his Peerless. He had taken photographs of his immaculate vehicle in front of many well known landmarks including the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Coventry Cathedral, at Tintagel, a tank museum, outside pretty pubs, with backdrops of scenic Cornish beaches, with his affectionate Labrador ‘Jayne’, and, of course, his home Picknells.
A fitting home for a lovely car Cyril died in January 2002 and many will recall his cheery presence around the village. I know that he would be more than happy that Alan is giving the vehicle so much love, care and attention. It's probably true to say that, prominently parked in the High Street area as it was for so many decades that 5853 KH is possibly better known than most of the other cars of the same marque put together.
Peerless owners' videos
The two videos found on YouTube below show why owners love the Peerless so much.
The first is at some alpine location and of Atle Granby a proud Peerless GT owner demonstrating his restored car in 2010 - it shows the bodywork removed, and just the framework. [at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QxQsyRr5sg]
When Paul Cressey hits the track at Laguna Seca near Monterey on the West Coast of America. He races his 1959 Peerless GT, against tough competition. Some lovely scenery to be seen here and accompanied by an interesting commentary. [at https://youtu.be/YzN2OIay7l4]
The Peerless and Warwick Register https://peerless-gt.co.uk
Detailed history of the Peerless https://peerless-gt.co.uk/history
Wikipedia Peerless: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerless_(UK_car)
The photographs, with the exception of the Peerless car interior and 'cut-out' of the car, were taken by Major Cyril Pike.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.