The Peerless GT – A Gran Turismo Fiberglass Bodied Four-Seater Sports Car From Across The Pond

Hi Gang…

There are many nicely designed fiberglass bodied sports cars that make it over the pond and to the USA.  One of those that I see time and time again is the Peerless GT – which is surprising given its fairly rare production numbers.  Canvasing the internet in search of a bit more info on this car yielded the following information from Wikipedia:

“The Peerless GT was a British car made by Peerless Cars Ltd. of Slough, Berkshire, between 1957 and 1960.  The prototype of this British-built sports saloon was alloy bodied and initially named the “Warwick.”   It was designed by Bernie Rodger for company founders John Gordon and James Byrnes.  The Peerless GT featured Triumph TR3 running gear in a tubular space frame with de Dion tube rear suspension clothed in attractive fibreglass 4-seater bodywork.

While the car had good performance it was expensive to produce and the overall fit and finish was not as good as that of similarly priced models from mainstream manufacturers.  About 325 were produced from 1957-1960.”

Several of the folks who Forgotten Fiberglass aficionados have one or more Peerless GT’s in their collection.  So, when I came across this expertly written Road Test published by Road & Track  Magazine in 1960 I thought it might be something of interest to many of you glass guys out there – and to myself, of course.

Let’s have a look how the Peerless GT performed under the scrutiny of Road & Track staff members approximately 50 years ago.

The Peerless GT
An Italian Inspired Fiberglass Coupe From Great Britain
Road & Track: Road Test Annual, 1960

Once in a while a really different automobile comes along.  The Peerless Gran Turismo coupe is one of these, and in trying to evaluate it we must go a little beyond the usual standards of comparison. 

A glance through the maker’s folder will bring one of two thoughts to mind:  one can either grow enthusiastic over the prospects of having a car with such advanced features as space-frame construction and de Dion rear suspension; or the car can be dismissed as nothing more than an expensive, fiberglass-bodied version of the Triumph TR-3.

Both of these viewpoints are accurate, but neither is absolutely so.  While it is a fact that the Peerless shares the majority of its components with the Triumph, it is not, nor does it even feel, much like the familiar roadster.  It has the same engine noises and exhaust note, but for all that it is a distinctive and quite different automobile.  Peerless Cars, Ltd., are to be congratulated for producing this coupe. 

The British are seldom pioneers in new design fields, but this small company has managed to scoop the automotive industries of the entire world with a real Gran Turismo four-seater that the average enthusiast can afford to buy.  Other GT cars are either too expensive or present severe difficulties in the parts and service end of things.  The Peerless is expensive, but not outrageously so.  As it is made up almost entirely of Triumph parts, the service problem is practically non-existent.

Evaluation of styling is never easy and the lines of the Peerless are unusual enough to have prevented any agreement among the various staff members.  We were, however, in perfect accord on one point: this is a sports car.  In the past, we have tested other cars which were built to the same general purpose but looked so much like the standard sedans of the same line that it was difficult to tell at first glance whether they were sporting machines or just standard family sedans with a little extra in power and trimming. 

This is, in our opinion, a mistake on the part of manufacturers.  There is a certain pleasure in driving a “fooler,” but it is a great deal more satisfying to have a car which invites comments from fellow enthusiasts.  The Peerless assures both fun and comment, a combination that can sell cars.

Our test car was a bright and beautiful red.  General finish on the exterior was relatively good, but there were a goodly number of ripples in the surface.  These would be acceptable in a light-alloy competition body, but they are not a part of the quality that we expect, and get, in the best fiberglass work here in the U.S.

Having seen a number of limited-production cars whose interior appointments left much to be desired, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Peerless was on a par with most of the established makes.  The upholstery is plastic, as in the case with most imports these days.  Although plastic may lack glamour in comparison with the more traditional leather, it has proved extremely satisfactory.

The seats could be much better with only minor changes.  They are a little too hard and there should be more rake in the seat backs.  The sling-type back seats are rather cramped and would be comfortable only for children on a long trip; an adult would find the lack of leg room a real trial.

Instruments and controls were placed in much the same manner as those found in the Triumph and were quite satisfactory to us.  We have no criticism on this point at all.  The really unusual control is the Rolls-Royce-type window lift mechanism, which is operated by a lever in the place of the conventional crank.  It enables the driver (the passenger has one too) to zip the window up and down with startling alacrity.  This can be very important when you need to get your arm out in a hurry. 

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this car is the chassis.  Only a few companies in the world care to tackle even the slightest departure from the conventional rail frame and “live” rear axle; yet this new company has chosen to ignore the easy way and has produced a car with a space-frame and a de Dion rear suspension. 

While this is not an unqualified success in actual practice, they have taken a step in the right direction.  The frame is made up of multitudinous small tubes; theory might indicate that this should be very light, but the compromises forced by production and space requirements have substantially lessened the theoretical advantage.

The same kind of compromise has materially reduced the effectiveness of the rear suspension: cost requirements forced the use of cast-iron brake drums and their placement at the wheels rather than inboard next to the final-drive housing, where they would have contributed less to the total unsprung weight.  Even so, it provides a form of drive that is free of torque reactions and is an improvement over the live axle. 

It does allow the use of a very small driveshaft tunnel, very important in a car with such rigid space restrictions.  Leaf springs are used on the rear, and their weight doesn’t reduce the already ponderous unsprung mass.

Driving the car was a real pleasure.  The satisfying way it goes and the general sporting flavor of the entire machine made the sometimes tedious test procedure quite pleasant.  Acceleration is very good, and the comfortable cruising speed is so high that we found ourselves driving much too fast through some sections of road where the police are known to be both numerous and ill tempered.

An interesting sidelight to the performance of the car is the effect of the more streamlined coupe body on its acceleration compared to the Triumph.  The Peerless is nearly as good the 1956 TR-3 to 70 miles per hour, slightly better over the standing 1/4 mile and definitely faster to 90.  The 0.90 mph time is, in fact, almost equal to the Triumph’s with a 4.10:1 axle. 

Thus it appears that the coupe body gives about 7% less drag.  Despite a test weight that is 70 pounds higher, once the Peerless gets over 70 mph its streamlining is enough to offset the disadvantage of its 3.7 axle and it will equal the performance of the TR-3 with the 4.10 axle ratio. 

The Laycock de Normanville overdrive gives a final over-all ratio of 3.03, too high for anything but level road cruising at over 60 mph.  Accordingly, we have tabulated all data in direct drive.  Here are some comparative data in 4th gear and over drive.  

3.70 ratio   3.03 (o/d)
cu ft/ton mile     77.9    63.8
mph/1000 20.1 24.5
engine revs/mile  2980 2440
piston travel, ft/mile 1800 1475
mph at 2500 ft/min  83.5 102
R&T wear index 53.6 36.0

 

We think that the overdrive makes a lot of sense if full use is to be made of the lower drag of the coupe, but ordering the car with the 4.10 rear axle would increase the over-all performance considerably.  With the present gears, the makers claim a top speed of “over 117 mph.” 

With no allowance for tire expansion, this would require 5800 revolutions per minute in direct drive (impossible) or 4750 rpm in overdrive.  But this theoretical data is below the engine’s peak brake horsepower rpm and not very probably, even with 100 honest bhp.  Shifting from direct to overdrive at 94 actual mph (100 indicated) gives a dull feeling and a definite drop in the acceleration rate. 

The car will go well beyond the red line of 5000 rpm in direct drive: up to about 5300 rpm, or 107-108 honest mph.  During the high-speed runs we were unable to exceed an honest timed 107 mph even in overdrive, because acceleration was so slow that we ran out of road.  The speedometer was still climbing slowly all the way through the traps, and crept to 117 indicated well past the surveyed strip. 

Accordingly we did not achieve a timed 110 mph, but believe it possible under favorable circumstances (a level road, no wind).  We also believe a true mean speed of 117 mph is quite impossible with the stock specifications, regardless of gear ratio.  At least we can honestly say that the Peerless is definitely faster than the TR, because of its lower drag factor. 

Summary:

What a nice review of a very rare British fiberglass bodied sports car.  And I’m impressed with the underpinnings of this car.  I wonder if anyone put something a bit more powerful under the hood – my bet is “yes” – especially when examples of this car made it to America.

When the company closed in 1960, it didn’t close for long.  Again, Wikipedia provides the following overview of what happened next:

“Bernie Rodger re-started production of the Peerless GT now renamed as the Warwick with minor changes to the appearance, a one-piece forward hinged front end, a stiffer space-frame chassis and a revised dashboard. Although listed from 1960–62, only about 40 are thought to have been produced.

John Gordon, together with Jim Keeble (who had previously inserted a Buick V-8 engine into a Peerless), subsequently used the Peerless space-frame as the basis for a Chevrolet-powered car with Giugiaro-designed, Bertone-built bodywork, initially shown in 1960 as the Gordon GT, and which eventually reached production in 1964 as the Gordon-Keeble.”

So…who out there wants to share a bit more about the Peerless GT they have hiding in their garage?  Time to take that Forgotten Fiberglass sports car out this Spring and share with us your car and your story.  The gang of glass here would love to know more 🙂

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…

Geoff

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Comments

The Peerless GT – A Gran Turismo Fiberglass Bodied Four-Seater Sports Car From Across The Pond — 13 Comments

  1. Hi Geoff,

    Thanks for running this piece on the Peerless GT, one of my all time favorite Fiberglass machines! It’s always cool reading what the road testers mentioned back in the day. C’mon, when’s the last time you saw final drive ratios mentioned in a recent copy of Road and Track….

    Really cool car, and a car that I’ve seen quite a few of showing up lately in classifieds for sale, so despite the rather low production numbers stated, they apparently are available.

    Cheers!

    Will

  2. Hi Nigel….What great news to hear 🙂 Thanks so much for posting the link, and let me know if you would like to contribute any articles here on this special car. Much appreciated! Geoff

  3. Geoff, I’ve been looking for that road test by Road and Track for years. I used it back in the day to convince my dad that it was the perfect car for his daily commute in Chicago. Wish I still had that one, but R & T’s shot of the engine compartment will help with getting the restoration right on the one I acquired 2 years ago.
    Thanks for the thoughtful information.
    Glenn

  4. @Glenn Forgan – Glad we could help and share this R&T Road Test – a thorough and enjoyable read in every way. Send me some photos and the story on your Peerless and we’ll run it here. And…if you have vintage photos of your dad’s car too. That would be fun for both of us. Send to geoffrey@grhacker.com Thanks Glenn….and I look forward to hearing from you. Geoff

  5. Hi Geoff thought might like to know my first job after leaving school was building
    Peerless cars in Slough UK!
    I worked there from 1958 till it closed in about 1960.
    It was hard work but I learned a lot about how a car was assembled.
    Still hear from a few friends who I worked with.

    • Hi Ken, have you been in touch with us at the Peerless & Warwick Website? if not we would love to hear from you and your time playing with plastic in Slough!

    • Dear Sir,
      I’m currently researching the history of John Pearce who founded J.A. Pearce Engineering Ltd in 1962.
      It is reported that he served his apprenticeship as a welder ar Peerless in Slough before moving to the Cooper Car Co. in Surbiton. I was therefore interested to know if you had any recollection of him working there. John Pearce died around 1998, but I am now in touch with his family who have been an enormous help in piecing together parts of the story.
      Thanks in anticipation.

  6. I was really surprised to find this website and a write up on a Peerless GT. My Dad is now a collector of these cars having purchased his first one in the mid 70’s. It was the all fiberglass GT2 which had been factory built as a left-hand drive. According to information my Dad deciphered over the years, there were approximately 5 that were imported and had Corvette 283 motors installed (his is one, though I forget the production number). He has since collected chassis #3 (subsequently sold) as well as a right-hand drive with the 4 cyl motor. Its a unique car, and while maybe not as sleek as a perfectly restored show car, it certainly garners its fair share of interest especially from people who think they’ve truly seen ’em all.

  7. Ogre1,
    Interesting story about your Dad’s collection.
    I too would be very interested in
    purchasing a Peerless GT if one ever came available
    for sale.
    Best,
    Mike Murphy

  8. I have a peerless grand turismo 2 litre instruction manual. Don’t know much about these cars but would anyone be interested in this book?. In great condition and have had this booklet for many years, cheers, Ross. Would anyone be interested in purchasing this book?.

  9. Ross, if you would contact me via email, I would be glad to discuss purchase of the instruction manual. My email is generic@reoengineering.com.

    Mike, unfortunately for you, after the sale of chassis #3, Dad had such sellers remorse that he will never again sell one of his cars. After the sale we did see it briefly pop up on ebay with partial original and repro panels, but haven’t see a trace of it since. I do wish you good luck in your search.

  10. First time I came across this site. Just back from a 100 mile evening drive in my Peerless (chassis no 70). One of the nicest classics I have owned and a delight to drive. Mine does about 1500 miles a year and has been totally reliable having been owned by a jet engine technician for the previous 40 years. It is not particularly quick compared to my other two classics (7litre and 3.8litre respectively) but it handle and stops beautifully. Keep up the good work guys. Very interesting site.
    Regards.
    RMC

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