This site is an affectionate tribute to the unique Peel Cars from the Isle of Man.
Years ahead of their time, and produced in the context of the ‘lean years’ of post-war Britain, there is still nothing quite like a Peel on the road today.
The Peels Story by Grant Kearney
Peel Engineering Company was founded by Cyril Cannell in the late 1940s and initially worked on boats and marine equipment. Very quickly they started to work with a new material known as glassfibre. Cyril is reported to have travelled to America in the early 1950s to look at early glassfibre development.
The company started to turn their attention to motor vehicles and were one of the first to produce a car body shell entirely from glassfibre. At the time there was a long waiting list to buy a new car so very quickly a market developed for modern designs of body shells to be mounted on an older pre-war car chassis and running gear.
This evolved into what we now know as the ‘kit car’ market. The first serious production body shell was known as the P1000 and sold in high numbers so much so it came to the attention of the directors of the Ford UK. They came to the Island wanting Peel Engineering to supply GRP (glass reinforced plastic) sports car bodies to Ford for them to produce and market a sports car. Unfortunately this project came to nothing after the Isle of Man Government turned down Cyril Cannell’s request for funding to enlarge the factory to accommodate the production of the large numbers of car bodies required by Ford.
As the art of fibre glassing developed Peel Engineering started to produce what was to be one of their most successful lines, motor cycle fairings. The first, a full ‘Dustbin’, is believed to have been made in 1952 for an Australian visitor to the TT Races. Various other shapes were produced for different bikes including one for Geoff Duke who asked for a ‘Dolphin’ style to fit a Manx Norton. In conjunction with Geoff the Dolphin fairing was tested and further developed on the Island, with some testing done in Monza. A full production version was offered in 1957 and latterly there were a number of different Dolphin style fairings. The Dustbin was also manufactured with a PVC screen and aluminium beading round the edge and were intended for road bikes.
In 1955 Peel Engineering, previously specialising in car parts, motorcycle fairings and boat hulls, decided the time was right to move into kit car production. The end of World War II had seen a shortage of cars in the UK as most of those being built were reserved for export. ‘The Manxman’, as it was known, could be purchased fully assembled or in kit form, thus avoiding
the purchase tax being levied on assembled vehicles.
The Manxman was a three wheeler on a light tubular T-type chassis with a fibreglass panelled body. It was driven by a British Anzani twin cylinder two stroke fan-cooled engine of 322cc capacity. Initially a BSA stationary engine was tried but was no good. A prototype was shown to staff from Motor Cycling magazine during the June 1955 TT races and again in January 1956, but objections from the then UK Customs and Excise meant that purchase tax might have been payable, making the project unviable and so it was abandoned.
The doors were pivoted in the bottom rear corner and lifted flush with the side of the car through 90 degrees. A third door gave access to a flat 16 cubic feet boot space that included a trap door for access to the engine, and had a foot well fitted to allow two children to be carried behind the main seats. The vehicle had hammock style seats, similar to that later fitted into the P50.
The prototype vehicle was registered UMN1O, the registration description being a three- wheeler saloon with four seats in red, and both the chassis and engine numbers showing as 10. Registered to C Cannell and G H Kissack, trading as Peel Engineering for trade purposes on 17th September 1955. The registration was cancelled on 1st October 1962.
During 1962 the staff of Peel tried again at the small car market and designed a small single seater car called the ‘P50’ but sometimes referred to as the ‘P55 Scooter’. Designed and built by Cyril Cannell and Henry Kissack, and launched at the 1962 Earl’s Court Motorcycle Show, using the concept car, produced to evaluate sizes and possible features. Pathe News recorded the arrival of the P50 at the motorcycle show and gave the impression that the car was driven into the hall, despite having no engine! Prior to the manufacture of the prototype body shell, a chassis was being tested on the Isle of Man with the engine driving the single front wheel.
The prototype P50, led the way to the production P50 but with some major differences. The wheel arrangement was reversed as the earlier car was found to be unstable, the production cars having the single wheel at the rear rather that at the front. The P50 was the first production car manufactured on the Isle of Man and was recognised as the smallest production vehicle in the world. Early promotion material in 1963 suggested that using a P50 was cheaper than walking.
The P50 was available in three basic colours, red, blue and white and had a sales price of £175. The first examples appeared on Manx roads late in 1963, with full production getting underway throughout 1964. Around 55 P50s were built and it’s thought that 28 survive today. These cars were aimed at the city commuter who wanted to travel short distances and have ease of parking, and as a result they sold well in London.
Peel Engineering Company went ‘limited’ and was registered on 31st December 1964 with a capital of £5000.00 divided into £1.00 shares. The directors were Cyril Cannell of Victoria Terrace, Peel and George Henry Kissack of Main Road, Crosby.
Encouraged by the sales of the P50, Peel Engineering further developed it into a two-seater model that was known as the ‘Trident’. The Trident was a completely new design that could carry two passengers but still had the same 50cc engine used in the P50. The first five examples were up and running by December 1964 and a large order was placed by the successful London dealer, Two Strokes Ltd of Stanmore. The Trident was available in blue or red and was coloured into the fibreglass gel coat which provided a cost saving as they did not require to be painted. Production of the Trident continued until 1966 when around 80 examples had found owners. Peel did experiment with the Trident and built an electric version and one with a Triumph Tina engine. Sadly neither made it into production. Today around 30 Trident still survive.
Around 1966 Peel Engineering developed yet another fibreglass body shell aimed at the ‘kit car’ market and latched onto the large number of BMC Minis that were starting to suffer from serious corrosion. The ‘Viking Sport’ used all the running gear and components from a standard Mini but gave you a Sports GT bodyline. These were available predominantly as a body shell only for the DIY market but a few complete cars were built and registered by Peel. Production numbers for the Viking Sport are unknown but it’s thought that around 30 found buyers. Today the Viking Sport is a very rare car with only seven known examples surviving.
BMC, the producer of the Mini, became aware of the Viking Sport and sent a team to the Isle of Man to investigate the possibilities of fibreglass production cars. As a result Peel gained a lucrative contract to build the production tooling so fibreglass Minis could be built under licence in Chile. The production of fairings and the ‘bread and butter’ boat market remained steady throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s until the company was sold out to employees and re-named as Western Marine.
Peels to Peel
31st July - 3rd August 2014
The Peels Story by Grant Kearney
PEEL CARS HISTORY
The story of Peel Cars represents a triumph of ingenuity and imagination in a most unlikley location.
On the links above the late Cyril Cannell gives his account of each of these pioneering vehicles produced on the Isle of Man and bearing the Peel Engineering badge.
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