Peel Engineering was formed on the Isle of Man between England and Ireland in the small town of Peel, founded as a settlement prior to 800 when the Vikings arrived from Scandinavia. On this windswept island were a group of boat builders who recognised that Glass Reinforced Plastic, or GRP, could be used for more than building boats. In the 1950s they started to make fairings for motorcycles – the island is famous for its annual TT races – and then they branched into low volume cars.
The small company founded by Cyril Cannell, an ex RAF war time engineer, targeted the microcar market. The first model, the Manxcar never made it into production and appeared in 1955. It was a good exercise as it clearly brought together a number of ideas: the aircraft engineering that was learnt in the armed forces and the use of GRP as a strong but lightweight shell over a chassis. It had a 250cc Anzani motorcycle engine – Anzani also supplied Morgan, AC and other manufacturers with engines and developed a range of their own cars.
So, from this initial start, the next car out of the boat-building factory was the P50. This car was launched in 1963 and had a very small production run over 3 years – just 50 were built and 20 of those survive today! This car still holds the record for the smallest production car ever at 1.3 meters long and 1 metre wide! It was powered by a tiny 49cc DKW motor producing 4.2 horses. It could do 60 km/h or just under 45 mph – that is still faster than most traffic drives in a city! The car had one headlight mounted centrally in the body, the motor was complemented by a 3 speed gearbox with no reverse and a claimed 100 mpg! It ran on ultra tiny 5” by 3.5” wheels – 3 of them, 2 fore and 1 aft and had one door, for the driver. The seat was basically a hammock design – more boating influences coming in!
Try and get to see Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear when he drives the P50 around the BBC TV Centre in London – it is one of the best car reviews you’ll ever watch!
After the P50 ended production, Peel introduced the Trident. This was a bubble topped car with 1 or 2 seats and like the P50 used the same mechanical components from DKW, although they managed to squeeze out another 0.3 horses giving it 4.5! It was slightly larger than the P50 and lasted in production for 2 years with only about 80 being built. It also had one door – being the roof and windscreen assembly.
The final car to come out of the boat yard was the Viking Sport – the company was trying to go upmarket a bit by producing a GRP shell based on the 850cc BMC Mini components. It was a 2+2 monocoque design that took the Mini’s front and rear subframes, bolted onto a frame bonded into the body. Peel only made two before production transferred to the mainland and the car became known as the Viking MiniSport. Only 20 further units were built.
After that the company abandoned car production in favour of boats and the motorcycle fairing moulds ended up in New South Wales where they are still made to order. Cyril Cannell died in October 2008 at the grand old age of 87 – a P50 was sitting outside the church during his funeral ready for his final journey.
In recent years a couple of investors bought the company and the rights to build the cars again, this time with electric motors. They appeared on the TV series: Dragon’s Den and got an injection of funds to help kick start the manufacturing. It is a great idea to have these cars back in production, however I think despite having a modern electric motor, they will struggle to get safety equipment into the cars. I would assume that they could be construed as “continuation models” that might allow them to get around the issues.
Have a look at Peel Engineering to see their progress. The image of the P50 in this article is owned by the company.