Piper Cars & Piper Company History
The Piper company was formed in 1966 by George Henrotte who was the owner of Campbell`s Garage in Hayes, Kent and had been running the works Gemini F3 team.
Bob Gayler added his technical genius gained from working at Harry Weslake`s research establishment and then with Baldyne Engineering.
Ken Packham was a director of Metallic Components Engineering and he placed his machining facilities in Piper`s direction.
Tony Hilder was an artist and freelance designer and had been responsible for the body design of the McLaren M1A sports-racer. Tony had designed his own car but he had no facilities to build it and he joined the team as the body & chassis designer.
The Piper logo came from the trade mark of Campbell`s Garage and it gave the new company it`s name.
The first Piper was built in the year the company started, a rear engined open sports-racer powered by an Alfa Romeo twin-cam which had been ordered by Gerry Hall. This car featured unusual transparent sides.
The company was producing a range of tuning conversions and accessories and as the racing car was competitive the company received orders for more cars. An order came from Bobby Bell for a Lotus twin-cam engined Piper and one came from the states from Jerry Titus for a Buick V8 powered car.
A single seater F3 car was designed and built using a Mallite section (end-grain balsa core in light-alloy skins) to form the monocoque.
The company was bursting with original ideas and even at this early stage they were not afraid to undertake some big development projects.
A group of club racing drivers approached Piper Cars to design and build a Sports-GT body / chassis unit to take Austin Healy Sprite mechanicals and the project got underway and a model was shown at the 1966 Racing Car Show - unfortunately with a change to the rules the group later pulled out.
Piper`s had put so much into the project that a prototype was exhibited at the 1967 Racing Car Show and the response was encouraging and a limited number were produced.
Enter Brian Sherwood a clubmans racer who had one of the Piper sports racing cars and he had taken it back to the factory to have it converted to the latest coupe spec. Brian was shown the new GT racer project which could be built to order and have the option of Sprite, Imp or Ford engines. Customers could then finish off the car themselves and go racing or even trim the car out for road use. Brian could see the potential of the new GT car but with Ford mechanical parts and be fully built up by the factory and sold as a road car. Brian began to get more involved with the new Piper GT sports car project and some time was spent sorting out the build problems with the car and then production continued.
The success of the tuning division and orders for the cars had led the company to outgrow their premises and it was decided to split the company into different operations and Brian took control of the car production and moved it into his factory in Wokingham, Berkshire.
George carried on with the tuning business which later became Piper Cams and the road cars were fitted with Piper modified cylinder heads and camshafts to the Ford Cortina 1600 GT engine as standard or as an option any degree of tuning to the customers requirements.
Customers soon began to request the current Ford engine and running gear in preference to the Sprite/Midget running gear on offer. Gradually the cars settled down to the format of 1600 Crossflow with Piper head and cam. Triumph Spitfire steering and front suspension was used with Pipers own spring/damper configuration and piper designed rear suspension using the Ford English axle. The glass fibre body was mounted to a 1*1 and 2*1 backbone chassis.
It was Brian's ambition to field a team of two Pipers in the 1969 edition of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The earlier Piper GTS did not meet the Le Mans regulations so a brand new car had to be constructed. Tony Hilder was again chosen to design the Piper racing car that would be dubbed the GTR.
The GTR a Group 6 sports racer was introduced in 1968. This closed cockpit rear engined Piper also featured Mallite in the bulkheads and under tray of it`s chassis tub with multi-tubular sub frames extending to the front and rear. These could carry the twin-cam Ford engines or 2 ltr BMW, the Martin V8 and BRM engines were also an option.
The body profile was wind tunnel tested at Kingston Technical College and featured rear mounted water and oil radiators and an anti-vortex trim on the tail section so that the cooling air flow exiting under the car was not disturbed by the air also passing over it.
A 1300cc Ford twin-cam powered Piper GTR was entered into the 1969 Le Mans 24 hour race. The race engine had been held up at scrutineering because it had not been checked by the RAC for the engine capacity and the team had worked all night to get the car ready for the race only to be told that they had been withdrawn the day before because the organisers had not expected the small British team to be ready. BUT nobody had informed the Piper team about the decision ! We are told that the practice engine had suffered a miss-fire and slowly returning to the pits over the long lap lengths had caused over heating.
So production started again in a larger factory dedicated to building cars. Brian continued his racing and took control of production of the revised GTT. Cars continued to roll out of the factory and the future looked good for the small company but back in the sixties regular Ford strikes were causing problems with the supply of parts and this affected production and sales.
However one owner of a GTT took more than a passing interest in the manufacture of the cars. His name was Bill Atkinson and he became involved with the production becoming the works manager.
Piper' were not prepared to compromise and look elsewhere for their parts as other companies had. Cars were only made to order and were hand built to customers requirements and often cars were paid for gradually as the work progressed.
Then on the 18th December 1969 things took a turn for the worse with Brian Sherwoods tragic death whilst driving along the notorious three lane strach of the A20 near Brans Hatch.
Following Brian's death Bill took over partnership of Piper Cars Ltd with Tony Waller and ceased all racing activity. They formed their own company as Emmbrook Engineering and after a time they restarted Piper production in the same factory.
Bill was never satisfied with the finish and fit of the GTT and his work improving moulds and jigs is evident in the late GTT cars. He initiated a new model to be known as the P2 (short for phase 2). Whilst retaining the original outline, the new model was extended by six inches in the scuttle. It became a more refined version of its no compromise predecessor which was more racing car. Twin headlamps, fuel gauges and better axle ratio’s brought it well and truly into the limelight as a serious road car.
Piper production was up and running again but so were the Ford strikes and the quiet times at Piper were spent on improvments to the cars but also a move was made to a new factory in Lincolnshire in 1973.
To comply with new regulations the head lights of the P2 were changed from under cover lamps to pop-up units and with purchase tax concessions no longer applying the last few cars were built to a very high standard.
The last car left the factory early in 1974.
The GTT was made from 1968 to 1971 and the P2's from 1971 to 1974. The total number of Piper road cars built was around 90 in addition to 20 of the pure racing cars.