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“Piper GTT. Car of the decade.. the next one.” Piper sales brochure, 1968
Before the dominance of the big conglomerate car manufacturers took hold in the late 1960s, there was room in the market for niche companies whose products fulfilled the demands of a few drivers who wanted something a little different to the everyday, somewhat bland mainstream offering. Some companies such as Lotus thrived and are still with us while the likes of TVR have come and gone (several times), hopefully to return. Others had their day in the sun but ultimately disappeared after a relatively brief but bright life; Piper sits firmly in the later camp. Though the end results were fairly diverse, these companies’ approaches had remarkable commonality with cheap to produce fiberglass bodies (no need for expensive tooling which required high production volumes to amortise its costs) sitting on bespoke chassis while their running gear, which was financially impossible for a small business to develop and manufacture, was sourced from the industry’s major players.
Piper were kept pretty busy trying to build cars so production records are sketchy to say the least and it is thought that just eighty road cars and some twenty racers were built making them rare beasts today, though their survival rate is undoubtedly higher than that of propriety sports car such as say MGBs.
Formed in 1966 by ex-racer George Henrotte, owner of Campbell’s Garage (hence the Scottish Piper logo and company name) in Hayes, Kent with the able assistance of engineer Bob Gayler (ex Harry Weslake), machinist Ken Packham and artist come designer Tony Hilder who had been responsible for the McLaren M1A, their first ‘whole car’ effort started as an evenings and weekends project until a customer, Gerry Hall, showed an interest in buying one. With his role as Works Gemini Formula Junior team manager winding up, Henrotte gave the green light for a limited production run of the pretty sports racers with four being completed for customers to add their powertrain of choice to; Hall put an Alfa Twin Cam in his, Bobby Bell a Lotus Twin Cam while racer Jerry Titus opted for a Buick V8. With a Mallite (balsawood/alloy sandwich) monocoque F3 car another Piper product, the company was building a reputation as a hotbed of outside the box thinking and a road-usable GT car was the next project. Approached by some Austin Healey Sprite racers who were looking for a light and sleek home for their running gear, a mock-up of what was to become the Piper GTT was shown at the 1967 Racing Car Show, apparently yielding an impressive seven hundred enquiries. With Henrotte being kept busy with the tuning side of the Piper business, there was a timely intervention by Clubman racer Brian Sherwood who had not only bought a Piper GT but as the Sprite guys gradually fell by the wayside, was instrumental in more suitable Ford components being introduced at the expense of the BMC kit. With Sherwood now very much hands on, the Company was split with car production moving to his Wokingham premises while Henrotte concentrated on the aftermarket components business, though the companies remained closely linked both financially and practically. Through the late 1960s production increased from a drip to a trickle until Bill Atkinson, an enthusiastic GTT owner who had joined the company in the summer of 1969 as Works Manager, and Tony Waller (Sherwood Holdings’ Company Secretary) made great strides getting the GTT into some sort of series production.
Instrumental in saving Piper’s car business, Sherwood was at heart a racer and he took them on an ultimately ill-fated foray to Le Mans in 1969 with the ultra-low, mid-engined GTR, an ambitious project that is thought to have cost £250,000. His untimely death late that year coupled with strikes at Ford ultimately resulted in the company being wound up in June 1971, despite the strong progress being made by Atkinson and Waller on the car production and development front (the longer wheelbase P2 was eventually launched in early 1971). However, this was not quite the end of the road for Piper; reborn as Emmbrook Engineering under the same management team, the Piper P2 remained in production until 1974.
Though it is not an exaggeration to say no two cars were identical, the basic layout of the GTT and P2 remained throughout production. A backbone chassis (hat tip, Lotus Elan) constructed in a spaceframe format (thank you, TVR) from well braced square section steel tube, carried a fibreglass body (we owe you one, Gerry Anderson). A Ford 1600 engine in GT tune was ‘standard’ though fitted with an improved cylinder head and camshaft from Piper (obviously) and this was matched to a four speed gearbox and ‘English’ rear axle from the same source. Ubiquitous Triumph GT6/Vitesse twin-wishbone front suspension and steering was utilised but the rear set up was to Piper’s own design with double trailing wishbones and anti-tramp bars while Spax provided bespoke dampers and coil-over springs all round. A GTT fitted with a relatively mild 100 BHP crossflow engine was capable of 120 MPH and could get to the benchmark 60 in 9 seconds.
If any given car is born of its surroundings, what DNA would LBH 8H have inherited? Registered on 1st August 1969 (presumably to be one of the first cars to sport an ‘H’ plate) apparently the 14th of just 45 GTTs (the first being Chassis Number 4), the event was bookended by Pipers plucky attempt to take on the might of Ford, Ferrari and Porsche at Le Mans in June and Brian Sherwood’s tragic death in an accident near Brands Hatch in December. Its ownership history has been exceptionally well documented (the joy of low volume production and a proactive owners club) and details just ten custodians in total.
The second was a colourful character, Jimmy Tredwin, who acquired it from the original lady owner in around 1970. According to a newspaper article (copy on file, please see the photo gallery), during his tenure the Piper was spotted outside a pub in Lambeth by an intrepid journalist who wanted to know what it was and tracked Jimmy down via the pub’s PA system (normally used to introduce the establishment’s strippers). Jimmy had some forthright views and proceeded to denigrate virtually every other car he had owned from Rolls Royce to Mini, E-Type to Elan, Spitfire and MGB; clearly a hard man to please he did, however, like the GTT praising its first class handling, road holding and acceleration as well as the factory’s fantastic after-sales service. We understand from Bill Atkinson that Jimmy liked the Piper so much he replaced it with a P2 and even helped the company with is move to Lincolnshire in 1973.
In 1989, four owners later, Mr Pat Rowell commissioned a comprehensive restoration of LBH 8H including the repair, updating and zinc coating of the chassis plus the modification of the rear suspension to P2 specification. All this work was carried out by Clive Davis of Piper Developments, the recognised ‘go to’ Piper people; so comprehensive was this work that the car now sports a Piper Developments Chassis Restoration plate No. 989/023. RS Race Engineering in Cambridge carried out the rest of the mechanical and electrical work including rebuilding the engine with a Piper 285 cam, high compression pistons, a gas flowed head, steel rocker pedestals and twin 40 DCOE carburettors.
In 1990 the Piper entered the ownership of Mr Chris Cannell who we have managed to contact via the hill climbing fraternity; he fondly remembers betting a friend a pint that he would compete in motor sport and bought LBH 8H to tackle hill climbs. Still a successful competitor in a variety of machines it is fair to say that pint has probably cost Chris a considerable amount over the last thirty odd years! Having recently been comprehensively restored, the GTT was prepared for competition work by Chris and Foxcraft Engineering with amongst other things a Piper Developments roll cage and revised rear suspension pickup points, both of which are still evident today. During Chris’ five years of ownership the Piper not only performed well on the hills but also attracted considerable interest when displayed at various classic car events such as The Brighton Classic Car Show. We are indebted to Chris for the loan of his photographs, a selection of which is shown in the photo gallery and we will be happy to make copies for any successful buyer.
LBH 8H then passed to Mr Andrew Derrick of Weston-Super-Mare who for many years used it as his daily driver and occasional track day machine where it proved to be considerably quicker than his well-tuned Marcos. In around 2004 he stripped and repainted the body and while in general he found the Piper to be trouble free, he did improve the electrical earths (often an issue with fiberglass cars) and fitted a new Lumenition electronic ignition system plus fuel pump. A carburettor problem finally took the GTT off the road and after seventeen years of ownership it was purchased by the vendor in 2012.
Entrusted to C S Haynes in Newcastle-under-Lyme the Piper was comprehensively worked through with new Weber carburettors getting it running sweetly again. New ball joints, a high torque starter motor, brake and clutch work plus a new head gasket have all contributed to a well sorted machine which will come with a fresh MOT test. The owner noted that the articulation of the pedals made them somewhat stiff in operation and C S Haynes fitted a modified Ford Escort set up which has apparently transformed them. Lightly used and shown at events such as the Silverstone Classic, the GTT has given the owner a great deal of pleasure but space constraints have now precipitated its sale.
As previously mentioned, no two GTTs were the same and LBH 8H is no exception. It has the Triumph Dolomite sourced rear lights and Leyland door handles of the P2s but the single rectangular headlights and bonnet bulge of the earlier examples. GTTs notoriously had no fuel gauge but one is present today so perhaps rumours of this being a Piper development car may have some truth.
For a low production volume fibreglass body, the quality is very good though Piper were always more generous with their materials than say Lotus. Refinished well over fifteen years ago there is no evidence of crazing and there is just the odd ‘bleb’ and imperfection in the well applied paintwork as shown in the photo gallery. Considering their rarity, it is good to see Piper badges front and rear while the period style Vitaloni wing mirrors and twin Monza fuel caps are well suited to the car. We are not generally fans of sunroofs in fibreglass cars but the Factory didn’t build cars without them, as with fixed side windows they were vital for cabin ventilation.
Accessed surprisingly easily for such a low car thanks to the doors incorporating a fair amount of the Piper’s roof (a trick also employed by the similarly low-line GT40), the interior is typical of hand built small volume machines of the period with extensive use of basket-weave vinyl. The laid back bucket seats are very comfortable, supporting the occupant’s weight hammock-style and they are generally in excellent condition with just a little sag to the driver’s. The carpets are in fairly good order if a little threadbare in one or two high wear places while the black painted windscreen surround is slightly scuffed. Willans harness’ are a legacy of the GTT’s competition days and an early Moto-Lita steering wheel looks to be charmingly original. Again very 1960s, the padded dashboard houses a full set of Smiths instruments though the tachometer has been replaced by a later Stewart Warner unit for improved accuracy.
Neat, tidy and well ordered the uncluttered engine bay has been treated with some doubtless very worthwhile reflective heat and sound insulating material. Importantly the engine itself has the super-strong 711M block fitted to the fastest Fords and beloved of the tuning community; documentation on file attests to it giving comfortably over 120 BHP which seems to be entirely believable. The 40 DCOE Weber carburettors are actuated by twin throttle cables and fed from two linked fuel tanks via a Facet pump. While a new air filter would be a functional and aesthetic improvement, the electric fan and aluminium oil catch tank are nice touches. Fired up it sounds crisp and purposeful with oil pressure at a strong 60 PSI while there are no nasty knocks and rattles or any significant smoke from the exhaust.
The chassis still looks to be in excellent shape post its restoration, the light ‘chassis grey’ finish being fully intact with no flaking and barely a chip. Some of the nuts, bolts and suspension components have a little surface corrosion but this is purely cosmetic.
Staggered Minilite-style wheels are fitted and are in good condition throughout with no major scrapes or marks while the tyres all have a generous amount of tread left.
Two large History Files accompany the car including the current V5C and a previous version from 1984. There are a few MOT certificates dating back to 1974 and various documents detailing the known cars and their owners. A selection of photographs, newspaper articles and magazines plus a detailed specification from the previous owner are also included. A nice piece of the Piper’s history is a letter and template from Clive Davis at Piper Developments giving instructions for fitting the roll cage. Some historical invoices dating back to 1974 are present along with those from 2012 which themselves total over £6,500.
Our thanks go to previous owner Chris Cannell and Andy Czakow of The Piper Sports and Racing Car Club for their help and photographs – Andy took the lovely shot of LBH 8H and two other Pipers on track at Silverstone a few years ago. Incidentally, with the ever helpful Club having a chassis jig and body mold plus access to rare parts such as the unique 'screens, we heartily recommend joining and consequently Berlinetta will gladly fund a successful buyer’s first year’s membership. It is also worth considering that the Club will have a dedicated parking area and discounted tickets for this year’s Silverstone Classic when there will also be an opportunity to take part in a parade on the historic circuit. Thanks also to Bill Atkinson for helping us get our history of the marque straight.
Rarer than a hen’s dentist, great to drive and stunning looking with excellent spares availability and a proactive Club - which must have the highest ratio of members to cars made of any car club in the UK - there is certainly much to recommend the Piper.