Auction Pick of the Week: 1959 Peerless GT Phase II


Automotive history is littered with the bones of small-scale manufacturers that, for one reason or another, couldn’t hack it over the long run. That same history is also full of punchy shops that overachieved in their eras, taking the fight to much more established players on some of racing’s greatest stages, which even today seem downright improbable. The Venn diagram of carmakers that achieved racing glory only to fold after a short life, however, is sparsely populated.

That’s where we meet Peerless, a punchy post-WWII British firm that burned hot and fast, only to fizzle out in less than a decade. Oh, the stories this 1959 Peerless GT Phase II, currently listed on Hagerty Marketplace, could probably tell.

1959 Peerless GT Phase II rear three quarter

First, some backstory: Peerless—no, not the prewar American manufacturer—was a small British shop that sprang up seemingly out of nowhere in the mid-1950s. It was founded by James Byrnes, a decorated club racer tired of off-the-shelf competitors, and John Gordon, a local Rolls-Royce vendor and something of a racing junkie himself. The two tapped Bernie Rodger, a local legend in the engine building and tuning scene, to be the firm’s lead engineer.

Though it shared no direct relation to the American Peerless brand, the Brit variant did graft its name from the former: The founders selected a small facility in Slough as their base, and that facility had in a previous life been used by the American Peerless corporation to build a handful of armored cars during World War I.

Despite the three men’s shared desire to build their own sports car from the ground up, they quickly agreed that a from-scratch creation was probably beyond their reach. Rodger, who owned a local restaurant that was a favorite of top brass from the Standard Triumph company, used his connections to convince those executives to offer up a handful of Triumph TR3 platforms that would serve as the base for the prototype Peerless.

1959 Peerless GT Phase II rear three quarter

The eventual product that rolled out of the shed doors in Slough only loosely resembled the TR3 upon which it was based. Though it shared the 2.0-liter, 100-hp four-cylinder and the four-speed transmission and Laycock overdrive system with the TR3, the Peerless GT (initially dubbed the Warwick, but eventually changed to GT) was far more racing-focused. The engine sat inside a fully arc-welded tube frame that gave the GT considerable rigidity. It was six inches longer than a contemporary TR3, with a track width 5 inches greater than that of the Triumph. Other differences to the Triumph included a de Dion rear axle design and a sultry fiberglass coupe body that concealed a 2+2 cockpit.

Keen to capitalize on the warm reception the GT received when it debuted at the 1957 Paris motor show, Byrnes, Gordon, and Rodger turned their eyes towards the crown jewel of European motor racing: Le Mans. Two cars, a primary and a reserve, were entered into the grueling 24-hour race in 1958, though only the primary car saw competition. Each one featured a hand-built engine, additional fuel tanks, and a lowered suspension. Shockingly, the Peerless GT took 16th overall, besting far more established players in the process.

The orders poured in following that French triumph. The Slough facility went into overdrive to fulfill them, and, as so many British upstarts had done before, promptly fell behind. Peerless’ leaders wanted to build five cars per week, but that goal quickly got out of reach. Just 325 Peerless GTs were created by the time the shop closed in 1960.

Of the 325 cars, 275 units were built to the original GT spec, which involved a fiberglass body and muted styling. The remaining 50 cars were built to what was known as the Phase II spec, which boasted a number of improvements. Chief among them was a new molded body that eliminated some 60 fiberglass body seams and the need for extensive bonding and riveting.

1959 Peerless GT Phase II front three quarter

The car pictured here is one of those 50. It’s also one of just 70 cars built in a left-hand-drive configuration. According to the listing, the car is fresh from a frame-on restoration, completed in October of this year. The body was refinished in silver, and the frame was sealed with POR-15 as part of the restoration.

1959 Peerless GT Phase II engine bay

This example also ditched the Triumph running gear for the 2.6-liter inline-six engine and four-speed manual transmission from a 1974 Datsun 260Z. Both the engine and the gearbox were reportedly professionally rebuilt at some point in their lives. It also features a completely new interior with black vinyl upholstery, Stewart Warner gauges, and more. The odometer currently reads just 10,500 miles as of the time of listing, although it is noted that the true mileage is unknown. This Peerless GT Phase II features plenty of other neat details as well, far too many to list here. Check out the listing for yourself to see them all.

If orphaned British racing royalty paired with stout and engaging Japanese running gear sounds like something you might fancy, allow us to compliment the cut of your jib. The auction listing for this plucky Brit will close next Tuesday, November 28, so you even have a little time to make room in your garage.



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