An Extra Ordinary Contribution to Motoring – Chris Machin

by Sam Knight

Chris Machin, Chairman of the Jurby Transport Museum and the Manx Transport Heritage Museum, in Peel delivered a fascinating, well-researched insight into the work of the Peel Engineering Company, founded by the late Cyril Cannell.

Soon after his war service in the RAF, Cyril returned to the Island and set up his factory, next to the River Neb, in Peel. His pioneering work in the use of glass fibre and his skills at, ‘trying something new’, were both innovative and extraordinary. He produced fibreglass fairings for motorcycles making the TT and MGP fortnights very busy for the workforce to provide fairings for visiting bikers before their return home. TT competitors also benefited from the company, including the true gentleman of racing, Geoff Duke, who has, sadly, just died, aged 92.

Cyril Cannell went on to develop a lightweight, three – wheeled car, the P50. The prototype was taken to the Earls Court Motor Show in the early 1960’s. After a wheel arrangement modification, the car went into production in 1964. A two-seater variant, the Trident was then produced – a true ‘bubble car’ with a lift up acrylic dome with no doors to interfere with passing traffic.

Peel Engineering’s foreman was George Gelling, metal fabricator and welder, Ernie Leece, glass fibre fabricators, Helen Cutsforth and Celia Joughin. Cyril’s PA and secretary was Helen Costain. All these workers are, thankfully still around and enjoy the memories of working with Cyril and the firm’s salesman, the late Henry Kissack.

Chris showed us clips of a film made by the Seoul Broadcasting Company, South Korea. Film- makers had come to record a programme entitled, “The Green Cars of Europe.” It stressed the fact that the Peel 50, with its tiny 50cc engine, was so economical to run. We saw the car being driven into Shoprite, in Derby Road, The face of the manageress was a picture in itself! The film was to be shown in the every country in S.E. Asia, including China and Japan!

Peel Engineering seemed to be able to make anything in fibreglass, including sports car bodies, Karts and Hovercrafts. The company very nearly got the contract to make GRP bodies for the Mini, in a factory in Chile.

The tiny aircraft body, suspended inside the airport at Ronaldsway and the slender spire on top of the Sea Terminal building were also the products of Cyril Cannell’s productive mind.

Peel Transport Museum managed to buy one of the P50’s that came to the “Peels in Peel Rally” in 2005. Financial help was given by the Manx Lottery Trust and the Manx Heritage Foundation, so the world’s smallest production car is now in the Island’s smallest museum, just yards from its birthplace!

Chris Machin was warmly thanked for his entertaining and fascinating presentation.

The next Peel Heritage Trust meeting is on Wednesday, 20th May at 7.30 pm in the Centenary Centre. Dr Alastair Biggart will describe the planning and creation of the Channel Tunnel. His position of Operations Director makes him a much sought after speaker. This presentation will be of universal interest, so do come in good time to avoid disappointment. All are welcome.