Words and Photos: Patrick Harlow
When it comes to kit cars there is extraordinarily little that Peter Pellandine did not attempt – starting up his first kit car company while just in his mid-twenties. Kit car specialist, Patrick Harlow, takes a look at a rare Pellandine-designed sports car.
When it comes to kit cars there is extraordinarily little that Peter Pellandine did not attempt – starting with his first kit car company while just in his mid-twenties. Ashley Laminates was formed during 1955 in partnership with Keith Waddington. The first car they produced was called the Ashley 750, which like so many early kit cars was based on the Austin 7. Approximately 500 were made between 1956 and 1957. Almost immediately, Peter saw just how successful a product fibreglass was for making lightweight sports cars.
In 1956, he left Ashley Laminates to set up his own company, Falcon Shells. Peter continued to manufacture the Ashley 750, which had been renamed the Falcon MkI. About 150 of these Falcon-branded cars were made between 1957 and 1960, along with another Ashley-derived car, the Falcon MkII. This was even more successful than the MkI, with about 1000 being made over the same period.
Peter had the wanderlust in him and thanks to the success of the kit cars, he was able to leave his company in the care of others while he headed overseas with his wife to live in New Zealand. With all his knowledge of building fibreglass cars, Peter believed he would be able to set up a thriving business in this country, and he intended to use his Falcon MkI and MkII bodies as a means to start up. Settling in Gisborne, he seriously considered moving there permanently.
At that time, fibreglass was almost unheard of in New Zealand, and it was not long before he was showing a local boat builder, Jim McCulloch, how to create fibreglass boats. Jim was also a panelbeater, and the two men decided to go into business building their own fibreglass cars. Peter would handle the design work, while Jim would provide the labour, factory space and materials to build the cars. This time the car would be based on the Ford 10 chassis and running gear. Later cars would have a chassis that was designed and manufactured in-house.
The project was barely off the ground when, thanks to a factory fire and mounting costs, Jim decided to pull the plug after only three cars had been produced. Unperturbed, Peter returned to England with a set of moulds and a body to begin full-scale production of the car in his home country. It would be called the Falcon MkIII. Later, a coupé version, the Caribbean, was also added to the line-up. About two thousand examples of the MkIII would be sold between 1958 and 1963.
Not one to stay in the same place for long, by 1962 Peter had sold the UK-based company and emigrated to Australia. Here he was able to pursue his other interest: steam-powered cars. He even managed to convince the South Australian government to fund his endeavours. By 1970 he was back in the petrol-based car-building business, this time focusing on mid-engined cars such as the Mini-based Pellandini (seven produced). In 1974, he came up with the VW-based Pelland Sports, a car which would eventually evolve into the Pelland Coupé featured in this story.
This car was a radical departure from the cars that Peter had made before as it featured a fibreglass monocoque, development of this having been funded by Peter’s research into steam-powered cars. The Pelland Steamer MkI used the same chassis and a slightly restyled Pelland Sports body with an all-up weight of around 600kg.
In 1977 Peter again returned to England, setting up the company Pelland Engineering. To raise money, he sold the rights to the Pelland Sports so he could begin work on the Pelland MkII Steam Car. The rights to produce the Sports would change owners several times before production finally ceased around 1993. Although hard to confirm due to the number of times those rights changed hands, it is believed that approximately 30 Pelland Sports were produced.
The Pelland MkII was a ground-up redesign. This time it had a fibreglass and Kevlar monocoque body with an all-up weight of just 476kg. Its three-cylinder, double-acting steam engine enabled it to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in under eight seconds, which was impressive for the day. The MkII was a very pretty looking car that deserved to have a petrol derivative.
The Pelland Coupé
When it appeared, that petrol car – named the Pelland Coupé – would be given a roof, a mid-mounted Alfasud boxer engine and drivetrain.
Steve Hole, in his excellent book A-Z of Kit Cars, believes that not many of these cars were made by Peter – probably as few as two between 1989 and 1992 – and the car owned by Robin Hartley, in Wellington, may be one of these.
By then, Peter was more into steam than petrol. Although he produced brochures and a price list, it is believed that only the two petrol cars were manufactured: a red prototype that featured in various British magazines, and a blue car. Looking for more steam car funding, he once again sold the production rights of the coupé to Square One Developments.
Peter returned to Australia in the early 1990s for the last time, where he continued working on his beloved steam cars until he died in Tasmania during 2012. In his shed was an unfinished MkIV Pelland Steam Car.
Meanwhile, Square One Developments had taken the Pelland Coupé, chopped a portion of the car’s duckbill nose off and renamed it the Kudos. It is hard to understand why the pretty little car did not sell; it could have been because of its Alfasud mechanicals or simply because it was trying to compete in a saturated kit car market. Sadly, production ended for good in 1995 after about five or seven coupés and two roadsters had been built.
All the evidence I can find indicates that the car owned by Robin is the unfinished second Pellandine car. Robin even has a handwritten letter from Peter Pellandine addressed to the first owner, another Mr Hartley, giving an update on the car’s progress in the factory. Hartley died before the car was finished and it was passed through his estate to a second owner who also owned the original prototype that he used for hill climbing competitions in the UK. He purchased the second Pelland to use for parts. Fortunately, Robin Hartley found out about this car and managed to persuade him to part with it. Other than photos, Robin saw it for the first time when it arrived in New Zealand as a barely rolling chassis.
The Pelland in New Zealand
Not being a great fan of the duckbill nose, Robin took to it with his saw and added a front-end similar to the Kudos cars. Interestingly, Pellandine at some later stage also modified his MkII steam car and adopted a Kudos-like front too. The only other change Robin made to the body was the instrument binnacle, preferring a cluster styled after the Alfa 156 than the single Alfasud binnacle.
Robin performed a full strip-down and ground-up rebuild of the car. The engine that came with the car was not used but instead, a more modern fuel-injected 1990 Alfa Romeo 33 1.7-litre boxer motor was found to fit easily into a space big enough for a steam engine. The original Alfasud transaxle, together with inboard disc brakes and driveshafts, was bolted onto steel plates previously bonded into the fibreglass at the rear of the coupé.
With no build manual and no other cars to refer to, it was not an easy job and took six years to complete. Robin speaks highly of his LVVTA certifier, who was as keen as Robin to see it on the road. His wife, Jenny, was brought in as design consultant and helped with many of the tricky design decisions, such as whether to cut the nose off or leave it and the shape and placement of the final tail-lights.
On the Road
When Robin gave me the Pelland’s keys, I knew that I was getting into a unique piece of automotive history. Like all homebuilt cars, it is 99 per cent finished with still a few remaining tidy-up jobs to do. Robin is currently working on door cards to hold the door release handles, while a steering surround to hide the column stalks has still to be made.
Once ensconced in the driver’s seat with Robin sitting beside me, I became aware of just how small a car this is, possibly comparable to a Lotus Europa. That being said, we are both around 1.8 metres tall and we were not cramped. The seating position was laid back and most comfortable. The small rear-view mirror was surprisingly adequate for seeing what you have just passed as you peer through the mailbox slot of a rear window.
Like many mid-engined cars with their gearboxes slung behind the engine over the back wheels, the gearstick was not very direct, lacking the firmness of a car with the gearbox directly beneath the driver’s hand. The accelerator pedal, due to the intrusion of the front wheel arch into the footwell, was a little bit forward of the brake and clutch, making it impossible to heel-and-toe. However, after five minutes of driving, these problems were superfluous as I quickly got used to the gear change and positioning of the pedals.
With an all-up weight of around 640kg, this was a surprisingly quick car. Robin said the car had a weight bias of 60/40 to the rear. Perhaps my ninety-mumble kilograms of weight evened things up as I found the handling of the car to be very neutral, with no sign of oversteer or understeer. Pushing the car hard into a corner I could feel the tyres starting to let go, with the car starting to drift sideways in an easily controllable manner. Had the car not been on its 30-year-old original tyres, I am sure I could have pushed it even harder. The little coupé has almost no body roll and the motor is surprisingly zippy. The suspension was firm but not harsh. Moving up and down through the gearbox, the little car responded sweetly, meeting all the demands placed upon it.
In the three years it has been on the road, the Pelland Coupé has proven to be very mechanically reliable. Robin puts this down to using Alfa Romeo donor parts exactly as they were intended by the factory. In its current guise, the car has been on racetracks, motorways and back country roads. Robin has resisted the urge to add a turbocharger or ‘hot chip’ the fuel injection system because he believes he can have more than enough fun with the car as it is now. I tend to agree with him, but if I were going to change anything it would be that set of 30-year-old tyres