Piper Sports Cars

‘There’s something stirring in a Lincs village – at 120 mph’; so ran the story line to an article in the Lincolnshire Echo dated 12 November 1973 about Emmbrook Engineering of South Willingham.

Bill Atkinson and Tony Waller brought production of the Piper sports car to South Willingham in June 1973. The sleek sports car sported a fibreglass bodyshell attached to a square-section tubular steel chassis. Components were largely from the Ford parts bin, and the Phase Two iteration of the Piper line could be bought for around £2,200.

The pair settled in premises in the old station yard after searching for a suitable location in Lincolnshire. Bill Atkinson stated that, “it is just what we wanted – plenty of space and no interruptions. During the four months we have been here we have produced three cars.”

Production of Piper Sports Cars began in the south of England in 1968 and the first Piper GT road model, to a design by Tony Hilder, was introduced at the January 1967 Racing Car Show and immediately afterwards entered production as a body/chassis unit for home completion. These early cars were produced by Campbells Garage and were based on BMC ‘A’ Series components. Problems with the first few cars produced caused further production to be delayed until the following year, when, under the now-ownership of Brian Sherwood, Piper Cars introduced a substantially better developed version which became known as the GTT. Following the death of company owner Brian Sherwood in 1969 Bill and Tony stepped in and began focusing on improving the road-going version of the Piper sportscar (there was a pure competition version too). Bill Atkinson has kindly provided further background information to Piper Sports Cars and how they came to be produced at South Willingham.

I started as a customer when I went down to Wokingham in Berkshire from my home in the North East to look at a Piper GTT sometime towards the end of 1968. I placed an order and collected my car in early 1969. It was on my visit to the factory that I first met Tony, who was the Company Secretary.

After taking delivery of the car, I made what I believed to be a number of improvements. Brian Sherwood was suitably impressed and, in September 1969, offered me the job of factory manager. At this time we were still producing GTTs and GTR race cars.

Tragically, Brian Sherwood was killed in a road accident about three months after Bill started working for Pipers. Despite all the ‘uncertainties’ which this left, Bill and Tony somehow managed to keep the company going; the Piper Car Company basically died with Brian, and the new company became Emmbrook Engineering, the name taken from the district of the town. Ford engines with modified heads and Piper cams produced the motive power for the cars and in 1971 a further revision known as the Piper P2 (Phase Two) began production and included many improvements to chassis, body and interior design. A six-inch increase in the overall length, twin round headlamps, modified tail lights, modifications to the rear suspension and a slightly wider track were amongst the improvements introduced on the P2. This model continued in production until the mid-1970s, and was the design Bill and Tony brought to South Willingham.

The move to South Willingham was precipitated by a belief that the premises in Wokingham were due to be developed, and real estate in Berkshire was not cheap. The possibility of a move to Lincolnshire had actually occurred around Easter 1971; Bill Atkinson takes up the story:

Tony and I were travelling up the A1 to deliver a Piper and, nearing Grantham, I remarked to Tony that the area looked very pleasant and that it might be a good place to live and work. As it happened, an aunt of Tony’s lived in the area and she sent down some local newspapers for us to browse. We somehow made contact with a chap who was involved with rural development and he put us on to an old mill at Dogdyke near Coningsby. We made plans to buy the mill, even though it needed a lot of work; however, around the end of 1972 the deal fell through. We then made contact with Mike Perkins from Market Rasen and he showed us some properties in the area. None were really satisfactory and I told Mike that what we really wanted was a nice big shed in the middle of a field, somewhere we could get on with our business unhindered.

Mike then took us to have a look at the building we occupy to this day; full of large sacks of sugar, and situated in the yard of the old railway station the building was owned by Ted Aldridge – it had formerly been built in the 1960s by the Fox & Garner sack hire company. Although not then for sale, Mike did persuade Ted to sell us the building and some land. George Hardy fenced off the land and later worked for us on general duties. George lived in a bungalow in South Willingham opposite Church Lane known as Braemar, though he had previously lived in Benniworth.

So, Bill and Tony moved Piper Car manufacture to South Willingham in June 1973, beginning production almost immediately. Bill recalls that of the few cars that were produced, most had already been started down at Wokingham, and barely a handful left the Emmbrook factory. Three production staff accompanied the pair to South Willingham but, for a variety of reasons, didn’t stay very long.

Bill Atkinson & Tony Waller with Piper P2

Bill Atkinson (left) and Tony Waller show off the Piper P2 sports car to the press at their South Willingham works in November 1973

At the time the article appeared in the Echo, Emmbrook Engineering was said to have a four-month waiting list for its cars. However, changes in purchase tax duty and the fuel crisis led to a very premature end to car manufacture in South Willingham and, as indicated above, very few cars were actually produced. Estimates of total Piper production vary from around 80 (a figure produced by the Piper Sports and Racing Car Club) to somewhere over 100, so few cars can have been produced in the old station yard at South Willingham during those few months of late 1974 to mid-1975.

Piper P2 at South Willingham

Another view of the Piper P2 at Emmbrook Engineering South Willingham in late 1973

Even before the last Piper sports car left the factory, Bill and Tony had begun diversifying in order to survive, as Bill now relates:

A chap called Martin Knowles and an associate of his had read the article in the Lincolnshire Echo; they had been developing a corner bath and, reading that we were producing car bodies in fibreglass, came to see us. This resulted in us beginning to produce corner baths, which turned out to be very fortunate for us given the crisis with Piper car production. We also began making model boats for the well-known firm of model-makers, Keil Kraft. Not only this but, again in conjunction with Martin Knowles, we produced sailing dinghies and rowing dinghies. I also recollect that we were going to build a large thirty-foot boat for Mr Anderson, who lived in the old rectory at South Willingham at that time; however, I can’t remember to what stage we took this to but I don’t think we actually built the boat.

car-top dinghy

Tony Waller (with Martin Knowles just behind) displays Emmbrook Engineering's 'car-top dinghy' at an exhibition in Grimsby.

Later, we went into partnership with Joe Kingham from Doncaster (Joe had a shop in Lincoln) and Vic Butters from Hull, making baths; I believe we traded under the name of Laminated Glass Fibre Products when we formed this partnership. For some time we continued making for the trade, but after a while a customer asked if we could supply matching sanitary ware after buying one of our shower trays. This led us to start selling bathroom suites direct to the public as a retailer, rather than just supplying to the trade.

 

Corner bath in fibreglass

The first corner bath produced by Bill Atkinson & Tony Waller at South Willingham

After surviving more than one recession, and nearly being ‘taken down’ by the various trade outlets we supplied to when they got info difficulties, we built a small showroom on the upper floor of the factory and ended up as a mainly retail business. Somewhere in this period we began to use the business name Marenda-Lindsey Ltd; in fact, we had this registered as a company name even before we left Wokingham, as we were already looking into diversifying, the name being a corruption of the Christian names of our then-wives (Mary and Brenda for myself and Tony respectively and, of course, we were shortly to move to new premises in East Lindsey). We stopped making baths, although we continued with the shower trays for some time and eventually added kitchen ranges to our core business of bathroom suites – and that is how the business is to this day.

Piper Phase Two Sports Car

The beautiful Piper Phase Two Sports Car, a car that was once manufactured in South Willingham.

A local connection in two ways. This photograph, taken in 1978 by Martin Doughty, shows a Piper GTT sports car outside of Ward's general store at Donington on Bain. This iteration of the Piper marque pre-dates the Phase Two cars built at South Willingham, but is an interesting image nevertheless of this lovely car with connections to South Willingham.

 

 

12 Responses to Piper Sports Cars

  1. bill atkinson says:

    i found your website through the piper sports and racing cars facebook forum.we brought the piper to south willingham at the wrong time.ted heath’s 3 day week and a very bad economic climate.tony waller and i are still working at the station yard however, having somehow survived other recession’s since then. i sold my own piper some months before coming to lincolnshire to buy curtains,carpets,furniture etc for the new bungalow at benniworth.sad!! i did manage to buy it back however ,13 or so years ago,in bits. i have at last started on the restoration and hope to have it on the road this year.i have a long way to go yet, but am working hard at it.a piper should be seen around south willingham again soon.i’m trying to decide what colour to spray it at the moment.that always was a hard one.keep your eyes and ears open!!

  2. Nick Summers says:

    I was born in ’67 and in the early ’70s lived in South Willingham in Cobblers Cottage. I was at school with Tony’s son, Paul Waller. I remember visiting the Piper factory with Tony, Paul and my dad in about ’73 or ’74 and thought it was the greatest place imaginable. It made a big impression on a 6 year old, who is still car crazy four decades later!

  3. katie billing says:

    I am a niece of terry eglington who worked in the embrook workshop and we are organizing a surprize birthday party on the 13th july and wondered if anyone who worked with him would like to come to the party that would be great. If anyone has a piper that could be brought with them on the day that would be even better. Contact me at katiemaybilling@ymail.com

  4. David Padley says:

    Hi Paul, Thank you for your note regarding my inquiry. I have read the article you mention in the link. However, I am trying to find the site or any buildings remaining of the original ‘factory’ where the Piper cars were produced. I have contact with a Piper owner in Germany who is very interested in any information or photographs available on the production of Piper cars in South Willingham. Yesterday I spoke to my niece who lives in Mill Cottage, South Willingham, she was not aware of Piper cars or the South Willingham connection. However, she has promised to have a word with the vicar there who she says has lived in South Willingham for some time. If possible I would like to visit South Willingham and photograph any connection remaining of the Piper cars link. I could then send the photographs to my friend the Piper car enthusiast in Germany. Any help or advice you can offer to help me achieve this would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards,

    David

    • admin says:

      Hi David, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The buildings are still around but they are not very impressive. I have lived in the village since 1988 and they had been used to make fibreglass baths and shower trays after the car business ceased. This business closed down a couple of years ago and the buildings are being used for some other business at the moment. Bill Atkinson and Tony Waller (the previous owners) still live in the area – you might want to see if you can make contact with Bill Atkinson (who was in the process of rebuilding his Piper) via his comment. Here is the google map link to the building https://goo.gl/maps/Il7rB – it’s the white roofed building just off station road which is actually in the old station yard.

      regards
      Paul

      • David Padley says:

        Hi Paul, Thanks very much for your reply and the link. I spoke to Bill Atkinson this morning and have arranged to go over to see him. Thank you very much for your help.

        Regards,

        David

  5. David Padley says:

    Thanks for the link Paul. I had seen this but I was looking for the actual location of the old factory in South Willingham and trying to find out if any of the buildings remain.

    Regards,

    David

  6. Alan Connor says:

    I had the pleasure of dealing with Tony Hilder a car a couple of years ago, he has been suffering from a serious back injury and need a car fitted with a hoist. He is a lovely man and I really wanted to work a fantastic deal for him. Sadly my boss didn’t appreciate what he had done for car design and his place in motoring history and wouldn’t let me do the deal I wanted to do.
    I left not long afterwards, partly because of the company’s appalling attitude.
    Tony showed me some photos of his old Pipers and a couple of cars he designed for Bruce McLaren including one with a front wishbone suspension which was revolutionary at the time.
    I could see the emotion and attachment in his face when he talked about the Pipers and the days with Bruce McLaren. Had me a bit choked.

  7. David Thurgur says:

    David Thurgur says.

    I was very lucky to get to know Tony and Bill not long after they finished making cars. Sadly it was in the bathroom world. Although we always got round to talking about cars.
    If anyone knows of a Piper for sale please contact me.
    While on the subject of blasts from the past I see there are some letters from David Padley are you the David Padley from Padley’s Chickens because if you are we were at school together at St.Hugh’s.

    Kind regards

    David.

  8. Antony Barrett says:

    Hello . . . I was very pleased to find and read the articles about South Willingham, It sounds a lovely place. I have a particular interest in the articles on Piper Cars and Bill Atkinson.
    I understand if this is not possible, for privacy reasons eg, But I wondered if I could obtain an email address for Bill Atkinson, or if he could email me directly ? I will of course elaborate on this, If anyone replies, But briefly, I knew Bill (who incidentally, is a very nice person) when Piper were at Emmbrook in Wokingham. I last saw him just before they very sadly left for Lincolnshire in 73, When I was 13 !!!! My Dad, John Barrett, owned the yard where the Piper buildings were situated. They were some of the happiest, most exciting times for me, and I have never stopped thinking about them, And wondering how Piper could have become even greater as a Car maker if things had worked out differently. I would certainly have loved to work for and with them.
    Many Thanks for any help.
    Kind Regards . . . Antony Barrett.

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