Jimmy Byrnes

Jimmy Byrnes

James E Byrnes was a Midlands hotelier & restaurateur who came onto the 500 scene in 1952, racing a Mezzolitre. It isn't clear whether he was involved in the development of the cars in 1951, but by the start of 1952 he and Rupert Instone were racing regularly.

The car’s last appearance in its original form came at Fairwood at the 500cc Championship of Wales, 26th July (perhaps it was involved in the major crash that also destroyed Stirling Moss’ second Kieft), but by early August, he was debuting his new Kieft CK 52 (apparently purchased directly from the factory). Surprisingly, he would also swap from BSA to Norton power. Neither car, however, delivered much in the way of results. He continued with the Kieft into 1953, before selling the car to the Rolls brothers in June. His swansong was an eighth place at the Nürburgring Eifelrennen, albeit a lap down on Stirling Moss.

By September, he was back in the Mezzolitre once again, now fitted with a swing arm rear axle in place of the simple beam, and picking up a fourth place at SUNBAC Silverstone. Ultimately, though, there would be no significant improvement, and Jimmy left Formula III at the end of the season.

In June 1953, Byrnes had purchased a Kieft-Bristol sports car (OAC 2) in which he would occasionally in 1953 and more frequently in 1954 (including the TT at Dundrod).

In 1955, Byrnes ordered an Osca-engined sports car from Bernie Rodger and Francis Beart (the car would come to be known as the Beart-Rodger-Osca or Beart-Rodger II). The car first appeared in Summer 1956 and Ian Burgess did the driving. Intended to race against Cooper Bobtails and similar Lotus cars, it proved uncompetitive. The car was destroyed in a testing accident at Imola, September 1956. A replacement was planned, in Formula II specification, but never built.

Instead, interest drifted to production cars. One of Byrnes’ restaurants, the Saxon Mill, on the River Avon just north of Warwick (still there today) was a popular haunt for the board of the Standard-Triumph company. Realising that might be useful, Jimmy briefed Rodger to develop a sports GT car based on Triumph TR3 mechanicals. The plan was for low volume, low cost 2-seater with racing capabilities. The prototype was named the Warwick, and appeared in 1957, claiming 0-60 of under 10 seconds and a top speed of 120mph. John Gordon, a friend of Byrnes and a dealer in used Rolls-Royce, urged them to build a larger car instead, and in turn came on board. The four-seater prototype debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 1957, and impressed the Standard-Triumph board enough to secure a supply of parts.

For production, the old Peerless Motors company of Slough was purchased, and it was decided to adopt this name, which still carried weight in the American market (and incidentally making it probably the first car to be named after a beer). Productionised with a fibreglass body, the Peerless GT proved very popular. Peter Jopp drove one to 4th in class at Le Mans in 1958, many of over 300 built were sold to America, and there was talk of dropping a Chevy Corvette motor in.


Peter Jopp at Le Mans, 1958

Unfortunately a falling out amongst the directors led to sales guru John Gordon leaving (he would later be half of Gordon-Keeble, a car that looks suspiciously like a Peerless with a Corvette engine) and soon Peerless went into liquidation. Renamed Warwick, the company stumbled on until 1962, but Jimmy Byrnes was now focussed on his restaurant and had little to do with the company.

Jimmy Byrnes died in 2006