Model history: Traditionally the height of sports racing cars was dictated by the need of the driver to look over the engine. With the advent of the mid-mounted engine all that changed. Ford famously dubbed their sports racer GT40 for being just 40 inches off the ground. Towards the end of the 1960s they were firmly beaten by the Piper GTR, which measured a mere 30 inches (76 cm). Like the GT40, it was built specifically for Le Mans but unfortunate conditions prevented it from living up to its potential.
The first Pipers had been built a few years earlier by amateur racer and company founder George Henrotte following a design by Tony Hilder, who also had been responsible for the shape of the very first McLaren. The small mid-engined sports racers featured a wide variety of engines ranging from an Alfa Romeo four-cylinder to a Buick V8. These racing cars were followed by a Austin Healey Sprite based road cars dubbed the Piper GT.
By 1968 the control of the company had transferred to another amateur racer, named Brian Sherwood. It was Sherwood's ambition to field a team of two Pipers in the 1969 edition of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The earlier Piper GTS did not meet the Le Mans regulations so a brand new car had to be constructed. Tony Hilder was again chosen to design the Piper racing car that would be dubbed the 'GTR.'
Hilder focused on keeping the weight and drag of his design down. He created a very slippery and low shape by moving all the mechanicals like the water and oil radiators to the rear of the car. Between the pontoon fenders he fitted an airo-foil that not only created downforce but actually reduced drag. A scale model was tested in the wind-tunnel at Hilder's employer Kingston Polytechnic. It had an incredibly low drag figure of just 0.28.
Inspired by the composite monocoque of the 1967 Le Mans winning Ford GT40, Hilder used balsa wood, polyester and fiber glass to create the new Piper monocoque. The core of the panels was formed by polyester reinforced balsa wood, which were laminated together with fiber glass to form a very rigid tub. Fitted with a Lotus/Ford twin-cam four cylinder engine the complete car tipped the scales at just over 600 kg.
The original plan to field both a 3-liter and a 1.3 liter version of the Piper GTR was quickly abandoned. All the efforts were focused on the 1.3 liter car, which was completed just in time for Le Mans. The four cylinder engined Piper GTR was entered for Tim Lalonde and John Burton by Lalonde's Equipe Concorde. This meant that Sherwood, for whom the larger engined car was being built, had to sit Le Mans out.
When the small team arrived at Le Mans, the Piper GTR was completely untested. Lalonde set out in the first practice session and immediately ran into trouble. The rear-mounted radiators were far from effective and the car ran hot every other lap. When it worked, the Piper was blisteringly fast both on the straights and in the corners. The situation escalated when the rear body flew off the car on the Mulsanne. The car could not be repaired in time for Burton to set a lap and with only one driver qualified, the GTR was not allowed to start.
Two further examples were built but the project was eventually halted after Sherwood was tragically killed in an accident in his Piper P2 road car. Piper persevered for a few years with an updated road car but by 1973 the company folded.
Chassis BJS-3 was the single Piper GTR that made it out to Le Mans in 1969. Powered by a 1.3 litre Lotus engine, it was not allowed to start because only one driver (Tim Lalonde) took part in practice. Lalonde later received the car as payment for his services. Eventually it ended up in the United States where it was raced during the 1990s in historic events. The sole surviving GTR returned to England some years later where it was restored its Le Mans configuration. Chassis BJS-3 made its post restoration debut at the 2005 Goodwood Festival of Speed. In 2006 it returned to La Sarthe for the Le Mans Classic. It is pictured here at Le Mans and on Silverstone.
On January 16th, 2010 it will be offered by Coys in their Autosport Show auction. It is estimated to sell for £130,000 - £150,000.