Man & machine Peter Vivian – a special sort of Triumph

‘I wanted something more interesting than a Mk3 Escort,’ he said. That’s fair, although building your own car was surely an extreme step. It’s one thing to assemble a Caterham Seven in a couple of weekends, but quite another to create your own car from scratch. Peter Vivian is a ‘maker’, however. He works in Bournemouth University’s product design department and wasn’t daunted by never having made a car before. ‘It had always been in the back of my mind to build something. I got a kit car magazine, no doubt one of Peter Filby’s, and saw plan-built cars for the first time.’

Inspired by the JC Midge, designed by John Cowperthwaite in the early ’80s and based loosely on the J2 Midget, he got himself a set of plans and a Spitfire chassis and got to work. The car as built was constructed mainly of plywood cut directly from the full-size plans, dictating flat panels except for the rolled-aluminium bonnet. ‘At the time I was playing basketball, but I gave up to build the car in a single lock-up with no light and only hand tools.’ Three-and-a-half years later it was ready, ‘for a shade over £2000.’ For a time it was his daily driver. ‘I was teaching at Southampton one night a week, driving in all weathers with no heater, and I never want it to be my only car again.’

After 30 years of ownership he fancied something a little more ambitious. ‘It needed a gearbox rebuild, so I thought I’d rebody it at the same time with a proper boat tail instead of the slab tank.’ A definite improvement, and with his woodworking skills and impressive workshop Peter had no problems producing the ash frame. So who made the aluminium skin? ‘Er, I did. I made myself a wheeling machine to produce the pieces for the boat tail.’ Made your own wheeling machine? ‘Yes,’ he says, matter-of factly. ‘The top roller is a large ball race and the bottom one I turned up myself from Delrin.’

One reason the Midge design appealed is that the scuttle is high, which was attractive because Peter is 6ft 9in tall. That dictates the proportions but the new body ameliorates the slab-sidedness somewhat. ‘The tail is made in four pieces. The difficult bit is getting the second side to match the first. I had three goes and ended up using my first attempt. The only part of the original body I kept was the bonnet.’

All Peter didn’t do was the interior, by Scott Lloyd at Technical Autotrim, in vinyl to resist weather given that it’s never had a roof, only a tonneau. And the paint. ‘The first paint job cost £100, and the second, 30 years later by the same man, Derek Pearce, cost me a set of stairs and a quarter landing. I like the barter system. ‘It’s been on the road like this for 100 miles, but I’ve done about 50,000 in all, including the Haynes rallies and the Norwich Union Classics. My wife even went to sleep in it once on the M40.’ That’s the wife for whom Peter knocked up a Rickman Ranger, as you do. You can’t help noticing the dead Landie with a rotten chassis on the drive, and there are future plans for a hillclimber: ‘I love making stuff.’ Evidently.

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