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November 2019

Daniel & Heather Bristow - PEA541

Daniel & Heather Bristow - PEA541

by KaranMK2 » Fri Nov 22, 2019 4:53 pm

I met Daniel & Heather Bristow at the NEC a few weeks ago. I was taken back by their fantastic car and of its history. I asked them if they would like to submit a short piece as 'car of the month' for our forum. To our benefit they said yes and so below is is what they've shared.

London to Paris Record Holder PEA541

PEA541 started life in 1957 as a 541 Deluxe, but returned to the Jensen factory after being crashed by a Peer of the Realm. This may have been the Earl of Richmond as I have a copy of a letter describing how he crashed his 541 into a tractor prior to Feb 1959. The car went back to the Jensen factory and was referred to as chassis 101, after which the Jensen Brothers decided to use it as the prototype for the 541R to race at LeMans (possibly why the "R"suffix was used). With Jensen experimenting on several cars with disc brakes, rack and pinion steering and Austin developing the newly uprated DS7 engine, along with suspension and body improvements, it was all put together in PEA and entered into LeMans in 1959. Lesley Johnson came out of retirement to compete, aged 46 and thanks to correspondence with Mike Byrne in the late 70's we have evidence that Lesley Johnson had frequent visits to see Richard Jensen and spent many two hour stints racing around Montlhery racetrack at 100mph (two hours being the maximum time for each driver at Le Mans in 1959). A race entry exists for PEA at LeMans but unfortunately Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack the night before the race and PEA was withdrawn out of respect to his family.

Jensen then entered it into the Daily Mail Bleriot Anniversary race between London and Paris with John Webb driving (I believe he owned Brands Hatch and was instrumental in starting Castle Combe race track). This was a race between Marble Arch and the Arc de Triumph by any means possible (there are some entertaining Pathe News clips on you tube). Although PEA couldn't compete with fast motorcycles and jet fighters it won the prize for the fastest four wheeled vehicle beating Stirling Moss by 28 minutes. PEA won in 2 hrs. 27 mins. and 17 secs., a record it still holds to this day. There were also rumours at the time of it going to America for distance and endurance trials, but these are unsubstantiated.

Points of interest on the car;
The only 541 to have a hole through the radiator for a starting handle
extra strengthening to the chassis legs
all nuts, bolts and core plugs are drilled and wired to race at Le Mans
Unique front chassis to accommodate quick lift jacks

Having owned 541s for 25 years the opportunity came up to own PEA so I sold my existing 541R to buy PEA 6 years ago. Over the years parts have been rechromed and resprayed but generally the car is very original and never had a full restoration. Under the bonnet it looks as if it should be in a museum and it is my intention to only replace items as and when needed to keep it safe and roadworthy. Since buying the car it has been my intention to replace the modern tyres with something more appropriate and the discussions with Shaun, our chairman, over the past year gave me the opportunity to spray some new wheels shod with Pirelli Cinturatos for the NEC show. The interest and discussion at the NEC show were fascinating with most agreeing to keep her as original as possible. As you know with all our cars, there are always things to do and the next job is to sort out two or three fibreglass cracks in the roof.

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Press Photo
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At the Factory
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At the Factory
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by Martin R » Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:52 pm

A brilliant background to the car and an extremely worthy Car of the Month!
I saw the car in person some months ago in the Cotswolds but didn't learn to full story then.
Sadly I couldn't make it to the NEC where it would have been great to have a proper look and learn the full story - so, thank you so much for sharing 8)
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by Eddie » Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:56 am

A very worthy car of the month.

I was lucky enough to meet Daniel and Heather at the NEC along with PEA, and chat to Daniel about the car.

Passionate Jensen owners that do the mark proud.
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by felixkk » Sat Nov 23, 2019 9:35 am

PEA541 started life in 1957 as a 541 Deluxe, but returned to the Jensen factory after being crashed by a Peer of the Realm. This may have been the Earl of Richmond as I have a copy of a letter describing how he crashed his 541 into a tractor prior to Feb 1959. The car went back to the Jensen factory and was referred to as chassis 101, after which the Jensen Brothers decided to use it as the prototype for the 541R to race at LeMans (possibly why the "R"suffix was used).


How did PEA 541 start life as a Deluxe? PEA 541 seems to have been an R from the very beginning (unlike SEA 770). Below the page from accounting for the build of PEA 541.

To quote Richard Calver: "The late Deluxe models, as I understand it, are built on essentially the R type chassis and have the R type body. The 541R was not shown at a Motor Show until October 1957 and the first production examples were being sold around April and May 1958. From that, I would say that the last Deluxes, including yours, were commenced before the R was fully developed and they left the factory about the same time as the first of the 541R model. 222 is practically an R but without that designation."

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by Pymmie » Sat Nov 23, 2019 9:40 am

Firstly well done to Karan & Raj for resurrecting Car of the Month.

Hopefully members will come forward with cars and info.

A great car & owners to kickstart the forum.

Well done

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by felixkk » Sat Nov 23, 2019 3:44 pm

From the financial documents of Jensen Motors (held at Warwick University). March 18th 1958, work on PEA 541 is still in progress.

(They listed the registration number of the car before they actually registered it?)

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by Daniel Bristow » Sun Nov 24, 2019 1:42 pm

I've posted two photos showing PEA mid development showing it in various states while the final shape was being finalised, which I believe to have been mid 1958 but possibly feb 1958 according to your records. In the boot there also remain the cable strap that was attached to the original boot that opened the other way and point out the custom elegant hinges that I've only seen on two prototypes. There were several cars used to develop the 541R and one of particular note which I've seen no reference to is KEA858, the second 541 prototype which was retained by Jensens and used as an undercover development car. I don't know where SEA770 fits in but might they have been looking at different engines, in particular V8s before they were offed the new DS7 variant?
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PEA541 original bootlid showing the development process
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by Chris_R » Sun Nov 24, 2019 2:24 pm

felixkk wrote:They listed the registration number of the car before they actually registered it?

I'm not sure where this fits in the story but a word on registrations.
PEA is a West Bromwich registration series first issued in November 1956. REA is the next series first issued in May 1957 which dates the PEA series to between November 1956 and May 1957.
For background, OEA was the preceding registration series which ran from April 1956 until PEA started in November. There is/was a 541 with the registration OEA 541 which was invoiced in July 1956 and another with OEA 939 which was invoiced in late October 1956 and these fit with the time the OEA series was open.
Then PEA would have been opened in November 1956 when all the OEA numbers had been allocated. An office like West Bromwich which would have been one of the smaller registration offices would not have had 2 series running at the same time.
PEA 1 would have been issued in November 1956 and PEA 999 probably sometime in May 1957. In the normal course of events you could expect PEA 541 to be issued about midway between those dates. It could be possible that Jensen specifically requested PEA 541 and, with Jensen being a local manufacturer and significant employer, the licensing authority acquiesced and allocated it out of sequence but the registration still dates to between those dates and a car needed to exist and a road fund license paid at the time. Registration numbers were always allocated to a specific vehicle and the resgistration authority would have required vehicle details (make, model, chassis number etc.) at the time they allocated the number and completed the vehicle log book.
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by felixkk » Sun Nov 24, 2019 7:44 pm

Thank you Daniel, thanks Chris- it's much clearer now. Very lovely car you have, Daniel- I remember seeing PEA 541 at the 541 60th meet (2014) in front of the museum.

SEA 770 was built at about the same time, when it was begun I don't know (probably a bit later than PEA 541)- and it was registered in April '58.

Maybe they worked on the new chassis and the new mechanicals on PEA 541 first- with an old 541 body, and restyled the body and did the moulds last?

Dave Barnett on the forum wrote that PEA 541 had a 5.0l V8 installed for Le Mans:

"Leslie Johnson entered a 541R fitted with a 5.0l v8 in the GT5.0 class in 1959, Car no 96. Car did not qualify as it was classed as a 'non arrival'. I'm assuming the car never left blighty as they couldn't figure out how to fit a radiator big enough to keep it cool for 24hrs!.
Perhaps someone else knows what happened?"

viewtopic.php?p=1554

Is there any evidence of which engine was in the car?

2014:
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by Chris_R » Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:04 pm

felixkk wrote:SEA 770 was built at about the same time, when it was begun I don't know (probably a bit later than PEA 541)- and it was registered in April '58.
The SEA series was issued from October 1957. The next series, TEA, was issued from April 1958 onwards meaning that all the SEA series had been allocated by that time.
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by mikebyrne » Fri Nov 29, 2019 4:20 pm

Some very interesting information in the above posts. The cost of the chassis jigs etc. and final chassis added up somewhat !!
I had the good fortune to work on this car in the 80's, for the owner at the time , the late Bill Dick. He was an airline pilot with many other classic cars including a Facel Vega I believe.(or was it an Iso Rivolta ? Perhaps he had both) I remember that all the engine nuts and bolts were wired and they all had to be re-wired after I had rebuilt the engine. The front chassis cross tube, I think, was closer to the engine than the standard R cars. I remember this as I had a devil of a job removing the engine. Photo below of the car at my previous house.
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by time4tea » Tue Feb 18, 2020 5:01 pm

It is wonderful to see PEA 541 looking so great and in such good hands. My father was Bill Dick, and as Mike says was an airline pilot.

It was the need to leave his car for extended periods in the staff car park at Heathrow, that led him to choose a Jensen 541 over a Jaguar XK150 or a Lancia B20. PEA541 was bought on the 10/7/1963, I believe from Mr Peter E Davies of Falmouth, who appears to have been a regular purchaser of Jensen 541's direct from the factory, he apparently owned JEA 541, PEA 541 and also a 541S that had belonged to Eli Corbin the Financial Director of Jensen Motors.

PEA was used on a regular basis as our main family car through the 60's with regular journeys to visit family in North Yorkshire and Scotland, so I believe that it clocked up over another 100,000 miles in addition to the 110,000 that Peter Davies covered in it. It had one mishap on 2 July 1965, when my Dad forgot to tighten the bonnet screws down after checking the oil, and the bonnet flew up and smashed the windscreen as Dad was driving across Windsor Park, I remember him arriving home with cuts above his eye. Fortunately no serious harm was done.

As the 60's drew to a close the mileage and weather and road salt was taking it's toll, so Dad took PEA off the road for restoration work, but he never really had the time and it wasn't until the 80's that any significant work was done by Mike. By this time Dad had collected other classic cars as Mike says (including an Iso Grifo), but he did have the habit of running them until something serious went wrong and then they would sit in a damp shed and not get repaired. For some time PEA 541 sat in a shed next to my car, TEA 541 (also a DS7 engined 541R), and I believe that somewhere I may have a photo of the two of them together. During all the time we had the car it was painted in British Racing Green as in Mike's photo. I think Dad finally parted with PEA 541 during the 2000's and so must have had the car about 40 years. I will look to see if I have any old photos of PEA 541, meanwhile I attached a picture of TEA 541.
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