The Peerless Armoured Car

David Fletcher MBE, former Tank Museum Historian, presents a series of exclusive articles written to expand on some of the subjects explored in the new 'Warhorse to Horsepower' exhibition.

5th March 2014

Peerless was an American company, based in Cleveland, Ohio. They built luxury cars and very tough trucks. Their 5 ton payload model, the Peerless TC4 was supplied in large numbers to the British Government in the First World War, over ten thousand were delivered, making it the most numerous American truck in British service. The British Army used them all over the world and they seem to have been virtually indestructible, with solid rubber tyres and chain final drive it looked like they might go on for ever.

bovtm_peerless_pose.jpgWhen the First World War ended the British Army still had various trouble spots to cope with but they were running very short of armoured cars which were regarded as the ideal vehicle for dealing with minor incidents, much more suitable than tanks. But most British car manufacturers had a very demanding public to cater for and did not want to get involved in any more military work. The Army therefore hit upon the idea of releasing lorries from Army Surplus stock and fitting them with armoured car bodies.

They selected 100 Peerless lorries and had them fitted with bodies built by the Austin Motor Company of Longbridge, Birmingham. Austin had built armoured cars during the war and, as you might expect, the armoured body they designed for the Peerless was very similar with two machine-gun turrets mounted side by side. The Peerless armoured car required a crew of four but it was slow and ponderous and quite unsuited to operating off a hard road surface or of reacting speedily to an incident. With the armoured body fitted it weighed nearly six tons and had a top speed of only 18 miles per hour. The big car did, however, have a rear steering position to help it get out of trouble but the Peerless chassis was so long that it stuck out, about three feet beyond the body at the back.

bovtm_peerless_london.jpgPeerless armoured cars were used in Ireland and seven were actually handed over to the Army of the Irish Free State in 1922. They would also have gone to India had the Indian Army’s representative in the UK not objected.

As it was, the majority of these cars remained in Britain. Some Peerless armoured cars were issued to eight newly raised Royal Tank Corps armoured car companies in 1923, formed from eight Yeomanry Regiments. For convoy duty, during the General Strike of May 1926, many more armoured cars with Royal Tank Corps crews were sent to London. By the time the Second World War began the Peerless was seriously out of date, but the surviving cars were so tough, albeit rather lacking in reliability, that they were issued in small numbers to many new armoured regiments while they waited to receive tanks and a few remained in service on special defence duties even after that.