Peter Robin Kirwan-Taylor was born in London on January 18th 1930, evacuated to Canada when he was 10, then returned to Britain in 1942.
He is probably best known for his association with Colin Chapman and the design of the Lotus Type 14 Elite. The two-seat glass-fibre coupé body was styled by Kirwan-Taylor, refined by John Frayling with some input to the aerodynamics by Frank Costin. Built by Lotus from 1957 to 1962 the Elite's monocoque shell had metal inserts for the suspension, engine and transmission mountings. It was the only monocoque design by Lotus not to have a backbone chassis and its estimated drag coefficient of 0.29 has seldom been matched. In addition to Peter Kirwan-Taylor's contribution to the design of the Elite, Elan, 18 and 23 he was also significantly involved in improving Lotus' profits and the company's eventual flotation on the Stock Exchange.
In 1955, Peter says that he was thinking about building a GT coupé around the time Swallow Coachbuilding ended production, so that "when the last batch of Swallow Dorettis came up very cheap when the company went bust, I snapped one up." The car that Peter bought from Welbeck Motors for £895 was Chassis No.1160, registration number RLL 280. Initially painted black, the car with green upholstery was first registered 6th July 1955 in London. In an interview in 1982 Peter said that he "took the back off and turned it into a coupé," but it was actually Peels of Kingston who built and fitted the new fastback rear aluminium bodyshell to the Doretti. After the completed car was painted black Peter recalls that he was pleased with the result.
According to Peter, "by removing the rear half of RLL 280's body-shell and replacing it with an aluminium fast-back coupé styled body I had created a sort of prototype for my thinking of what a closed two-seater ought to look like." However as always with his projects, Peter says that the "bank manager was the biggest influence". After running the car for about two years it was eventually bought by Terence Conran's partner.
Kirwan-Taylor also designed the 1959 Citroen Bijou, which married a heavy plastic coupe body and a 2CV substructure. Made in Slough at Citroen's factory, few were sold because of its cost and glacial performance, but its stylist's financial career blossomed.
In 1960 Kirwan-Taylor joined the merchant bank Philip Hill Higginson Erlangers, which in due course became Hill Samuel, and from 1967 to 1970 he was executive vice-president in New York. He moved on to become a director of English Property Corporation responsible for its North American interests, and to work for a series of natural resources, real estate and venture capital businesses in New York and Canada. In 1996 he moved to Hong Kong as managing director of the Asian arm of a Canadian property group, but its projects were largely curtailed by the Asian financial crisis two years later.Despite a peripatetic, international career, Kirwan-Taylor enjoyed gardening and architecture, but it was cars, from Minis to Rolls-Royces, that remained his primary passion.
Peter Robin Kirwan-Taylor, born January 18, 1930, died March 1, 2014
More information about RLL 280 appears in The Story of a Rare Doretti Coupé.
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