Bell Sport and Classic wouldn’t exist today without one man. The softly-spoken Peter Bell was an engineer, a lifelong car enthusiast and a man whose entrepreneurial spirit saw him create not one, but several successful businesses.
Born in 1926 in the coalmining Yorkshire town of Wath on Dean, Peter served in the Navy towards the end of the Second World War and afterwards continued his education with a degree in engineering. His first job was in the chemical industry, working for ICI, before moving to glassmakers Pilkingtons as a works engineer. A spell at DuPont in Canada followed, during which time Peter became conversant with the booming world of plastics technology. Moving back to England with his wife and young daughter, he transferred those skills to the Polyester Film Division of ICI in Welwyn Garden City.
Peter Bell was clearly both ambitious and highly intelligent, and he wasn’t destined to remain an ICI company man for ever. He next took a job at a printing company but could soon tell the business wasn’t in good shape. Taking his redundancy cheque of £5,000 – “quite a lot of money in those days” as he recalled – he looked for a new sector to conquer and eventually settled on the automotive aftermarket.
His first product was a stick-on screen-printed plastic electrical heated rear screen (remember those?) but Peter soon realised that more and more manufacturers would be offering heated rear screens as a standard -in-glass fitment. Next came a metal petrol can, which enjoyed some sales success, but his big break came when he visited German and saw the plastic petrol cans on sale there. At the time plastic fuel cans were illegal in the UK, but Peter’s engineering credentials had earned him a seat on the British Standards committee. He was able to persuade the committee to accept plastic as a suitable material and was ready with his own Bell Products can once the restriction had been lifted.
At first, Peter imported the German-made can but as an engineer could already see ways to improve it. “The German product was tall and narrow, made to fit in the boot of a Volkswagen Beetle,”, he recalled later. “I developed my own design, which was more stable, and didn’t leak even when tipped over.” In the early 1970s Peter built a factory in Wexham to make the new Bell Ready-Can, astutely marketed it via a promotion in The People newspaper at a promotional price of £1.85 (a gallon of petrol cost 37 pence at the time!) and instantly sold 5,000 via that offer alone, which paid for his tooling costs outright. Soon the Ready-Can was dominating the market and Bell Products followed up with other products including an oil drainer can, towropes and temporary replacement windscreens.
Peter was always an ideas man, and in 1979 he launched a separate company, Bell Packaging, to manufacture and market transparent plastics packaging under the ‘Jetran’ brand name. That company is still successfully operating today.
In time Peter sold his interest in Bell Products to Alexander Engineering and was able to indulge his passion for classic cars establishing Bell Classics in 1989 and becoming a specialist in the ‘Big Healeys’ amongst a range of other projects.
In 2009 the company moved away from Austin Healeys into the prestige markets of Aston Martin and Ferrari. Our current owner transformed the business into supporting customers in sourcing vehicles and thus expanded into the pre-owned specialist car market. In 2017 the business moved to the impressive purpose-built site it now occupies with expanded capacity and dedicated showroom.
In late 2018 the business entered its latest evolution with a significant management team enhancement bringing in world class individuals across Sales, Service and buying to augment the existing areas of excellence in service and restoration. The new management team aim to once again evolve the business to take advantage of a gap in the market for sport, classic and supercars; officially re-branding to Bell Sport & Classic in 2019.
The team are excited to bring back the fun of supercar ownership and provide our clients a portfolio of events to enjoy their cars with like-minded owners, such as drive outs, F1 race screenings, supercar meets and access to key automotive and lifestyle events.