It brings me great pleasure to introduce the Jalopnik readership to the work of Peter Wherrett, later known as Pip Wherrett, Australia’s premier automotive television presenter of the 1970s. I found Peter’s work a few nights back on youtube and I immediately knew I needed to share it with all of you.
Peter Wherrett was born in Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia in 1936, and while he spent his troubled childhood obsessed with cars, it would take until 1968 for him to get professionally involved in the field when he bought a performance driving school.
Five years later, Wherrett was presenting on Torque, an automotive television show produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation mostly featuring reviews and segments relevant to most car owners. Later on, he would go on to host Marque, a show about the development of the automobile that accompanied a book he had written.
As presenter of Torque and Marque, Peter developed a style of television presenting that was perfectly suited to the task of acquainting viewers (regular consumers and enthusiasts alike) with the good and bad points of various cars available in Australia as well as the general trends that affected the market as a whole.
Wherrett’s voice as an auto critic was taken very seriously in the Australian market. In fact, his criticism of the Mitsubishi Sigma led to a collaboration with the brand that resulted in the “Peter Wherrett Special” Sigma in 1981. The run of 500 cars featured performance enhancements that Wherrett himself developed.
While the Sigma perhaps represented the height of Wherrtt’s influence on Australian car culture, it also marked the point where Wherrett’s career took a darker turn. In 1984 when he was convicted of drunk-driving at the wheel of a Sigma. Wherrett would be able to resurrect his career to some degree and spend more time writing books and continuing to contribute to television programs until he passed away in 2009.
Towards the end of his life, Wherrett felt more comfortable exploring his relationship with gender more openly. Peter had been involved with the cross-dressing community earlier in his life, and at age 70 and until his death a few years later, Peter preferred to go by Pip and lived as a woman. Pip’s experiences with gender led him to publish a book on the subject called The Gender Trap in 2007 a few short years before his death.
Wherrett’s story is complex, and his exit from the automotive journalism world due to his drunk-driving conviction was abrupt and unfortunate. My hope is that we can learn a little from the way Wherrett drove cars and talked about them, as well as from his experience becoming more comfortable with his identity and so I’ll be sharing videos from his time on Torque and Marque over the next few weekends.
This week, Peter is behind the wheel of the 1976 Ford Falcon 500 GXL Fairmont, and besides the features of the car itself, he’ll get to talking about reliability and build quality as well as what sedan buyers ought to consider in general. Wherrett’s approach is more informative than entertaining in this segment, but I think you’ll be surprised at how enjoyable he is to watch. He clearly put a lot of effort into crafting segments that shared as much as possible about the car he was driving and it shows.