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John Tojeiro (1924 - 2005) by Mike Lawrence

NEWS STORY
13/04/2005

Former racing car constructor, John Tojeiro, has died after a long illness. Toj was one of the men who brought about the British motor racing renaissance during the 1950s and, like many other constructors, he began by building a special for his own use, someone wanted to buy it, someone else wanted one just like it, so John was diverted from his ambition to be a racing driver.

The first production Tojeiro had a ladderframe chassis with independent suspension all round by transverse leaf springs and lower wishbones. It was similar to the frames made by Cooper and Turner (most 'twin tube' Tojeiros were fitted with Turner alloy wheels) but most of John's customers came from East Anglia. One of the first was Brian Lister, he and John had been to the same school in Cambridge, who fitted a V twin JAP engine, and the result was remarkably quick.

John always allowed that his name helped, it was a 'quick' name. His father was Portuguese but had died when John was an infant so he was brought up in England by his English mother.

Most Tojeiros were sold only as chassis and it was up to the customer to source a body and running gear. One of the most successful of these cars was fitted with a Bristol engine and a copy of the barchetta body Touring had created for some early Ferraris. Registered LOY 500, and driven by Cliff Davis, this car was extremely successful in British racing and Davis later regretted replacing it with a Lotus Mk 10.

Davis wanted to put the car into production, but AC Cars was also looking for a new design and AC had a factory. Davis made an introduction, but it was a Tojeiro with a similar body and a Lea Francis engine which AC tried. John sold the rights to AC for a royalty of £5 per chassis to a maximum of £500 he admitted to being naive in business. AC revised the body and the result was the AC Ace which became the basis of the Cobra. If Carroll Shelby was the father of the Cobra, John Tojeiro was its grandfather.

John had no formal training as an engineer, be picked up what he knew about engineering having been a fitter in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. He found himself being overtaken by other designers, but still had a loyal band of customers who admired the integrity of his work.

None of the various spaceframe designs which John made in the late 1950s achieved very much success. All the Jaguar engined cars were destroyed in period but have been miraculously revived and one currently does very well in Historic racing, driven by Barrie 'Whizzo' Williams. One clue to these cars is that the bodies were mainly designed by an artist, Cavendish Morton, who used to send paintings of how he imagined the finished car should look to Mo Gomm's bodyshop. Mo Gomm ran up the bodies from paintings without anything like a slide rule being involved.

Despite the fact that Tojeiro's sports racing cars hardly rewrote the record books, he remained in demand as a designer. There was a one off 'Ace' with a spaceframe which he made for AC. He was commissioned to design the Britannia GT, a pretty car with a tuned Ford Zephyr engine, which could not be made at a sensible price. To put the Britannia company's name before the public, Tojeiro designed a mid engined Formula Junior car which never amounted to much. When Britannia folded in 1960 and the effects were auctioned, he bought half a dozen kits of bits and assembled them as 'Tojeiros', but they fared no better for the change of name.

Apart from that, there was the Ford Anglia engined Berkeley Bandit, intended as an extension of the sports car range which had been launched by Berkeley which, in the late 1950s, was the leading caravan maker in Europe. The Bandit was a pretty car, and a highly promising product, but the caravan business took a sudden dive in 1961 and Berkeley collapsed.

For Le Mans 1962, Ecurie Ecosse commissioned Tojeiro to make two mid engined coupés which had 2½ litre Coventry Climax FPF engines, Cooper/Jack Knight gearboxes, independent suspension all round by coil springs and unequal wishbones, and a Cavendish Morton styled body. They were built in a rush, not properly tested. Only one made it to Le Mans and that retired after eight hours having not run higher than 17th.

The following year the two cars were given Ford and Buick V8 engines and, thanks to a bright young driver called Jackie Stewart, they managed decent showings in British club races. While they advanced Stewart's brilliant career, the races in which they succeeded were a long way from the classic events for which they were designed.

John then concentrated on his small engineering business which made components for major manufacturers. In the 1980s there grew a sub industry making evocations of the Cobra Mk III. One of the better outfits, Dax, signed John as a consultant and linked his name with their product even though John had nothing whatever to do with the Cobra Mk III.

On the other hand, it is often forgotten that the GT coupé Toj designed for Ecurie Ecosse was the world's first mid engined GT car, it beat the Lola Mk 6 by nearly a year. Add that fact to Toj's input to the Cobra and you could say he made a mark.

John Tojeiro was a diffident man who was surprised, and pleased, when motor racing historians began to show an interest in his cars in the late 1970s. For a time he had been an important figure on the British motor racing scene and helped to make the British motor racing industry the major force it has become. Due to be to be published in the late summer is a book by Graham Gauld on Toj and his cars. It is a shame that John did not live to see it printed.

There will be a memorial service for John Tojeiro on Wednesday, 4th May, at 2.30 pm in St. Mary's Church, Church Street, Guilden Morden, near Royston, Herts.

Mike Lawrence

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