1958 Tojeiro-Climax Coupe
- Specially commissioned by first owner F.B.P. Bambridge of Guildford, Surrey who covered some 20,000 miles aboard it later commenting: 'Stability and controllability were far better than anything I had previously experienced and the ride was most comfortable'
- Bespoke Tojeiro-supplied spaceframe rolling chassis, unique Wakefield & Sons-crafted aluminium coachwork and major assembly work / road testing carried out by Competition Motors of Weybridge
- Pleasingly retains its original Coventry-Climax FWA 1100cc engine
- Raced in the late 1960s by then keeper John Henderson
- Current ownership since 2009 and subject to a 'ground up' restoration by Beacon Hill Garage
H&H are indebted to Malcolm Thorne and Classic & Sports Car magazine for the following narrative (a fuller version of which appears in the July 2017 issue):
What a golden age the late 1950s were for fans of sporting machinery. Besides the mainstream models from MG, Triumph, Austin-Healey, et al, there were plenty of options for those seeking something rather more individual. From the bones of a ropey old Austin Seven or Ford Eight a (sometimes) delightful little roadster could be cobbled together for a few quid. For those with deeper pockets, meanwhile, a whole cottage industry of up and coming racing car constructors were happy to fabricate a somewhat more sophisticated product. It was an exciting time peppered with names that would enter into motoring folklore: Lotus and Cooper, Costin and Lola, and plenty more. Back-street cars that could give the big boys a run for their money. It was in such a context that the little fixed-head that you see here first saw light of day.
Commissioned by one Frank Rambridge of West Clandon, near Guildford in Surrey, the Tojeiro-Climax is the quintessential bespoke sports coupe. Skinned in a streamlined aluminium body by Wakefield & Sons of West Byfleet in Surrey (known at the time for its racing and sports-car bodies), below the surface lay a state-of-the-motorsport-art chassis engineered and built by the grandly named Tojeiro Automotive Developments - which was, in fact, a two-man operation working from a small shed. Be that as it may, this was a thoroughly advanced machine that, in its ironmongery, was leagues ahead of such mass-market products as the fixed-head MGA.
Assembled and honed by Competition Motors of Weybridge, the car was first registered '1 GPF' in August 1958 after a two-year gestation period. Badged simply as a Tojeiro, it was pressed into service as its owner's regular transport, soon racking up some 20,000 miles. During Bambridge's time with the coupe, his wife Mary had complained that the steering was excessively heavy when parking, and so the front end was eventually dismantled and modified components were ordered from Tojeiro Automotive Developments. Unfortunately, the original parts were scrapped and the replacements proved to be of incorrect size, and when other commitments took over, the work stalled. The coupe remained immobile until May 1967, at which point an imminent house-move prompted Bambridge to part with it. Re-registered '6839 PE', the non-runner was taken in part-exchange against a new Mini Cooper 'S' by dealer Paul Vasey of Dorking.
Vasey retained the car for 12 months, the Tojeiro passing to a Jonathan Carr Selway of Luton in June 1968, but by October it was with one Robin David Elliot Legg of Lincolnshire. Six months later, Geoff Henderson, then a student at Newcastle University, purchased the car - which he described as being immaculate - for a princely £110. Henderson, who was racing an MGA at the time, competed with it in an MG Car Club event at Croft, but, in spite of being full of praise for the little coupe ('The engine was always smooth and willing to rev and the handling very good. I used 7500rpm in the lower gears, and the car would reach an indicated 120mph at 7000rpm') sold it to his brother Martyn a few months later.
Unfortunately, an illicit race from the pub to a local fish and chip shop in 1970 resulted in a damaged bonnet after coming to blows with an errant bovine. The car was repaired and painted white, then used by Martyn for travelling between the north-east and Hounslow, where he was working at the time. In November 1971 it changed hands again, going to Jim Muncaster of Stanley in County Durham, who rarely used it and eventually laid it up. After Muncaster passed away, the Tojeiro was acquired by its current owner, Peter Barguss in 2009. "It was complete but in need of considerable work after a long period of inactivity," recalls Barguss, who entrusted it to Beacon Hill Garage for a meticulous restoration, including a respray in the original metallic racing green with black wheels.
Standing small, it's a remarkably petite device that is gawkily gorgeous in the way that so many British sporting designs of the late '50s and early '60s were. To today's observer, the styling melds flourishes from a dozen different makes and models - AC Aceca and Greyhound (although it pre-dates the latter), Peerless and Gilbern GT to name a few. It may come as a surprise, then, that the brief was to produce something akin to the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint! Whose hand was responsible for the shape is today something of a mystery; landscape artist and regular Tojeiro cohort Cavendish Morton has been mooted as a possible suspect, but conclusive evidence of that remains elusive. What is certain is that the coachwork belongs to the school of enchantingly naive styling that gave us the Daimler Dart and earliest TVRs: vehicles that are best described as oddly beautiful.
Beneath that hand-beaten alloy skin, it's a satisfyingly sophisticated bit of kit. A steel spaceframe supports a coil-sprung front with unequal-length double wishbone suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, while a de Dion rear axle keeps the tail in check. Power comes courtesy of motor racing's favourite fire pump, the superb 1098cc overhead-cam Coventry Climax FWA, inhaling through twin 1.5-inch SUs and bolted to a nicely mechanical four-speed 'box purloined from the boys at BMC. Braking is taken care of by a large-diameter Alfin drum at each corner, while the car rides on reassuringly tall and narrow 15in centre-lock wires that are today shod with 155-section Vredestein radials.
Climb inside, and you're immediately struck by the spaciousness of your surroundings albeit the roomy cabin is a strict two-seater. You could be forgiven for expecting a driving position akin to the close-coupled confines of an MGA or sidescreen TR, the wheel close to your chest and a high scuttle sitting close behind that, but nothing could be further from the truth - a corollary in no small part of the Tojeiro's relatively long wheelbase. The delicious wood-rimmed wheel - complete with a Mercedes Gullwing-style quick-release mechanism that allows it to be swung upwards for easier entry and exit - lies an arm's reach away.
An ignition lock sits atop the transmission tunnel with a workmanlike alloy starter button alongside. Twist the key and depress the knob to fire up Hassan and Mundy's lovely little four-pot, and you're met with a raucously gruff mix of intake chuff and a guttural growl from the stainless side-exit exhaust. With its glossy wood fascia and neatly trimmed surfaces, the spartan cockpit has the feel of a micro GT, but just like an Elite, the soundtrack is pure racer. The simple pull-cord door handles, figure-hugging bucket seats and sliding Perspex side windows further reinforce that impression.
The gearlever sits a couple of inches further back than you might expect, but has a nice mechanical feel as you slot it through the narrow gate. The pedals - floor-hinged clutch and brake plus a pendant accelerator - are nicely weighted and ideally positioned for heel-and-toeing, and there is a small recess upon which to rest your left foot when you're not stirring the cogs. The steering is a tactile delight, devoid of slop and play, and simply points the car where you want it to go in a reassuringly modern manner. Nor does the tiller feel especially weighty compared to models of a similar age and ilk - thanks, perhaps, to the intervention of Mary Bambridge?
Combine those excellently considered controls with superb visibility and remarkable comfort, and the Tojeiro is a car in which you rapidly feel at home - meaning that you're soon punting it along Gloucestershire lanes with glee abandon and dreaming of a busy weekend at the races. Owner Peter Barguss is unsure exactly how much the Tojeiro weighs, but with its aluminium body, Perspex glazing to the sides and rear, and nicely finished but no-frills cabin - not to mention the Featherweight lump under the DB2-style front-hinged bonnet - it's a long way from lardy. The upshot is a nimble, precise little machine that just wants to play; it's easy to imagine this fantastic little fastback eagerly dancing on tiptoes among the Elites at Goodwood, although it would just as easily fulfill a role as a mount for weekend blasts on favourite country roads. The ability to switch seamlessly from one role to the other is surely the very crux of what makes machines of this era so endearing, and the true definition of a sports car. In that respect, this Tojeiro is a definite hit.