I had encountered a couple of John Tojeiro’s automotive creations when they participated in the Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally in recent years, and I quickly came to appreciate their engineering and design aesthetics. So when I saw a photo of this 1959 Tojeiro California, its hood, rear deck lid and doors open as if it were a flower in bloom, I had to know more.
I saw the photo when it was included in a news release from Russo and Steele, which has the car on consignment for its upcoming collector car auction next month in Monterey, California.
Tojeiro was born in Portugal but was still an infant when his Portuguese father died and his British mother moved back to England. Tojeiro was an aviation engineer in World War II and would become known for designing lightweight racing car chassis, including one of the first with a mid-engine configuration. He also did the chassis for AC Cars that eventually evolved into the platform for the Shelby Cobra.
Late in 1959, as he was wrapping up his work with the engine ahead of the driver, he created the framework for the California Spyder, basically a tube-frame structure much like the one he did for the Ecurie Ecosse ream to run as the Tojeiro Jaguar in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, though now with coil springs and concentric tubular shock absorbers fabricated within the front suspension’s front and lower A-arms, with a DeDion rear axle located by parallel trailing arms with Watts linkage and coil overs.
According to Russo and Steele, two chassis were created — one to replace a car Ecurie Ecosse crashed at the Nurburgring and a second one with Ferrari California-inspired bodywork designed by Cavendish Morton, who was both an aeronautical engineer and had a fine arts degree from the Royal Academy of Art.
However, after starting to work converting Morton’s drawings into sheet metal, Tojeiro got busy with other projects, including a new mid-engine car that would be raced by Stirling Moss.
“The chassis was hanging around forever,” Tojeiro’s son, Robin, told Classic Car News in a FaceTime interview from his home in England.
As it turns out, Robin may not have realized just how accurate his words were, because the chassis literally was hanging from a ceiling for many, many years.
Robin explained that the family moved its home and his father also moved his workshop and while the chassis moved along with them, “it was just always there, almost forgotten and pushed in a back corner.”
In the 1960s, the chassis (TCAL 59) went to Gilbert Dickson, who ran the Tojeiro Registry and who planned to complete the barchetta, though he never did.
Years later, when John Muller, an artist and advertising executive and successful automotive archeologist who has rediscovered a succession of important but nearly forgotten racing cars, visited Dickson to learn more about a Tojeiro Climax he had acquired, he saw the California Spyder and bought it.
Chuck Croteau, who owns Redline Service, a racing and restoration shop in Tucson, Arizona, picks up the story. Croteau often worked on the Porsches that Muller raced. One day, Muller shared the story of the unfinished Tojeiro and how it had been hanging from the ceiling of Dickson’s garage for several decades until Muller bought it in 1995.
At some point, Muller contracted Coachsmithing, a restoration shop in western Wisconsin, to finish the car, which he’d obtained as a chassis with only a wire outline and the drawn plans for the bodywork. But after his death three years ago, “there was a large bill left and his widow wouldn’t spend any more money” on his cars, Croteau said.
Intrigued, Croteau went to Wisconsin early last year, saw the work that Allen Buresh and his team had been completed, made arrangements for the work to be completed and, with a partner, purchased the car, which he took to his shop to do the additional things needed to get the car on the road. Since then he’s done a couple of track sessions and this weekend plans a trip into the mountains to make sure everything’s sorted and ready for the sale.
The car is powered by a vintage GMC straight 6-cylinder engine bored to 302 and dyno tested at 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, with 300 pound-feet available from 2,400 rpm to 5,400 rpm.
Though Russo and Steele has not issued a pre-auction estimated value, Croteau said an East Coast restorer who has done cars for Ralph Lauren’s collection and is familiar with the Tojeiro California anticipates it to be worth $600,000 to $750,000.
Robin Tojeiro said he is thrilled that the car finally has been completed. The last time he saw it, it was a chassis pushed to the back of his father’s workshop.
“It’s completely unique in body design,” he said, heaping praise on Morton’s artistic skills in designing the body.
“The fact that it actually has been constructed is fantastic!”
Tojeiro is eager to see the car in person and has made plans to be in Monterey for the vintage races at Laguna Seca and, of course, to be there when the car crosses the block at Russo and Steele.