A "dress-up racer for the road"

George Jeffrey

Like many other specialist car constructors, George Jeffrey rose from the ranks of the 750 Motor Club where he'd put together his first 'special', the Jeffrey Mk.1 Formula 750 racer. A qualified design engineer, the young enthusiast soon came to look upon this first effort, an Austin Seven based device, as somewhat alarming in more ways than one. Once again devoting his spare time hours to the garage of his home at Ashford, Middlesex, Jeffrey next produced his much improved Mk.2 racer. By the time he'd got round to the Mk.3, his confidence was such, he begun selling (at about 10 each) sets of blueprints and instructions to fellow enthusiasts who wanted to build replicas.

Jeffrey Racing Cars

Logically enough, there soon came requested for ready-built Mk.3 chassis, and Jeffrey took the decision to leave his full time employment for the beckoning glamour of the racing car business. Early in 1970 a company called Jeffrey Racing Cars was formed, at first operated from home and later (around autumn) run from modest premises at Witney Oxen. Designed to take the little Reliant 600cc OHV engine and gearbox, right from the start, the Jeffrey had performed impressively enough to give the name quite a reputation. Accordingly, the small company's range had expanded to include the production of racer for alternative formulae 1200 and Vee.

The J4 is born

Thanks to Jeffrey Racing Cars remarkably rapid growth during 1970,the founder was faced with unexpected requests for road going versions of his products, within a month of moving to those first workshops at Witney, indeed, so keen were some customers for some exhilarating but ridiculously uncomfortable motoring that they were threatening to convert their racers to road specification. Fearing the worst for such concoctions, Jeffrey resolved to design a very basic road car around one of his Formula 1200 tubular space frame chassis, with suspension based on that of the 750 car but thoroughly beefed up. Rather than build and test the prototype himself, he agreed with first, and very impatient, customer that the later would complete the untried J4 body/chassis unit with specified running gear (including a Ford 1000cc engine), and keeps the company informed of progress. This keen fellow received the prototype J4 in January 1971 and even while he was building it up, the car's designer was under pressure to supply several more.

A "real" sportscar

Essentially a spartan racing car dressed up for public highways, the J4 showed a distinct tendency towards performance and handling, and away from comfort and practicality. It was what die-hards mysteriously referred to as a "real" sports car. They must have been die-hards too, for most customers during these early days were perfectly happy to have a go at frankly a underdeveloped car and report pros and cons back to the company at each stage of the build. This unusual system saved George Jeffrey a fair deal of head scratching, for as each criticism or recommendation was relayed to him, he simply modified and improved the J4's detail specification to suit. It was hardly surprising that virtually no two cars were ever the same.

New premises

During the first few months of its life, the J4 needed quite a lot of technical knowledge and expertise applied to it before it became it became remotely habitable. Even so, demand was extraordinarily good, to the extent that with only a handful of kits supplied and great armfuls on order, Jeffrey Racing Cars moved base once again at Easter 1971. Situated on an old RAF airfield at Shilton, Oxfordshire, and the new premises offered greatly improved facilities. While J4 production was by no means in quantity, race cars were still on the price list, and there were now two staff members to help cope. More generally available for public consumption as each month passed by (it was even being advertised at this stage), the J4 remained very much a true DIY machine, though had been getting easier to build all along.

A choice of components

Working within a basic framework which was designed to incorporate Ford power (up to 1600cc), modified Ford Cortina or Morris Minor live axle and Mini rack and pinion steering, the builder otherwise had a fairly free hand. He could buy the kit in several stages as and when his pocket allowed. These began with a basic chassis kit with or without its aluminium panels fitted and worked progressively through a front suspension kit (of coil spring dampers an unequal length wishbones using Triumph Herald uprights with special alloy hubs to suit Ford wheels), brake kit (of new components with which to upgrade the Herald front discs and Ford rear drums), petrol tank kit and the rather desirable fibreglass kit (of wings, nosecone, bonnet and bulkhead). The most basic chassis cost 150, although all the basic necessary parts boosted this to over 400 for a reasonably complete economy kit. Headlights, windscreen, weather equipment and a built-in rollover bar were all extras, and were quite possible to have a car roadworthy for less than 700.

All go and very little show

Sparsely trimmed (the seats were usually little more than aluminium sheets with minimal padding) and economically purposeful, the Jeffrey J4 was an "all go and very little show" car. With little compliance from the rigid chassis and hard suspension, the ride was unreservedly sporting. Roadholding, of course, could hardly be faulted, and the car was exceedingly quick around any corner it was powered into. Performance varied depending on which engine was fitted, although it was fair to say that any engine tended to make a rather hairy projectile out of the lightweight body/chassis unit. One customer fitted an over-bored, turbocharged 1760cc Ford engine, and "lethal" was hardly a fitting description for this machine's stupendous rocket-like performance.

Jeffrey Automotive Ltd

Through 1972 George Jeffrey found himself enjoying the road and racing car construction business enormously. In July that year the project became a little more serious with the formation of a new company, Jeffrey Automotive Ltd. It is of some interest that some moderate at Shilton by this time, as Jeffrey had been on the verge of buying the Mini-Jem project from the liquidator of the company previously building this car. The way it turned out, Jeffrey's laminator, Bob Telford, took on the Mini-Jem, starting up premises not far away at Cricklade Wiltshire. Several developments did take place at Shilton however, when it was decided that, due to the success of the company's still Spartan racer-for-the-road, something more appropriate for this sort of usage ought to be replace it as soon as possible.

Developing the J5

Towards the end of summer 1972, George Jeffrey was back at his drawing board designing a more sophisticated derivative and the J4's days were over. More to the point, while allowing racing car production to continue, he had called a definite halt to the road car to give himself time to do the job as thoroughly as he would have wished the first time round. There was great enthusiasm from all concerned not rush things. The total number of kits supplied was 30, the only exports being three to the Netherlands and one to Germany from sets drawings. With a small staff and regular production, the name Jeffrey had certainly made its mark on the sports car scene.

The genesis of the kit car industry

Clearly, with a production total of just sixty cars of both J4 and J5, such machinery had yet to grip the imagination of the kit-building fraternity. Indeed, unlike the eighties in which the kit industry really took off, the Jeffrey's era saw it competing with a good number of cheaply available production sports cars in the guise of the MGB, Sunbeam's, Triumph TR's and MG Midgets. It was when these had largely disappeared that Dutton, Caterham, Westfield ,Sylva, Dax, Formula27 and many more, have made there decisive contribution to the kit car world, which has come an awful long way since the Lotus Seven's first incarnation.