The story of ... Rejo

Rejo times

One of the less well known cars appearing in HSCC racing is Roger Ealand’s Rejo Mk4. It is one of a dozen cars designed and built by Rod Easterling in the early sixties, cars so well constructed that Colin Chapman offered Easterling a job as a designer.

Rejos were designed for club racing and within that restricted ambition were successful, their most outstanding characteristic being their ability to remain competetive at their chosen level for season after season. John Anstice Brown, for example, took delivery of his Rejo Mk 6 in 1964 and was still able to win the Motoring News/Castrol Special GT Championship seven years later.

Rod Easterling himself had little in the way of engineering background. An apprenticeship lasted just five weeks, there was a short period with a firm making scientific instruments and then into printing for several years, interrupted by National Service in the RAF. For the past thirty years he has been selling silk. His engineering he picked up through experience, by reading books, and by attending meetings of the London Special Builders Group of the 750 MC.

These crowded meetings, started in 1958, were attended by the likes of Eric Broadley, Len Terry, Brian Hart, Don Sim and others following in the footsteps of that other great 750 MC member, Colin Chapman. It was a time not only of young designers exploring their craft, but of an explosion of interest in special building with dozens of firms offering bodyshells and performance components generally to convert Ford Tens and Austin Sevens into sports and/or racing cars.

“Rejo” derives from the initials of Rod Easterling and Jim Osborn who originally met while both young amateur cycle racers. Rod winning the Southern Counties Championship at Goodwood in 1950 when he was just 18. In 1956 Rod bought a second hand Lotus 6 as a road car and, once it was paid for, began tuning its Ford E93A engine, helped by Jim and two local brothers, Ron and Dave Inglis who also owned a Lotus 6.

Beginning in 1957, Rod soon found himself a front runner in 1172 racing, generally finishing fourth or fifth behind more sophisticated Lotus 9s and 11s and Eric Broadley’s first Lola. Jim Osborn drove the car occasionally as well as racing a Ford 100E van which was quick due to being lighter than the equivalent saloon. In one sprint at Snetterton, the two friends each won their class in it, Jim running the van as a saloon, Rod as a sports car!

Before long Rod laid plans to build his own car but before he sold the Lotus he drew a copy of the frame and helped the Inglis brothers build it up, but with wishbone front suspension replacing the Lotus swing axles. Dubbed the Rejo Mk 1, it was written off at Silverstone after only a few races. Rejo Mk2 followed soon afterwards and was the first one-off built with fully-enveloping bodywork specifically for the 1172 Championship. It came about as a result of a team effort between RE, JO, and the Inglis brothers, and during its construction, Rod discovered an unexpected talent for aluminium welding which had defeated professional welders. Eventually Rod’s little workshop attracted a steady stream of customers wanting aluminium welded.

Under the immaculately finished shell of Rejo Mk2. which had a hint of the Lotus Eleven at the front and a dash of Lola Mk 1 at the back, was a rugged brazed spaceframe. Front suspension was by unequal wishbones while an irs system made up around a modified A35 rear axle was quickly abandoned when parts broke. This used nonsplined half shafts in conjunction with lower wishbones, along the same lines as contemporary Elva and Lotus. Realising he was not up to the job, yet, of making it work, Rod put the idea on the back boiler and substituted a live rear end located by trailing arms.

This he raced a few times in 1959, but never as often as he would have liked, for he could not afford to. Despite the fact the car had a racing exhaust and no proper lights it was used for daily transport and any enquiring policeman seemed able to turn a blind eye to its blatant illegality when offered a look at the engine. At about the same time, the foursome made another, very similar, car for the Inglis brothers. This became the first Mk3. and was different in that it had a restyled tail section with little fins. It did not last long, for one of the brothers wrote it off while racing.

Undeterred, the little team built up another two Mk3s for the Inglis brothers and Rod, in a small but well-equipped lock-up garage in Blackheath after a normal day’s work. Both cars featured very light (actually flimsy) fibreglass body sections front and rear. Rod’s car (Mk3/3) retained the live rear axle while Ron and Dave Inglis’ car had irs, since they had obtained an Elva diff casing into which A35 internals were fitted.

As it turned out, the marginal superiority of theirs car was cancelled out by it being slightly heavier, so the two cars had virtually identical performance. During 1961 all three drivers scored wins in the 1172 Championship and contemporary race reports commented on the high standard of turn-out of the little team. At the end of the season, it was decided to thicken the body shell (during one race Rod had the disconcerting experience of a tear gradually opening up the bonnet, like opening a sardine can) and the body sections were offered for sale at £55 a pair, plus £7.10s. for a windscreen. Six sets, all made by Heron Plastics from Rod’s moulds, were sold, one of them to the United States.

At the same time, copies of the drawings were also available for sale. Rod cannot recall how many sets of plans he sold (we’re talking very small numbers). John O’Sullivan, a Southend dentist, had a car built up from the plans ready for the 1962 season. This was fined with a Coventry Climax FWA engine and complied with Appendix C regs, which meant, among other things, fitting doors through which a regulation-sized block of wood could pass.

Another Appendix C car was sold to Pat Ross-Tuppin, who also had a Climax engine fitted along with irs, this time using a Gemini FJ diff-casting, and alloy wheels. Though only lightly modified Mk 3s, these two cars carried a Mk 4 designation.

So far as serious Appendix C racing was concerned, these cars were obsolete before they were completed, for at the January 1962 Racing Car Show Elva showed its new Mk6 and Lotus its new 23, two rear-engined sports(racers which were to spell the end of small capacity front-engined cars. RossTuppin, though, put in a number of performances in club racing which indicated that his Rejo-Climax was close to, or even on a par with, the best front-engined cars. At Brands Hatch on July 1, for example, he battled for the lead of the small sports car race with Angus Clydesdale (Lola), Terry Bone (Gilby) and Peter Gethin (Lotus) until crashing on his last trip through Clearways while leading. During 1962 no fewer than five Rejos were seen on British circuits. At Snetterton in June, they scored a 1-2-3 in class in a Sports and GT race (Easterling, Ron Inglis, Ross-Tuppin). On the same day Rod took the 1172 championship round, with Parker finishing fifth.

Ron Inglis took two wins, five seconds and two thirds in the 1172 Championship that Year, finishing third overall close behind Arthur Mallock (U2) and Alan Wershart the re-named first Lola. Easterling, in an abbreviated season, took a win, a second and two thirds, hanging up his helmet at the end of the year. He simply couldn’t manage all the work his hobby had led him into and drive as well.

Ross-Tuppin’s Mk4 was bought by Jeff Ward in 1965 and used by him in 1172/1200 racing until 1971, his best year being 1967 when he finished third in the Championship. The car still sits in his garage in Corby and Jeff has all the Rejo jigs, moulds, and drawings. John O’Sullivan’s car also had an engine transplant, the Climax unit being replaced by a Ford-Cosworth. In this form, O’Sullivan raced it for several seasons with a fair degree of success, then it passed through several hands to re-appear in HSCC events driven by Roger Ealand. Easterling’s own car was sold to Arthur Cook, who had previously raced an 1172 special called the Wavendon Wombat. Since Easterling did not give his cars chassis plates, it is not known whether this car survives, but one Mk3 is known to be in France and another, considerably modified, is owned by Jerseyman, Kevin Hennelly. Last year Hennelly received a joint Man of the Meeting award for his achievements with the car at the Bouley Bay hill climb.

By the time Rod retired from driving in 1962, the foursome which had built the early cars had broken up. The Inglis brothers moved away to new jobs in the motor trade and Jim Osborn had combined his day-time work as an instrument maker for Parkinson Cowan Measurements with another full-time job, as Dennis Taylor’s mechanic in Formula Junior , though he continued to turn out parts for Rod Easterling during his lunch breaks.

While the four men worked together, there had been talk of establishing Rejo as a production car maker but as the ad hoc team broke up, Rod put such thoughts aside. Ironically, it was when he was on his own that Rod began his most ambitious project, the Rejo Mk6. There was no Mk5: “I called the next one Mk6 for a stupid and sentimental reason — I’d started with a Lotus Mk 6.”

The Rejo Mk 6 was an advanced design by any standards for its day, but the fact that it was designed and wholly constructed by one man, in his spare time, makes it truly remarkable. It would have been a considerable achievement had Rod built a single car, but as it was he constructed a run of three. The cars were to be both his apex and his swan song as a designer. For the first time, Rod turned to semi-monococque construction and the Mk 6 chassis was made with two side tubes and floor pan with multitubular subframes front and rear. On advice from friends in the aircraft industry, Rod chose laminated Dural fastened with Adval rivets and araldite for the monococque section. Those same friends assisted him with wind tunnel testing of a wooden model of the body, which was made from rolled aluminium with fibreglass sections front and rear.

Suspension front and rear was by wide-based wishbones with inboard, near-horizontal, coil springs and damper units, and was fully adjustable. Front uprights were Triumph Herald (naturally), Lockheed 91/4in FJ-spec brakes were used all round, and on the first car built for Arthur Cook, the engine was a 1600cc Cosworth-Lotus Twin Cam unit producing 145 bhp and driving through a Hewland Mk4 gearbox. It was ready for Cook to race in April 1964.

Cook, a wealthy industrialist, made no pretence of being a hot-shoe. He was a man of mature years who raced for fun, though remembered for the immaculate turn-out of his cars. Still, he put in solid performances and won some races on his home circuit, Silverstone. Sadly, he wrote the car off and retired from the sport.

Pat Ross-Turpin was going to have the second Mk6, but as the build time lengthened he handed over his place in the queue to Bernard Parker. Parker damaged the car’s monococque in early testing, setting Easterling’s schedule back further, and kept it only for a few races before selling it to Peter Loakman, who had taken third place in the 1966 1172/1200 Championship with the irs Rejo Mk3. Rejo buyers were nothing if not loyal to the marque.

It is not hard to understand why when one sees a Rejo, they really are beautifully built and engineered, their quality comparing favourably with the best work of their era. Owners speak enthusiastically of their predictable handling, ideal for the clubmen for whom they were produced. How a top-line driver might have regarded them in their day is something we will never know.

Loakman eventually converted the car to comply with the short-lived F100 sports car series, one of John Webb’s less happy ideas, which was based around the Firestone F100 road tyre. With a fairly standard Ford 1300 GT engine fitted, Loakman eventually crashed the car at Silverstone in 1971 and wrote it off. Journalist and club driver John Anstice Brown took delivery of the third Mk 6 late in 1964, and this proved to be the most successful car Rod Easterling built. Writing in Motor in Jaunary 1965 Brown said: “Bill Brown of Cosworth mentioned that the firm had decided to produce a limited number of ‘ultimate’ Formula Junior engines which had, up to then, been used only in Cosworth’s own Junior. This engine, which was a forerunner of, and mobile test bed for, the SCA Formula Two unit is characterized by downdraught Weber carburettors and leaves the works with a 120+ bhp output.”

These engines were very special, the crankshaft alone costing as much as a standard Ford 105E. Anstice Brown raced the car for several seasons, emerging overall winner of the 1971 Motoring News/Castrol Special ST Championship, and retains the car to this day — the sole surviving Rejo Mk 6.

The effort of building the three cars, which consumed all his spare time for the best part of two years, was such that Rod had no chance to even go and see them perform. “Eventually,” he says, “I was simply not getting enough out of it for all the effort I was putting in.” He abruptly turned his back on motor racing. On the advice of Len Terry, Colin Chapman made an approach to Rod in early 1965. “Your name has been given to me as a potentially very competent race car designer and builder, and I arn wondering if you would be interested in a senior position at Lotus on this kind of work.” After an interview in which Easterling stressed that he was an amateur whose draftsmanship was shacky, Chapman offered him a design job on an unspecified Lotus project. Rod thought about it, but for various reasons turned down an offer which he has every reason to consider an accolade. Chapman wrote that he would always be willing to help Rod should he ever reconsider his position.

Of the 12 cars known to have been built, either by Rod Easterling or by others to his drawings, four are known to survive, together with a Mk 3 chassis frame now in the possession of Roger Ealand. His 1962 Rejo Mk 4 in HSCC events is currently the most visible sign of a by-way of motor racing history. ML