I have no idea how much fun it might be to drive, but I can guarantee
it won’t have a chance against the Lotus 11s and Cooper Bobtails

Chassis number: TAD354
Engine number: B44

Archie Butterworth of Frimley Green, Surrey, was a wonderfully extroverted engineering personality involved in the resurgent years of British motorsport immediately post-World War II. Here we offer this most unusual and intriguing Tojeiro-chassised sports-racing car from 1954, powered by one of the Butterworth AJB flat-4 engines. This car, we are advised, was commissioned by former Brooklands racer Major Ronald Clare Clifford Palmer. He bought it from John Tojeiro’s Automotive Developments company.

Major Palmer and fellow enthusiast Roger Hans Everett set about installing a 1.5-liter AJB engine with poppet valves — as opposed to Butterworth’s ingenious (but never fully developed) swing-valve system — into this Tojeiro chassis. Palmer and Everett were intent upon saving as much weight as possible, which of course was one tenet of the air-cooled engine design, as it required no heavy water-filled radiator and cooling system.

A sleek, molded fiberglass body was commissioned for this putative sports-racing car, and with the 1500-cc AJB Star flat-4 engine driving to the rear wheels via an MG T-series 4-speed manual gearbox, the Major’s new Tojeiro-AJB was first U.K.-registered “XNK 900” on May 28, 1956.

However, the major quickly discovered that the motorcycle-type Amal carburetors that Butterworth recommended would not work satisfactorily when mounted as downdraught units, despite the company’s published claims to the contrary. Try as he might, he failed to convince Amal that there was a problem, and ultimately — also confronted by other AJB difficulties — the frustrated Major Palmer simply laid up the car and abandoned further development.

We are advised that the car remained within Major Palmer’s ownership for 30 years before being offered for sale after his death. It was sold at a Sotheby’s auction to prominent collector David Wenman, who commissioned Michael Williams of Beaufort Restorations to revive it for him. This Tojeiro-Butterworth’s AJB engine, meanwhile, had been partly re-engineered and re-machined to accommodate modern Vandervell bearings, new con rods, pistons and a replacement starter motor.

The gearbox and back axle were found to have very little use and were re-used after suitable cleaning and refettling. Porsche 356-like Solex carburetors were adopted in place of the original, troublesome — or poorly understood — Amals that had caused Major Palmer such grief in period.

Since completion of this restoration work, the Tojeiro-Butterworth has been sparingly used, and its last outing was the HGPCA Silverstone meeting of April 2007. As now offered here, the car has covered fewer than 50 miles in the past year, it has been preserved in a climate-controlled underground garage and — as the vendor says — “...the engine starts instantly, runs perfectly and consumes oil as it was originally supposed to do!”

SCM Analysis


This car, Lot 263, sold for $73,559, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Goodwood auction on September 16, 2011.

There are as many reasons to buy vintage sports racing cars as there are buyers, but generally the motivations fall into two broad categories: Either you buy a car because you intend to go race it (what I call “weapons-grade” intentions) or you buy a car to grace a collection, and in some manner, be a place to stash wealth (“collector-grade”).

Perhaps surprisingly, the characteristics that give a car value for either of the motivations can be quite different and are frequently at odds with each other. When people buy race cars, the motivations are almost always mixed together in various proportions, with the result that the various characteristics are differently valued.

This Tojeiro-Butterworth contains a particularly interesting mix of the characteristics. In fact, it has moderate — but unexceptional — levels of virtually everything. It is at once remarkable and not particularly collectible. It can be raced, but it is uncompetitive. It is fascinating and obscure. As such, it occupies a peculiar niche that is worth exploring.

A fascinating car that never really raced

Let’s start by discussing some of the characteristics that define successful cars. If your motivation is to go out and race, a primary concern is whether it can at least potentially run at the front — whether it does or not is not really the point, but being completely outclassed is very tough on a car’s desirability.

A second important issue is whether it is easy and fun to drive, as a great driving experience is frequently as important as finishing order. Other points that are of great importance for the racing approach are how easy it is to maintain and fix (if you race it, it will break, and finding suitable parts can be a big issue), and whether there are enough good places to go and race (it’s no fun and very lonely having the only car even vaguely like what you brought to the track). Finally, will the car be granted entry in the events you want to attend? For example, the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion accepts maybe two Bugeye Sprites from all entries, so if you want to be accepted, that’s not a good car to enter.

However, if you are a pure collector, the things that make an old racer desirable and valuable can be very different. Aesthetic beauty can be hugely important, as can racing history, iconic status and/or celebrity involvement (“Wow, Pedro actually bumped wheels in Eau Rouge in this car? Are those really McQueen’s sweat stains on the seat?”) that have nothing to do with whether a car will ever race again.

The exclusivity and amount of hand work involved in creating an old racer likewise add value from a collector standpoint that has nothing to do with racing it. Collectible racing cars have to have aluminum bodies — certainly for any car built before the late 1960s. Fiberglass bodies kill collectibility. Historical interest and technical weirdness can also be very desirable in a collector car — while unleashing terrible problems if you actually want to campaign it.

The greatest cars are the ones that tick all the boxes in emphatic bold strokes, but how do you approach the ones that don’t? The Tojeiro-Butterfield is an excellent example to consider. It’s a one-off chassis from a moderately obscure constructor (Tojeiro) with a pretty-but-quirky fiberglass body.

It has a little-known and unsuccessful engine (Butterfield) and a pedestrian drivetrain. The car never actually even started a race in period — it was a no-show in the one race it entered — so it has no real history.

I have no idea how much fun it might be to drive, but I can guarantee it won’t have a chance against the Lotus 11s and Cooper Bobtails it will have to run against (the stated facts that the original owner gave up in frustration, and that the car hasn’t raced since except once in 2007 don’t bode well for its competitive chances).

On the other hand, the engine is weird, unique and fascinating (when Tom Wheatcroft used to give tours of his Donnington Museum, his Butterfield engine was a favorite stop), and its place as a sidebar in the development of British racing is secure. Although you won’t run at the front, the car is a virtually guaranteed entry at selective events such as Goodwood or Monterey, and it will always get attention.

Value between the categories

So the Tojeiro-Butterworth is neither fish nor fowl, not much of a racer and only moderately collectible. But it is still very cool and a great third or fourth car to have in a stable that is moving toward being a collection — or as a conversation piece in a major one. It is also relatively cheap: The cars that define the genre (Lotus 11 and 17, Lola Mk 1, Cooper Bobtail) all sell for two to three times the Tojeiro’s price these days.

The car has been auctioned three times, selling unrestored for $21,000 in 1994, for $86,000 in 2007, and now for $73,500. That represents a 15% hit in value. This really is not that bad — especially as it is a minor car and the market has been tough for middling cars in the past few years. All this suggests to me is that it has a reasonably stable value. As a fun, weird, and somewhat usable old racer, I’d say this car was reasonably bought and sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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