The bank holiday weekend saw 700 classics converge on Laon, 150 miles south of Calais, for a celebration of the British car.
Who says that you need an enormous budget to go historic racing? This home-built special will get access to the smartest events.
I’ve heard of wind in this hair motoring, but this is ridiculous. It’s a crisp autumn morning, this is rural England, and I’m in a car with zero weather protection, no comfort features and an absolute lack of driver aids. But that isn’t stopping me from grinning like an idiot.
Racing cars and the Queen’s Highway really shouldn’t ever trouble each other. Even the most hardcore road vehicles should take you to your destination without the need for a change of clothing; track cars are beautifully focused devices designed with one purpose in life – to set the shortest possible lap time. So, how is it that I’m driving a one-off racer on the road, so far away from its natural stamping ground?
It’s because I’ve been invited to drive the EJS-Climax; an intriguing one-off built by Edwin Joseph Snusher (hence the name) in an attempt to make an impact in entry-level circuit racing. It was the only car he ever produced, and features novel suspension design along with an almost Chapman-esque approach to weight saving. And that makes our invite irresistible.
Snusher wasn’t involved in the motor-racing scene, but he had a burning desire to build his own car. Unlike many would-be auto designers, he wasn’t just a dreamer, and he put his skills as a career production engineer in the electronics industry to good use.
Like Colin Chapman, Snusher believed that the way to a perfect race car was through building in lightness. However, in many ways he was at odds with Chapman, as the design of his only car would prove.
Snusher set about building a new car to compete in the 1100cc sports car series. He did it on his kitchen table with a set of cardboard slide rules and some draughtsman’s paper, just as Herbert Austin is said to have done when he drew up the Seven. However, Snusher’s Coventry- Climax-engined Special took rather longer than Herbert’s baby car – from 1954 to ’56 – to put together, not least because it was so unconventionally engineered.
There were plenty of home-based constructors building Climax-engined specials at the time, but what differentiates the EJS from the rest is the detail engineering that went into it – some of which is absolutely delightful. It also seems not to have been afflicted by any budgetary constraints.
Under the skin, which is a Microplas Mistral body in fibreglass, there’s a multi-tubular frame chassis, fabricated from lightweight steel. It’s been beautifully fashioned and the welding is as good as you’ll see on any professionally produced rival. As you’d expect, it’s light, weighing in at a mere 22kg for the bare chassis frame. Even with the aluminium cockpit panels riveted in place, it comes in at less than 30kg.
The front suspension system is clever, effective and unlike anything produced by anyone else at the time. Snusher’s aim was that it should be fully adjustable and that the front wheels would maintain constant camber and castor throughout the suspension’s movement. It’s a complex arrangement that uses a single transverse leaf spring at the top, and a coil beneath under tension, which is attached to reversed Y-shape arms – imagine a letter Y lying on its side – whose upper ‘legs’ pivot in the centreline of the car, the lower legs being connected to the coil spring. Sounds odd but it works very well.
At the rear, there’s a de Dion set-up, but it uses two, rather than one, parallel tubes to link the fabricated steel rear uprights. The rear suspension is located laterally by a roller running in a track specially cast in the aluminium differential, which was designed and made for the car. Drive is taken via the inboard brake drums through jointed and splined half-shafts to the wheels.
Just about the only off-the-shelf item on the specification sheet is a Morris Minor steering rack which, as we’ll see, does the job very effectively.
Under the bonnet there is a Coventry-Climax FWA powerplant, which was one of the staples of sports car racing at the time the EJS was built. It’s light, powerful and eminently tuneable – and that makes it perfect for the circuit.
As it transpired, the fascinating car didn’t get the opportunity to acquit itself at the track. Snusher went racing in 1956 but, despite its promise, the EJS-Special’s best result was fourth place at Crystal Palace in August. The car attracted enough attention in the meantime to warrant a full-page review in The Autocar while starring at that year’s Brands Hatch concours. Despite the encouraging noises, Snusher gave up racing and put his Special on ice.
He sold the engine and gearbox, and stored the rest in the rafters of a barn. And there it stayed between 1959 and 2001, gathering dust.
However, the car was eventually extracted from its lay-up. It received an extensive restoration; and a period-spec FWA engine and MG gearbox (the original five-speeder was made from unobtanium) was installed. This is important, because it means the model qualifies for FIA paperwork. Officially it’s categorised as a Period E (1947-1960) Special, category HS4, and that technically allows it into Appendix K racing.
More exciting than that, though, is that during its brief competition career the EJS was also entered at Goodwood (it never made the start of the race, due to a breakage). Although it wouldn’t trouble the results table, the fact that it was there means it’s eligible for the Revival Meeting.
So, not only is the EJS-Climax technically fascinating but it’s also going to get you into the smartest event in town at a fraction of the cost of many of the alternatives.
First things first – we probably didn’t do the car justice by taking it to the rural lanes surrounding Sherwood Restorations’ premises in Nottinghamshire. Yet, despite that proviso, it acquitted itself very well. It’s a very physical model to drive and, although we’ll gloss over the effort required to actually get in (it’s a racing car, for heaven’s sake), the pedals are heavy, the wheel seems to be set in stone, and there’s absolutely no room to stretch. But everything’s in the right place, and a lack of distractions is just what a committed driver needs.
Fire up the EJS, and these hardcore first impressions are confirmed. It barks into life and, even when cold, the throttle response is crisp. Understandably, with a racing clutch and hot cam, getting it smoothly off the line is tough for sensitive types – but once underway it’s a quick, responsive thing, benefiting from an all-up weight of only around 410kg. The steering, initially as uncommunicative as a sulky teenager, gets interesting as the speed picks up. It is incredibly direct, full of feel and weight, and rewards delicate input. The brakes are strong and true, and beautifully adjustable at the pedal – you’d expect nothing less. We didn’t get close to making them fade, despite some very hard driving.
The real joy from piloting the EJS comes in the corners, where an absence of roll and a sticky rear end give the driver masses of confidence. Within a few bends you’re ignoring the incredible din from the drivetrain and the sound of road-bound debris hitting the underside of the car, and throwing it around with carefree abandon. As befits its competition pedigree, the faster you go, the more assured it feels – which ultimately isn’t good on A- and B-roads. We definitely need to get it to Goodwood.
But there’s the rub – you can’t buy this Special. Sherwood found a purchaser almost as soon as the restoration was finished. We can understand why and, if the amount of fun I had driving it is anything to go by, we’ll no doubt be seeing it on the track in the near future. And that’s how it should be – it’s wasted on the road.Thanks to Sherwood Restorations, www.sherwoodrestorations.co.uk