A rich passion for cars had been in the Jackson family for decades, as Jeff recalls: “Jackson Cars date back to the 1920’s in Durban, South Africa, when my grandfather Robert W Jackson designed and built the first Jackson Car, the Jackson-T, which was very similar to the Model T Ford.”
Little is known about the performance or use of the car. However it was passed onto Robert’s brother who used the engine to drive a windmill, and in time the car sadly deteriorated into scrap.
Jeff’s father, Leonard, also had a love for anything motoring. He followed in the family tradition and joined the family engineering business at 15 years old as an apprentice tool maker, fitter and machinist. “Len was a brilliant engineer and designed and built cutting edge gearboxes for racing cars and racing boats”, Jeff recalls.
“He could make any idea that was thrown at him work. He made a sequential gearbox in 1958 for Syd Van der Vyver, who in 1960 and 1961 became the South African Driver’s Champion, using the gearbox in a Mk2 Cooper T43 powered by an Alfa engine.”
“Len manufactured several V-drive gearboxes for the V8 inboard racing boats too, which he raced regularly with a good friend Louis de Froberville in long distance races.”
The Jackson Sportster was, in fact, Len’s idea as well, as Jeff continues. “One night in 1968, when I was 14 years old, dad took me to the speedway where a support saloon car race was held. There I saw Hillmans, Fords, Vanguards, Chevrolets, Buicks, Alfas, and yes, a Mini Cooper S, driven by a then 60-year-old Gus Monzali, who at the time I remember thinking was really old!”
“My dad was an Alfa Giulietta Sprint fan, but to his amazement, and that of many others, the Cooper S drove round the outside of the whole field and lapped them all at least once during the race. Dad was so taken aback and impressed that the next week he purchased two Minis, a 1964 Mini 850 station wagon and a 1966 Mini 1000 Van. And so our journey with Minis began.”
Len and Jeff had a great time learning about Minis, slowly rebuilding and modifying them. “Dad, who had raced open wheelers in the 1950’s, never raced Minis”, says Jeff.
“However, he loved dicing the bigger cars from light to light and out-cornering them; something we don’t do today.”
Forty years have passed since, but Jeff vividly recalls the day the Jackson Sportster was born. “One day in 1970 we had an 1100 engine on the floor with the extension housing and the gear stick in place, and my father placed one of the Cooper ‘S’ bucket seats in front of the motor, so the motor was behind the driver. This way, the idea of building a mid-engined sports car – a new Jackson – was born. Initially the idea was to swing the engine around 180 degrees, but that turned out to not be feasible, so the idea of moving it straight back came about.”
By 1974 Len and Jeff had a drivable monocoque chassis, made from square tube, with a modified 1100 engine, all in its basic form. By that time Jeff was about 20 years old and he has many fond memories of driving the motorised chassis around any carpark or quiet area that he could find in or around Durban. “Up to this stage I had been dad’s helper, as he was the mechanical guru”, says Jeff.
Nevertheless, Jeff had his own speciality: “The body and electrics were not dad’s interests and this is where my more serious contribution commenced in approximately 1974, when I started to lead and drive the project. Trying to design a shape that was appealing was harder than we had imagined, and we made many derivatives. We had a crash course in plugs, moulds and fibreglass in general with expertise input from Bill Howie, my father in law, who was a fibreglass expert on the South African railways. The Jackson Sportster was eventually completed in 1978, unpainted, and registered in 1979 in Durban.”
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 24 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>41</plumshop> <plumshop>44</plumshop>