1943 – 2010
Jeff was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent in 1943. Five years later, along with a baby sister, the family relocated to Cornwall, spending two years in a tiny hamlet now dwarfed by the “Eden Project” before moving to Calstock, a small village alongside the River Tamar.
One memorable day a steam roller rumbled through Calstock, followed by one small steam enthusiast for several miles, before the resulting hue and cry, resulted in Jeff’s safe return home. During his boyhood, Jeff had various accidents to the alarm of his parents and the fascination of his sister.
A knee sliced open by river-reeds proved the existence of bone, and arriving in the kitchen with a large nail in his head, had a most satisfactory chaos effect.
Between 1954 and 1960, the Theobald family enjoyed life in a small Devonshire village, added interests courtesy of Jeff including the notoriety of having the police call, due to Jeff’s unintentional woodland fire. The Honiton secondary modern school lost several windows due to laboratory experiments. The making of electricity lit homes for sister Caryl’s rescued birds, and the making of a miniature cart for her “pet” stag beetle.
The modern 1960’s prompted Mr. Theobald Snr, to purchase a new build 3 -bed – box, and whilst this delight was in progress, everyone lived with nanny in a tiny terrace cottage in Kenton. Jeff had now embarked on an electronic apprenticeship with a small business in Exeter, some 10 miles away. He would cycle to an fro and invented a battery operated “spectacle-wiper” for rainy days. Eventually the move to the “box” in Alphington came about, and so did Jeff’s revelation to build his own car – from scratch. This manifested with a Bristol chassis, a V8 engine and sheet steel, to be known as “The Bomb” (not politically correct nowadays).
Jeff also had his own garden shed, crammed full of valves, wires, circuit boards, etc. From this alchemists den came 4 foot TV pictures, colour TV pictures, gadgets and games and all manner of amazing contraptions, all abruptly brought to a halt, when an unattended soldering iron reduced all to a molten heap, which was almost worth the prestige of having a fire-engine at our house.
Electronics fascinated Jeff, so his popularity grew with budding pop-groups, and he was employed by a local music shop for two years. Eventually he managed to rent premises,a yard and a large field, and his first famous vehicle collection of WW2 vehicles started to accumulate. The family home was now a quaint thatched (16th century) cottage complete with the eccentricity of a swimming pool, but Jeff prefered to live with the jeeps, scout cars, big mac & DUKW.
After a few years circumstances found Jeff and sister Caryl sharing a flat situated in the old servants quarters of a vast Georgian mansion in Kenn. Here emerged more novelties – quadrophonic sound through 4ft long drainage pipes, and more adventures – a convoy of WW2 Willy’s jeeps whine their way over the Pyrenees and through Spain. The name of Jeff Theobald was now becoming synonymous with military vehicle expertise and engineering excellence. Museums, Film Work, and an amazing knowledge were becoming legendary. He ended up with over 100 military vehicles at his peak.
The Later Years by Mike Mutters (A long time friend)
Idly flicking through adverts in a Classic Car Magazine over 30 years ago, I saw an advert for a 1924 Brooks Steam Car. I had always been interested in old vehicles so I thought that a Steam Car must be good fun and probably only slightly more complicated than the toy Mamod steam engine I used to play with.
So I called Classic Cars and made arrangements to take a look at this wondrous vehicle. When I arrived I was told that a chap, who knew about steam cars, had been asked to show me the car, as they had no idea how to start it. There was the Brooks gently hissing and sizzling and a slim, tallish, fellow stepped forwards wearing a beard and a big smile. It was Jeff of course, with Pauline alongside, and it started a long friendship.
The Brooks was the start of many fine adventures for the two of us, not realising at first that Jeff came with the car as well. It was the start of being banned from various Service Stations in the Haslemere and Dorking area.
We eventually tamed the car after a great deal of work, a car that Jeff was very fond of and eventually came to own and as other cars came my way, Jeff helped me to get them sorted. We drove to the Great Dorset Steam Fair in the early 90’s in my 1910 30 HP and I will never forget us overtaking a coach on the M3 at about 60 mph and seeing the amazed faces staring at us as Jeff grinned back at them through large quantities of exhausted steam. We took our cars to interesting places all over the country, usually through the Steam Car Club of Great Britain, where we had the pleasure of meeting like minded people who have become good friends ever since. Some of us even appeared on television’s Top Gear in the early 90’s and Jeff’s enthusiasm and happy smile was evident right through the programme.
I lose track of all the places we went to with the steamers – the Bexhill 100 was a favourite for several years where Jeff eventually got involved with a re-creation of Serpollets Easter Egg Steam Car. He always went to the various Steam Car tours held during the year and of course the London to Brighton event held in November, He and I did the run for some 10 years gently nursing the 1896 Whitney and always looked forward to getting to Ray Clarks steam car stop so that we could thaw out and get watered. In recent years Jeff successfully helped pilot Jim King’s Stanley on the run. It seemed strange being on the run this year with Bill Rich and not seeing Jeff somewhere on the way down.
The amazing thing about Jeff was that he was interested in so many things. Early wireless and amateur radio (and the illegal CB in the early days), Drag Racing, Aviation, Military vehicles, Classic American cars, Classic British cars, Steam Railways, Steam Boats, Juke Boxes, Mechanical Music, Clocks and of course, Steam Cars. Not only was he interested, he had the ability to find out how they work, repair them and use and enjoy them! Visiting his workshop was always an interesting experience – where else would you find a Wallis Gyrocopter alongside a Phantom I boat tailed tourer with a jet engine that he had built in to its rear to give it that extra boost.
Jeff did an extraordinary job of the club’s magazine and website. He would work until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning just to post the latest photos or stories. Making friends and contacts all over the world, Jeff created a website where everyone could share in our hobby. Being Jeff, he also had the ability to do all these things on a shoestring – going into his office when he was working on the website was always quite something – 4 different second hand screens cobbled together seemingly working well for him.
The weekend before he died, I was with Jeff and Steve at the Prescott Hill climb demonstrating our steam cars with some of our friends and he appeared in good form despite the wet weather. When he got back on the Sunday evening, he posted some pictures and videos of the event on the website, taking the weekend to those who were unable to attend.
That’s dedication for you! I feel so privileged to have been with Steve and Jeff on his last weekend.
Always generous with his friendship, help, advice and abilities, I know that Jeff will be missed by all of us
- Mr Steamcar, you will always be with us.