Marcus Pye

Visiting his friends in the North gives Marcus a preview of a historic Lotus rebuild and a tense few minutes at the helm of a pre-war V12 behemoth

Northumberland: The chance to talk cars with connoisseurs is always to be seized, particularly over a convivial lunch in one of Britain’s most beautiful regions.

Nick Rossi and Peter Golding have been pals since schooldays spent whizzing round in T-series MGs acquired for a few pounds. Rossi, who flits between a professional life in the red-hot oilfields of Kazakhstan and his charming home on the Cragside estate in the breathtaking border regions, enjoys nothing more than to tinker with his cars and race them when precious time allows.

A fastidious self-taught engineer, he makes many bespoke parts in the workshop. There he maintains his Alfa Romeo 1750GS (supplied to the Carr’s of Carlisle biscuit family in 1930, it has spent its entire life in the north of England) and an exquisite Peter Jaye-built Jaguar C-type recreation.

An intriguing longer-term project, however, is the restoration of Lotus 12 chassis 357, the uprated 1957 F2 car in which Yorkshireman Cliff Allison scored the first world championship point for Colin Chapman’s marque, with sixth place at Monaco in ’58.

Raced by Graham Hill at Goodwood in 1959, the car passed to Richard Utley and Bob Hicks once the works team had graduated to the shapely 16s. Utley and Hicks went on to design and create the Caravelle Formula Juniors which Richard and Bob’s son James still race.

After much head-scratching trying to work out the intricacies of its ‘queerbox,’ Rossi is beginning to hang things back on the typically flimsy-looking frame, in which the Coventry-Climax FPF engine nestles up front. Ever the pragmatist, Nick has no fixed timetable: “My realistic aim is to have it ready for Monaco in 2008 – the 50th anniversary of Lotus’s debut there with Hill and Allison – but if it makes Goodwood next year so much the better.”

While Brough-born Allison died in April last year, his 1957 Le Mans team-mate Keith Hall (they won the Index of Performance), who lives locally, recently visited Cragside, he provided a rare original Lotus nose badge to copy, and is keeping tabs on progress, as is Lotus Register historian John Bennett who has a sister car in Australia.

A latecomer to circuit racing, Golding has long been fanatical about Lagondas, and owns a recreation of the extravagantly styled V12s which finished third and fourth at la Sarthe in 1939.

Golding adores driving his on the road, and thinks nothing (beyond the 11mpg fuel consumption, 4mpg when racing) of motoring to Switzerland, or Italy, where he contested last year’s Silver Flag Vernasca hillclimb.

As a final treat, Peter kindly allowed me to drive the Lagonda on the scenic road round the National Trust estate. Threading the vast car along the narrow cambered track was nerve-wracking, with the central throttle and drum brakes to acclimatise to. But the throb of the wonderful 4½-litre engine was magical.