A whole bunch of trouble

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Pity the poor historian… Even the best documented cars can throw up confusion and doubt when it comes to restoring them
Writer Doug Nye

For me, a whole bunch of trouble began on December 7 last. Rob Hall of Hall & Hall in Bourne, Lincolnshire, had asked me to inspect the Lotus-Climax 25 which had spent the past 40 years or so in the Donington Collection. For me it was an old friend (I thought) – the ex-Team Lotus car, chassis serial R7, all familiar ground that I had known since Tom Wheatcroft first acquired it as a kit of dismantled parts from Tim Parnell.

I first researched the car for Wheatie in the early 1970s. Its supposed history was confirmed to me at the time, not least by Tim Parnell, but also by Colin Chapman and Andrew Ferguson at Team Lotus. So when I breezed into Rick and Rob’s workshop in Bourne I was expecting to see old R7 as the ex-works Lotus 25 I had always understood it to be. Then came the nasty surprise…

As I got into the metalwork, and more so into the photo record of this family of great cars, it became clear that much of what I and many fellow Lotus admirers had accepted as being gospel is, in fact, rubbish.

Well-known Lotus fact No1 has been that 25s were built around stressed-skin fuselage tubs that, in plan view, had ‘cranked’ cockpit inner skins. These panels ran parallel from seat back to the dashboard, before being angled inwards alongside the driver’s legs, converging from dash panel to the tub’s front bulkhead. This is how R7’s tub would have been configured as new, and from the photo record how it survived – with BRM V8 engine – during the Parnell team’s use through 1964-65.

Well-known Lotus fact No2 is then that Colin Chapman’s improved 1964 Lotus 33 design – aiming at a stiffer tub supporting suspension geometries tailored to 13-inch diameter wheels exploiting Dunlop’s latest ‘doughnut’ tyres – featured single-plane inner fuselage skins which, in plan view, converged ‘uncranked’ all the way from seat-back panel through to front bulkhead.

Well, the first thing I realised as I gawped at the Donington car’s tub in Bourne was that – despite its age-worn and plainly period metalwork bearing multiple R7 chassis number stampings – it has uncranked inner skins, so cannot possibly have been early-type 25 R7’s original monocoque structure. It is some 1960s replacement, pre-dating Wheatcroft’s tenure. Having viewed it as a Lotus 25 in 1971-72, I’d retained that impression – unrevisited – ever since. Yet it’s not just ‘a Type 33 tub’ – it’s a ‘Type 33 Mark II’ tub… Let me explain.

For four months, Hall & Hall’s Andy Willis and I accumulated as much contemporary photo evidence as we could to establish the true period career of this Donington car. Co-laterally, this also confirmed the true careers of its sister 25s and 33s. It’s impossible within the space available to set out this entire body of evidence, but I am now confident of several facts about this legendary Lotus 25/33 family.

Not only the true Lotus 25s – numbered R1 to R7 – used the early cranked-inner-skin tub design as new. So did Colin’s first two 1964 Type 33 works cars – chassis R8 and R9. Both survive in largely unspoiled order today; R8 in the Stockholm Moderna Museet and R9 in the former Schlumpf Collection at Mulhouse. In recent years, Lotus people have been perplexed about their true identity because “They’ve got 25 tubs, not 33s.” But in common with all their sisters, these unspoiled cars are plainly identifiable by entirely individual rivet patterns that match the period photo record. Such photos enable us both to trace individual chassis race by race, and to detect progressive modifications. And Lotus 33s R8 and R9 really were built around ‘cranked-skin’ monocoque chassis.

In fact the first all-new redesigned ‘Type 33 Mark II’ tub using single-plane straight inner skins was chassis R10, built new for Jimmy Clark late in 1964, used by Jackie Stewart for his Formula 1 debut in the 1964 Rand GP at Kyalami, then wrecked by Jimmy during the 1965 Race of Champions.

A second ‘straight-inner skinned’ Team car then emerged as R11. Matching new tub R12 was then completed without rear engine-bearing legs as it was intended for the still-born 1½-litre Climax flat-16 engine. That tub was finally fitted with a 2½-litre Climax four-cylinder for Jimmy to drive in the 1966 Tasman Championship as the Lotus 39. ‘Lotus 39’ rather makes a nonsense of the phrase ‘25/33 family’, but cut me some slack, OK? She’s a cousin.

After R12, the penultimate ‘Type 33 Mark II’ tub was supplied to Tim Parnell to replace his team’s car – which I believe to have been R4 – just written-off in the 1965 Belgian GP when Richard Attwood aquaplaned off into a power pole, smashing the chassis virtually in half. The replacement car assembled around the new ‘Type 33 Mark II’ tub then made its debut driven by Innes Ireland in the 1965 Italian GP. For the new 3-litre Formula in 1966 it was fitted with a 2-litre Tasman BRM V8 engine and six-speed BRM gearbox, and run for Mike Spence. We chassis history nerds came to know this car as R13 – because its tub followed R12 in Team Lotus manufacture – but in period I for one never saw any such number ID on the car itself.

The final chassis to be built within the Lotus 25/33 family then emerged as Jimmy’s R14 with 2-litre Climax V8 engine for 3-litre Formula 1 racing from the British GP in 1966, and which then won him the 1967 Tasman Championship.

At least four of the seven original Lotus 25s were judged to be write-offs in 1962-65.

I believe that R3 survives today, while the original and visually utterly distinctive Parnell R7 vanished from public view, uncrashed so far as we can divine, after the 1965 Mediterranean GP, in which Innes Ireland took it to fifth place.

Old R6 – driven by Jimmy Clark to win at Goodwood ’64 and ‘65, plus the 1964 Dutch, Belgian and British GPs, and the 1965 French – ended up with Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, and is today within the Tinguely Museum art collection in Basle, Switzerland. Tinguely’s stupendously unappreciative directorship has had this Jim Clark icon totally dismantled and reconstructed locally, in what I can only regard as one of the most badly advised procedures ever inflicted upon such a historic Formula 1 car.

Of the Type 33 ‘Mark II’ cars with their straight-inner skinned tubs, R10 was written off in Jimmy’s Brands Hatch crash in 1965.

Old R11 was driven by him to win the 1965 Syracuse GP, then the Belgian, British and German GPs. Mike Spence drove her to win the 1966 South African GP and later that year a BRM V8 engine and six-speed gearbox were temporarily installed for Peter Arundell’s use.

Only the Parnell R13 and Team’s R11 used the BRM gearboxes. This left their chassis utterly distinctive, because in contrast to the family’s ZF, Hewland and Colotti gearboxes, BRM’s required a left-hand gearchange. This meant cutting a gearchange aperture in the left-side monocoque pontoon, matching the standard aperture in the right-side structure. Only two surviving 25/33s have this feature today – R11 in an anonymous collection… and the ex-Donington car stamped as R7 but in fact so clearly the ex-Parnell, ex-Spence R13 of 1966.

This car was bent badly in practice for the 1966 Mexican GP finale, and was rebuilt into 1967 as the Parnell F2 – with 1600cc Cosworth FVA engine, and all-outboard front suspension derived from Les Redmond’s design for the Parnell-BRM sports car, whose handling Mike Spence had liked. When Tim shelved his F2 programme in the summer of ’67, team mechanic Bruce McIntosh began modifying that old F1/F2 tub to accept a 3-litre BRM V12 F1 engine. An all-new McIntosh-built Parnell V12 tub was then considered a better idea. The abandoned old R13 was then sold to Wheatcroft – but contemporary magazine F2 race reports had listed ‘the Parnell-Cosworth’ as using chassis R7 and so the Donington car has been regarded as R7 ever after. And that – self-evidently – is where we went wrong. Today we all know infinitely more about these fabulous British Formula 1 cars than ever before.