He won 25 grands prix and the Indy 500, but, as Paul Fearnley discovers, it was Jim Clark’s exploits away from Formula 1 — whether hustling stock cars or rallying a Lotus-Cortina — which truly showcased the Scot’s versatility
A staid Sunbeam saloon, a quirky DKW two-stroker, a steadfast TR3, a nimble Porsche 356 coupé, a borrowed Anglia and an eye-opening, 100mph-lap D-type Jag; rallies (from both seats), hill climbs, sprints, high-speed trials and handicap races. Jim Clark’s motley motorsport apprenticeship was in stark contrast to his professional future with Team Lotus. For instance, having made his single-seater debut in a Formula Junior Gemini at Boxing Day Brands Hatch in 1959, it would be almost eight years before he again raced a single-seater that wasn’t a Lotus.
That’s not to say his post-1960 career was homogenised. Specialisation was coming, but it hadn’t arrived yet. The irresistible force that was Colin Chapman worked his star turn hard; when he wasn’t winning GPs from pole or wowing the Hoosiers at Indy, Clark’s weekends ‘off’ and Bank Holiday Mondays were often spent three-wheeling a Lotus-Cortina or arm-wrestling a ‘Big Banger’ Lotus 30.
His attitude towards this role would change gradually as he became more worldly and more aware of his value (and tax imbroglio) — his late-1967 decisions to race a NASCAR and a Vollstedt Indycar were signs that Chapman’s hold over him was weakening — but one thing never wavered: Jim loved driving. Plonked behind a wheel, this Borders farmer’s son, who chewed his fingernails and struggled to make lifestyle decisions, suddenly became James Bond. He loved showing off in a car — any car — be it a glorious Aston Martin at Goodwood or a utilitarian Mini Moke at an Aldershot mudplug.
Here are some of the highlights — and sidelights — of this two-time world champion’s ‘other’ career.
Aston Martin DBR1 (1960-61)
Border Reivers was less austere, favoured and successful than Ecurie Ecosse, its Edinburgh-based rival. Hard-nosed and ambitious, the latter undertook campaigns that brought it two Le Mans wins; car dealer Jock McBain’s collection of friends who were enthusiasts preferred to launch raids. Happy-go-lucky Reivers was the perfect place for the shy Clark to learn his craft beyond 150mph — in TKF9, the white, finless D of 1958, and in a Lister the following year. For 1960 the team bought an Aston Martin DBR1/300.
Clark was on Aston’s books by now. After two impressive tests at Goodwood, team boss Reg Parnell had put him on £600 stand-by to drive his increasingly uncompetitive Formula 1 car. But Chapman had his beady eye on Clark too. Their dice in Elites at Brands on Boxing Day 1958 had told him everything he needed to know; and his agile Junior had told Clark everything he needed to know: the front-engined single-seater was dead. Aston knew it too, and sportingly released him. So, as Roy Salvadori heaved the unwieldy DBR5 onto the back row at Zandvoort — and chose not to start — 24-year-old Clark made his GP debut (on June 6) in a Lotus 18. He qualified 11th and impressed until his transmission failed. He was on his professional way.
But Reivers was still on his scope. One week after securing his first points in only his second GP — a fifth place at Spa — he would share the blue DBR1 at Le Mans with Salvadori.
“I was happy to be with Reivers and to co-drive with Jimmy,” says Salvadori. “He was a nice chap and I was already a great admirer of his driving. I still held a slight edge in that car, but it was pretty clear that he was on the way up, whereas my career was stationary.”
Clark took the first stint. “That was an easy decision,” says Salvadori. “Jimmy was a sprinter, as good as Stirling Moss at those run-and-jump starts. That’s the most crucial phase of this race: keep a cool head, keep out of trouble.” Clark, first away, and an unflustered, realistic 10th at the end of the first hour, did his job perfectly.
Salvadori continues: “We knew we didn’t have the speed to win but were sure the car would be reliable [it had been prepared at the Feltham works] and so we drove to a strict plan. Jimmy was easy on his cars even then and I don’t remember having a moment’s trouble.”
Clark was especially impressive in the heavy rain that started during the fifth hour. He took six seconds a lap from the Ferrari Testa Rossa of eventual winners Olivier Gendebien/ Paul Frère, and by 11.30pm the Aston was second, less than a lap down. But when the track dried, second soon became fifth, although the eventual result would be a “better than we dared hope” third, 60 miles in arrears.
Clark’s DBR1 thread continued in 1961. Co-driven by Bruce McLaren, he was first out of the blocks at, and led the first half-lap of, the Nürburgring 1000 Km. On this occasion he was driving for Chelmsford chicken farmer John Ogier’s Essex Racing equipe, which had a closer affiliation to the works than did the Reivers. This did not improve the Aston’s reliability, however, an engine failure occurring at half-distance, just as McLaren was set to take third place.
Clark was back with Reivers for Le Mans, alongside fellow countryman Ron Flockhart, a double winner with Ecosse. Clark again won the foot race, but lost his place on the fringe of the top 10 when the Aston’s boot lid blew off during the fourth hour. More time was forfeited when the clutch mechanism had to be modified, and this repair eventually gave up the ghost in the 10th hour.
Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato (1961-62)
This muscular GT was supposed to be the answer to Ferrari’s short-wheelbase 250. It wasn’t.
“I don’t think there was much difference between it and the standard DB4,” says Salvadori. “I tested both to hell and there was no more than a tenth in it. By the time we’d stiffened the Zagato enough to make it last, their weights were about the same. These were heavy cars to drive and must have come as a shock to Jimmy after an F1 Lotus. But he never complained. None of us did. We all felt fortunate to be driving for Aston.”
Ogier entered three DB4s for the 1961 Goodwood TT: Zagatos for Salvadori and Clark, a standard car for Innes Ireland. They ran like clockwork and finished (in the above order) third, fourth and fifth to claim the team prize. None of them, though, had been a threat to the Ferraris of Moss and Mike Parkes.
Clark was Essex’s number one in 1962. He hurled the Zagato around as though it was an Austin A35 — but this wasn’t enough to beat Ferrari’s new GTO. He finished fourth in a support race at the International Trophy, and although he won Britain’s last run-and-jump start at the TT, the GTOs and Salvo’s E-type soon swamped him. Thereafter he thrilled the crowds — and photographers — with huge, to-order slides. That was until he lost it at Madgwick. On the verge of being lapped for a second time, Clark, caught out by cold rear tyres, spun and took race leader John Surtees with him into the bank. Oops.
Lotus 23 (1962-63)
Based on the successful Lotus 22 Formula Junior, the two-seater 23 was low and light — and giant-killingly quick when fitted with Harry Mundy’s `twink’ conversion of the four-in-line Ford 109E block. The 1598cc prototype of this engine was in the back of Clark’s car at the 1962 Nürburgring 1000 Km. Ostensibly entered by Essex Racing, this was a works effort overseen by design director Mike Costin and with Trevor Taylor, Clark’s F1 team-mate, as second driver.
“That event was typical early Lotus,” says Costin. “The car hadn’t turned a wheel before we arrived and we built its gearbox in the paddock. I didn’t bother going to the pits during practice. Instead I sent them out one lap at a time and waited in the paddock. I didn’t take any times. That car was a delight to drive but it only had 95bhp and so I wasn’t expecting much.”
He received a rude shock at the end of the first race lap: “The crowd in the grandstand became very animated, so I knew a car was coming. And then Jimmy crested the rise. I was absolutely amazed. That’s one of my most fantastic racing memories.”
Not only was the tiny Lotus leading the Ferraris and Porsches, it was doing so by half a minute. And the gap was 47sec a lap later. The Nordschleife was dry/damp and Clark and his nifty car were in their element. By lap six the advantage was 1 min 41sec. The track, though, was beginning to dry and the 2.4-litre V6 mid-engined Ferrari 246SP of reigning world champion Phil Hill began to reduce the gap. Even so, Clark was still 42sec ahead as he completed lap 11. But what was that noise? A cracked exhaust. Befuddled by fumes, Clark would make a rare mistake on the next lap, sliding into a ditch at Kesselchen. His had been a mesmerising performance.
In 1963 Clark was made available to Normand Racing — Chapman never could resist a deal — where he occasionally joined regular drivers Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne. Fitted with 1558cc twin-cams, their 23s racked up (mainly class) win after win. Clark led their parade at Oulton Park (twice) and Crystal Palace, and put in a memorable performance to win the Snetterton Three Hours.
“That was one of the few times I saw him angry,” says Costin. “They’d cobbled a ‘start-money special’ and got him to drive it. We tried all sorts of things in practice to get it to handle. Eventually, Jim being Jim, he somehow put it on the front row. When he drove into paddock, Mike [Beckwith] said, ‘You got it sorted then.’ I thought Jim was going to hit him. He said, ‘Listen, I really had to hang it out to do that.’ And believe me, he didn’t have to hang it out too often.”
Ford Lotus-Cortina (1963-66)
It was Clark’s tin-top performances — utterly spectacular, unerringly accurate, regularly on TV — that perhaps endeared him more to the British public than his GP and Indy successes. Unassuming bloke doing unreal things in (seemingly) unassuming car was a winning combination. Literally. Eight out of eight class wins — including three outright race victories — made him the 1964 BRSCC saloon car champion. But it was how he won, not what he won, that caught the eye: inside-front wheel way off the deck, tail out. It would have been an even wilder ride had not Lotus chief designer Len Terry had his say.
“When I joined in September 1962 it just so happened that a Cortina was up on a ramp. So I walked underneath and took a look,” explains Terry. “Colin had basically copied the rear suspension of my Terrier Mk2: two radius arms and an A-bracket. But it was going to be too stiff. I said, ‘It’s going to understeer like a pig.’ Sure enough, when Jimmy tested it at Snetterton he did only few laps before calling it a day. And he could usually drive around a problem.
“Colin said to me, ‘Okay, you’re so clever, you sort it.’ To allow for some flex I used channel-section instead of thick tubing for the radius arms and fitted a trunnion to the A-bracket to allow for twist.”
By 1966, thanks to a switch from Group 2 to the more relaxed regs of Group 5, the Cortina was a very different animal again — 180bhp, wishbone front instead of MacPherson strut, and (from 1965 on) leaf instead of coil springs at the rear. Clark continued to weave his magic but ‘complained’ that some of the fun had been taken out of it. Which is why his greatest — and most satisfying — Cortina performance came not on a track but on the forest stages of the 1966 RAC Rally.
Blackpool-born Brian Melia was the perfect choice to partner Clark on this event. As well as being a top-notch navigator, he was no mean driver. Indeed, he’d been in line for a works Ford before Clark landed the gig.
“I was bitterly disappointed to lose the drive, but very excited to sit alongside Jimmy,” says Melia. “In fact, it was me who Ford sent to Snetterton [where Clark was testing an Indycar] to persuade him to do the RAC. I went in a rally Lotus-Cortina and he took me out in it. The racing versions handled very differently… we ended up in a field.”
Clark proved a sensation, setting three fastest stage times: Towy, Myherin and DeviIla. By way of comparison, his winning Swedish team-mate Bengt Soderström was fastest on only six of the 63 stages. And Clark crashed out on the 45th!
“I thought he’d be good,” says Melia. “But he far exceeded my expectations. He adapted so quickly, especially when you consider he’d had just the one day of testing in a Kent woodland.
“We started going really quickly in Wales [the second leg] for two reasons: because it’s ‘my’ territory — I used to organise the Shunpiker Rally there — and because Jimmy was learning on every stage. We had a few early close shaves, but that was to be expected for someone so inexperienced. All would be fine until we came across something unexpected, something beyond his knowledge. But then he’d use his reactions and technique to get out of the situation.
“He drove how I’d always wanted to. I’d always believed there was a perfect balance to be struck between Roger Clark’s very sideways technique and Vic Elford’s pointier style, and Jimmy proved it existed.”
Clark was well inside the top 10 after 39 stages — he’d have been even higher but for punctures and a faltering fuel pump in Wales — but his rally was about to go banana-shaped. He crunched against a rock in Loch Achray and the delay cost him a ‘stage maximum’ penalty. Undaunted, he pressed on in his crabbing car until, five stages later, he lost control of it after a yump in Glengap.
“He was unlucky,” says Melia. “We were on an open section when we got out of shape. We flew over a dyke and rolled. A proper job: three or four times. Jimmy, ever the professional, was mainly concerned about not over-revving during the accident. We landed on our wheels and might have got going again had it not been for that dyke between the track and us.
“He was disappointed. He’d loved the event and insisted we went to some stages to spectate. The team adored him for his spirit, enthusiasm and attitude.
“That RAC was dry, but even had it had been snowing I know he’d have coped. He was a potential rally champion.”
Lotus 30/40 (1964-65)
It seemed like a good idea: hang a ground-hugging sportsracer on an Elan-type backbone chassis. The result was fast, but flexible and frightening.
“Colin had a bee in his bonnet about the 30,” says Len Terry. “He was pissed off that Ford had chosen a Lola design for its Le Mans programme. He wanted to prove that he should have got the job. But when I saw his plans for the 30 it was clear that the chassis wasn’t strong enough: unlike the Elan, it had an extra kink in its front legs that made it look like a tuning fork, an obvious weak point; and the bases for its wishbones were too narrow. My comments ran to two foolscap sheets, but I think Colin acted on only one of my recommendations: he boxed-in the rear chassis member.
“He was planning to base four or five cars around this design. Two were to be powered by 1600 twin-cams; it was fine for that, but not for a 400bhp V8.”
No other car made Clark work so hard for so little: he beat meagre opposition at Mallory Park in 1964 and scored two wins in 1965, in a Silverstone monsoon and at a very chilly Goodwood.
The first 30, to be run by Ian Walker’s team, failed to arrive at Oulton in early April, and was still being constructed one week later, in the transporter, as it headed north to Aintree. Clark, having practised in a privateer 19, had to start from the back. Despite braking — solid discs inside too-small 13-in rims — cooling and handling problems, he finished second behind McLaren’s Cooper-Olds.
“That bloody car!” remembers Walker. “Jimmy did a fantastic job with it, really. It was very difficult to work on, and we had a lot of work to do. To make matters worse, Colin, after Jimmy had mentioned fluctuating power in the fast corners, insisted we fit Tecalemit-Jackson injection instead of Weber carbs. The engine [a Holman Moody 4.7-litre Ford] had been the least of our worries, but now we were spending so much time making the injection work that we never got round to the other problems.”
And these ran more than skin-deep: Hegbourne suffered a huge shunt in Walker’s prototype at Brands in August when its chassis snapped.
The uncomplaining Clark — “Colin was very forceful. If he wanted something to happen, it did,” says Walker — ploughed on with the programme, his 30 now in the hands of Team Lotus. He led the Goodwood TT until a refuelling foul-up, and might still have won but for a loose piece of front suspension that caused stiff steering.
The Series 2 car of 1965 featured a 5.3-litre Ford V8, vented discs inside 15-in wheels and a strengthened chassis. In it, Clark, even with the 4.7 refitted after the 5.3 had blown in practice, led both two-hour heats of the TT, this time held at Oulton, before retiring from both.
Still Chapman refused to give up and reworked the car again, into the 40. This featured a Hewland ‘box in place of the ZF, an even stronger chassis, revised bodywork and upswept central exhausts from its new 500bhp 5.7-litre…
The photos tell all: an agitated Clark addresses a worried Chapman. A season of unprecedented GP and Indy success has just been besmirched by one of Clark’s scruffiest performances. His first outing in a 40, the Guards International at Brands, has just ended in the bank at Clearways, courtesy of a seized drivetrain, this after spinning twice in the first heat because of gear selection problems.
That he bothered to race the 40 again speaks volumes for Clark’s professionalism; that he finished second at Riverside to a lesser driver aboard a better car — Hap Sharp in a Chaparral 2 — speaks volumes about the shortcomings of this unloved Lotus.
Felday 4 (1966)
Though not hugely mechanically minded, Clark was intrigued by innovation and keen to hone his craft to meet the demands and maximise the advantages of new technology. So when talented Surrey-based racer/engineer Peter Westbury approached him to drive his new four-wheel-drive sports-racer at Brands, he agreed.
Westbury, familiar with ‘total traction’ thanks to hill climb successes in the Ferguson P99, had incorporated this system into a 1.9-litre BRM-powered monocoque. It suited Clark’s smooth, sympathetic, single-seater style, and by the end of the first day’s practice he’d got within a second of the class record.
Though outgunned by Detroit V8s, he impressed in both heats, too. Jimmy easily won his class in the first and was leading the second when the clouds burst: the all-wheel-drive set-up could have handed him a major advantage. Unfortunately, the race was stopped and the Felday refused to fire on the restart. A push from mechanics resulted in a one-minute penalty. In any case, Clark was eventually black-flagged because of an increasingly acrid cloud of burnt oil.
Ford Fairlane (1967)
Clark was on holiday in Bermuda when NASCAR kingpin Bill France phoned to ask if he’d like to contest the American 500 at Rockingham on October 29. The original idea was for him to share a Holman Moody 7-litre Ford with Jackie Stewart. His compatriot proved cagey, however, and it was freewheelin’ Jochen Rindt who accepted the offer.
This wasn’t Clark’s first race in a ‘Yank Tank’ — he’d won a 1963 British saloon car round at Brands in a Galaxie — but he was forced to start 24th on the 44-car grid after he’d suffered a sudden reduction of wheels on his wagon. By quarter-distance, however, he was up to 12th, at which point his V8 blew, denying Rindt a spell at the wheel.
Asked if he’d had any problems adapting to the big saloon, Clark replied: “I had trouble finding the brake pedal going into the turns.”
Oregon-based constructor Rolla Vollstedt is a legend in American racing circles. Long on innovation but perennially short of budget, his influence stretches from local dirt tracks to the salt of Bonneville. In 1964 he built the first successful rear-engined Offenhauser-powered single-seater.
“I was running two cars in the Rex Mays 300 at Riverside: George Follmer was in one and I really wanted Jim Clark to drive the other,” says Vollstedt. “It was Firestone’s racing manager who suggested the idea. But he then warned me that his budget was all shot to hell…
“Jimmy was on holiday in Bermuda [sound familiar?] when I talked to him. He said he’d love to drive my car and that his fee was $5000. The best I could do was $1000, so I spoke to race promoter Les Richter, a former LA Rams football star, and he came up with the rest. Colin Chapman wasn’t involved in any way, shape or form.”
Held on the 2.6-mile short course, this title-deciding race attracted a stellar field. But Clark’s main rival was always likely to be Dan Gurney, an acknowledged master of this Californian track, and whose monocoque Eagle was powered by a 5-litre pushrod Ford unit, as allowed by SCCA regs. Clark’s Vollstedt was a spaceframe fitted with a 4.2-litre quad-cam V8.
“Jimmy was quick immediately,” says Vollstedt, “but eventually Dan set a faster time [by 1.3sec]. But when I asked Jimmy if he wanted me to ‘tip the can’, i.e. put more nitro in the tank, he said no. ‘When Dan Gurney has to pour 75 gallons in for the race,’ he told me, ‘we’ll be able to handle him.’ And that’s how it worked out: Dan led from the start, Jimmy was right behind him, and when Dan eventually made a small mistake, Jimmy took over the lead. Moments later, though, he missed a shift and tagged a valve. Afterwards I asked him what I could do to improve my car: he said I should fit a rev-limiter and a longer gear lever so you could be more aggressive with the shifts.
“He was wonderful to work with. My team loved him because he was so easy-going; I don’t think he changed anything on the car other than soften the rear springs. He told [reporter] Chris Economaki it was a very good car, which was nice to hear. He was really impressed with its wings. Actually, you weren’t allowed wings as such, but I had a large, flat spoiler — about two feet long and bent up at its back edge — fitted over the engine; I also had what you might call winglets on either side of the nose. He thought these were really effective and this got him thinking about downforce.
“I really wanted him to come back and race for me the following year…”
This, however, was Clark’s last race in anything other than a Lotus single-seater. He couldn’t know it, nobody could, so untouchable did he seem, but his genius was now perilously close to sadness.
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