From Hornsey to Hethel
Bill Boddy Motor Sport's Founding Editor
WB recalls a very informal lunch with Colin Chapman, and the variety of Lotus models he tested
Mike Kimberley has returned to Lotus as CEO, and a revival of these famous cars is forecast. I recall a time when I was invited to Hethel for a press conference. We were assembled for lunch outside the dining room waiting for Colin Chapman to join us. I smiled, and was asked what was amusing me. "Sorry," I said. "I was remembering the times in 1955 when I used to visit the Lotus works in Hornsey, W8, and Colin would suggest lunch. He would give a boy money to buy fish and chips, which we would consume while standing round the bonnet of one of Colin's exciting creations."
Much later I was flown up to an open day at Hethel by photographer Michael Tee in a Piper Comanche from Blackbushe airfield, landing on Lotus's wide test track/aerodrome, the event enhanced because the 'plane had retained its number from a recent air race.
I was due to leave in a road-test Lotus Seven MkIV, which I did after a distant gate was eventually opened by a gateman who was convinced I was stealing the car, necessitating a call to Colin Chapman himself.
I had been asked if I wanted the hood up. "What, on a Lotus?" I said, but I was soon so cold on the long, fast run home to Wales that I stopped to erect the side-screens. Alas, the car had to be collected from my home by transporter, the transmission kaput.
Before this there had been the exhilaration of driving Peter Jopp's fully aerodynamic Le Mans/ TT Lotus MkIX (XPE 6) with 1097cc Coventry-Climax power that produced 81bhp at 7000rpm.
It was capable of some 130mph on the 3.9 axle ratio; we got 106mph on the 4.5 sprint ratio and a standing start quarter-mile of 16.5sec, two-up. I averaged 63mph for 195 miles of busy main roads, with 78mph from Andover to Lobscome Corner in those no-speed-limit days.
This was the most thrilling 1.1-litre car I had driven but it was not entirely perfect. The Borg and Beck clutch was either in or out, and while the gear ratios of the modified MG J2 gearbox were excellent, it was heavy to use, unlike the very effective brakes. This spaceframe Lotus weighed just over 9cwt. I took it to Fairoaks aerodrome where RCA Mackworth flew me in a Tiger Moth along the Brooklands railway straight at 400ft. He later took my wife up, and she enjoyed it so much they went up again.
On Christmas afternoon in 1964 Jenks and I had a memorable run in a noisy Lotus Elan S2, its twin-cam engine going to 6700rpm, a speedometer reading of 120mph on the deserted roads. We were delighted with the little car's road-clinging, the excellent gearbox, effective brakes and comfortable seats. A few minor shortcomings and the heavy and sudden clutch action were easily forgiven by two somewhat deaf occupants, even though it had tried to decapitate me when its bonnet flew off.
After which Motor Sport was equally-impressed with an Elan 36 coupé (SAR 1200), devoting six pages to it and a visit to the Lotus factory at Cheshunt. The 1.6-litre with twin Weber carburettors would rev to 7000rpm, and 100mph could be obtained on any short straight. Inside, the noise at these speeds was tolerable, the backbone chassis, independent front suspension, and Colin Chapman's independent rear end were stiff enough to produce thump and the steering kicked back, but the road holding was exceptional and the glassfibre body rattle-free. We thought this a very definite 'fun' car, forgiving it such disadvantages as minimal ground clearance so that my passenger and luggage had to be removed to avoid bottoming up my rough country-house drive. Our fast motoring gave a fuel-thirst of 28.8mpg.
In 1970 a Lotus Elan Plus 2 was delivered for appraisal to Motor Sport's offices by order of the then PR chief Malcolm Ginsberg on a covered trailer, to ensure that we got it in immaculate condition.
The aeroplane-like instrument panel, and the external thermometer to warn the driver of icy roads impressed, as did the comfortable seats, the race-bred handling and the twin-cam power unit. I can still remember the fast run home to Wales from a Frazer Nash Club dinner in Leominster (I was still sober), part of 800 miles I did in this luxury Lotus.
Memorable times; here's wishing Lotus a bright future.