Lotus 33 R11: A classic rediscovered

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The original – and one of the very best

Jim Clark’s 1965 World Championship Lotus 33 breaks cover after four decades preserved in secrecy

From February 24-26, the Race Retro exhibition at Stoneleigh, Kenilworth is in part being “powered by Motor Sport”. That merits something special, and on the Motor Sport stand one of the most mouth-wateringly significant of all surviving, unspoiled, highly original British Formula 1 cars is to be seen in public for the first time in well over 40 long years…

It won the 1965 Belgian, British, German – and Syracuse – GPs. It is the car in which the 1965 F1 world titles were secured. It is Jim Clark’s Lotus-Climax Type 33 – chassis R11.

I watched that dramatic British GP from the Silverstone pit roof, some 20-30 yards beyond the finish line. Over the last 10 laps I was breathlessly awaiting the arrival of the race leader – Clark, of course – in his Lotus 33. Was he a little late? I had always been able to hear the distinctive sound of his 32-valve Climax V8 engine approaching. But instead Jimmy burst out of Woodcote into silent sight, with just a swishing of tyres before ‘Whaaaahhhh!’ – his engine chimed in and he hurtled away past the pits. 

Perhaps Gregor Grant’s breezy report in Autosport best evokes the day’s essence: “Then, with shattering suddenness, the picture changed. To the consternation of Team Lotus, Clark’s engine began to splutter and he made despairing signals to Chapman. Out went the signs to Hill and Surtees, and both immediately responded by speeding up…

“The stopwatches began to tell the tale. Hill was urging his BRM round, while a madly excited crowd followed every move of the drama. Gaining at the rate of about 3sec a lap, the question was – could he do it? Clark was nursing his sick motor… eyes on the oil pressure gauge that was indicating a drastic shortage.

“To onlookers Jim’s engine was hitting and missing, occasionally cutting out altogether as he accelerated out of the bends… Yet he was still circulating under 1min 35sec…

“With five laps to go the gap was down to 15.5sec and the tension was tremendous. Hill now had a reasonable chance of catching Clark. 

“Lap 76, and with the appearance of Clark a hush fell on the huge crowd in the grandstands – 13sec. Lap 77, and it was 11.5sec, Hill having been baulked by a slower car. Lap 78, and the margin was 9sec. With one to go, and Clark’s engine now sounding really dreadful, 5sec separated them.

“Everyone stood up, and commentators Peter Scott-Russell and Keith Douglas were almost beside themselves with excitement. Hill was closing rapidly, but Jim, with oil gauge needle possibly at zero” – which was why he was knocking the gearbox into neutral and just coasting through Silverstone’s long curves – “grimly held his course, knowing that at any moment there might be a loud bang!

“Hill tore round like a man possessed, the crowd now having found voice and urging him on. Yet it was all in vain, for Clark, with a great sigh of relief, and an ear-splitting grin on his face, took the chequered flag just 3.2sec ahead of the gallant Hill. Both drivers were cheered to the echo, for they had provided spectators with the sort of sport that is real motor racing…”

For the second time in a GP, Jimmy had been using the latest 32-valve Climax V8. While its 16-valve predecessor commonly consumed half a gallon of oil per race, at Silverstone the 32-valve burned almost five times as much. 

* * *

It was Jimmy’s fourth consecutive British GP success – to add to his earlier fourth in succession in Belgium. His car on both occasions was Lotus-Climax Type 33 chassis R11, and this is the car long-preserved over the past 38 years by an extraordinarily committed – yet intensely private – Lotus enthusiast.

Type 33 R11 was the second true 33 to be completed, matching R10 with a simpler and stiffer monocoque chassis than the preceding Lotus 25s and two hybrid 25/33 prototypes R8 and R9. The new car made its debut in the non-championship Syracuse GP in Sicily on April 4, 1965. In these pages Jenks reported: “Team Lotus sent two Type 33s, one with a normal Coventry-Climax V8 engine for Clark” – R11 – “and a flat-crank low-level exhaust pipe engine for Spence.”

Jimmy qualified on pole from John Surtees’s Ferrari, and on race day: “While Clark and Surtees got away smartly Siffert” – in Rob Walker’s Brabham-BRM – “had accelerated around the outside of Clark, and while Clark and Surtees were watching each other the Swiss boy shot into the lead. 

“It was rather assumed that Siffert’s moment of glory would not last and that the two works number-one drivers would soon go past him, but for 10 laps he stayed in front and neither Surtees nor Clark could make any impression. With full petrol tanks they were lapping at 1min 49 sec and showing no signs of easing up. On lap 11 Surtees had taken the lead but he could not get rid of Siffert and Clark could not get by. 

“Surtees came by the pits with his left-side wheels in the sand on the edge of the track and showered Siffert and Clark, but it did not get rid of them, and Siffert did not mind for he had been doing the same thing on other parts of the circuit while he had been leading. 

“The leading trio were still going strong and on lap 28 Siffert was back in the lead, with the two world champions behind him, but on lap 32 Surtees got back in front again, but not for long, for on lap 37 it was Siffert in front, and all the time Clark was hanging on in third place, being unable to do anything about either of his opponents, for speed really counts in Siracusa and the Lotus was not fast enough. 

“With 45 laps gone and the lap times down to 1min 46.5sec there seemed to be deadlock between the leading trio, but then as Siffert changed gear from fifth to sixth at peak rpm, sixth did not engage and the BRM engine over-revved violently and burst. Surtees led for just one lap and then his V8 engine went sick, and…Clark had a very lucky win, for while he felt he could have outbraked Surtees in the closing laps, he had no idea of how he could have dealt with Siffert.”

* * *

So R11 carried Jim Clark to victory upon its debut. And had that Syracuse GP been a championship round it would surely be recalled today as a great F1 classic. 

The new car was not used again until the Belgian GP at Spa, on June 13. Jenks: “Team Lotus had three cars, one with a 32-valve Coventry-Climax V8 engine, one with the latest pattern 16-valve V8 engine, these two having low-level exhaust systems, and the third with an earlier V8 Climax with the high-level, cross-over exhaust system. All three cars were in the process of being converted to knock-off hubs with 13-inch alloy spoked wheels…”

For the race: “Clark was driving the 32-valve Climax-engined car, and Spence had the next-best one with the flat-crank 16-valve. Hill took the lead up the hill, followed by Clark, Stewart and Surtees, and the rest of the field in a cloud of spray, with visibility down to nil. Down the Masta Straight they all kept a respectable distance from each other, except Clark who took his Lotus through the spray from Hill’s BRM and into the lead. [He then] made the most of the clear road and outpaced everyone, explaining after the race that it was so treacherous and slippery that it was a case of continually lifting his foot off the accelerator, the skill being to lift off just that bit less than all the others, rather than opening it more than his rivals… He was leaving everyone behind and making them look like amateurs… If we had 12 cars as good as a Lotus 33-Climax and 12 drivers as determined and skilful as Clark we would get some terrific Grand Prix racing!”

For the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, Jimmy drove his old Lotus 25 R6 to win again, before preferring R11 with the 32-valve Climax for the British race. In Holland he promptly won yet again, driving R9, before selecting R11 for the German GP at the Nürburgring.

The car’s 32-valve Climax V8 engine had been modified with tapered valve guides to reduce oil consumption. Regardless, his mechanics fitted R11 with an enlarged 3½-gallon oil tank. 

Jimmy took pole position with an 8min 22.7sec lap, fully 3.4sec faster than Jackie Stewart’s BRM P261. Winning this race would clinch Clark’s second world title. The vast 320,000 crowd watched him lead throughout, but not without some worries: “Over one of the yumps, I buzzed the engine up to 11,000. This four-valve’s normal limit is 10,600 with 10,800 for short bursts. But that momentary over-rev didn’t seem to do it any harm. 

“Then about three laps from the end my heart sank when the engine note suddenly went flat. It still seemed to be pulling OK and it was only the offside megaphone that had fallen off.”

He won by 15.9sec from Hill’s BRM, had averaged 99.79mph for the 15 laps and set fastest race lap at 8min 24.1sec, fully 14.9sec faster than Surtees’s outright lap record from the previous year. 

Having taken the world title, 1965 ended less successfully. Clark drove the car in the Italian, US and Mexican GPs but retired each time. 

* * *

Into 3-litre Formula 1’s debut season in 1966, Lotus ran R11 with a stop-gap 2-litre Climax V8 fitted for Mike Spence in the non-championship South African GP at East London – winning comfortably.

Jimmy was reunited with the car for that year’s Monaco and Belgian GPs, retiring from both, while in practice at Reims before the French GP he was struck in the face by a bird and non-started, his place being taken by Pedro Rodriguez – who again retired. 

The car’s rear bay was then modified to accept a BRM V8 engine in time for the British GP at Brands Hatch. Jimmy’s new number 2 Peter Arundell drove both there and in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort the following weekend – but retired both times. Pete drove R11 home eighth in both the German and Italian GPs, before Pedro took over at Watkins Glen, but failed again. Pete was back in the car for his swan-song Grand Prix appearance, at Mexico City, salvaging seventh.

Old R11 remained on Team Lotus’s strength into 1967, when Ford financed Graham Hill’s move from BRM to join Clark. Pending completion of the new Lotus 49s, R11 with its 2-litre BRM V8 was adapted to accommodate the long-legged Londoner. The steering column was raised, passing through the vacated rev-counter mounting hole in R11’s dashboard, while the displaced instrument was remounted on top. The high-set steering wheel looked odd, but the ploy worked, Graham finished fourth at May Silverstone, then second in Monaco.

With the new Type 49s available for the following Dutch GP, R11 became redundant and was sold to Canadian privateer Mike Fisher. He made his debut in it in his home Grand Prix at Mosport Park on August 27, placing 11th. He then took the car to Mexico City, only for it to die on the parade lap. The BRM engine was subsequently replaced by an Oldsmobile V8 for Formula A (5000) racing – and Paul Scott drove it home ninth in the July, 1969, Seafair 200 at Seattle. The car was subsequently dismantled and became just another unwanted old warrior – until contact came from British F2/Formula B driver and committed wheeler-dealer Robs Lamplough. Would the owner sell? The answer was “yes” and from Lamplough it passed to its current (very) private owner, who tucked it away for posterity, all too aware of R11’s significance.

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