Clark’s last ground-breaking Lotus

Jimmy Clark’s luck might have been in that day at Sneffellon as his Lotus 23 stripped first gear on the over-long stating grid, yet somehow everyone found a way past without smashing into him. We all know how the Scottish genius finally ran out of luck at Hockenheim on April 7, 1968, and I have just been reminded of it by finding a photograph of Jimmy with the last ground-breaking Lotus that he ever got the chance to drive but never race at Indianapolis during early testing two weeks earlier.

That ground-breaking Lotus was of course the gas turbine-powered four-wheel-drive Type 56, and here (above) is Jimmy standing with it between STP boss Andy Granatelli and experienced turbocar driver Parnelli Jones, with Firestone racing director Bill McCrary and Colin Chapman arms around one another to the right.

Colin often lampooned Granatelli to me as ‘Groticelli’ because their long (and often lively) relationship would finally end in tears in 1969while Andrew Ferguson (long-time Lotus team manager) recalled how tense the Italian-American could become during the STP Turbocar period 196768, when he was locked in constant dispute with the Indy-organising United States Auto Club. For example, Andrew recalled how on one Chicagoto-Indy flight, Andy’s airliner was forced to turn back for an emergency landing, prompting the STP chief to exclaim: “Kee-rist, ah’ve lived by the turbine and now it looks as if ah’ll die by it!”

Jimmy had flown in to Indy direct from the Tasman Championship races in New Zealand and Australia. Andrew was on stop-over in the St Regis Sheraton Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue while returning home from negotiating marketing rights for model Lotus cars with a new design rights outt in California who were paying the bill (Lotus-paid hotels were infinitely more modest). Jimmy called him there on the telephone. It was the first time they had talked for nearly two months, the last time having been during frantic negotiation over the politics of applying Gold Leaf tobacco livery for the first time to the Lotus 49T Tasman cars before the Lady Wigram race at Christchurch in January. They nattered for ages before Andrew suddenly realised the call had gone on for over an hour. He later wrote: “Suddenly it occurred to me that for Jimmy to talk this long was not in character.

“Is this a collect call?’ I asked.

“There was laughter at the other end. ‘No. I’m just feeling generous,’ he said, then after a long pause: ‘Actually it’s on the Indy garage bill so you’ll pay for it in the end!— A good Scot, indeed.

They discussed the two F2 races on Jimmy’s schedule, Barcelona at the end of that week and Hockenheim the weekend after. Jimmy had the alternative offer of a drive in the Ford F3L at Brands Hatch in the BOAC 500, and would have been free to accept it, but Ford team chief Alan Mann had promised Jimmy that he would call him to confirm during the Tasman tour: ” …and I haven’t heard a dicky-bird. I’ll do Hockenheim instead…”

When the call ended, neither knew it was the last time they would ever speak to one another.