Lotus 47: Behind the mask

A one-time scrapyard rescue, this Lotus 47 ‘snorkel car’ is fully restored and ready to run. Simon de Burton checks its track record

1967 Lotus 47 GT snorkel car

Distinctive air intakes led to the swim-inspired nickname for this racer

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It’s difficult to imagine a Lotus 47 ending up in a scrapyard nowadays, but that was allegedly where this one was saved from during the early 1970s,  a time when neither a car’s racing history nor its significance to a marque’s development seemed to matter much.

As any Lotus fan will know, the 47 was the track-ready version of the Europa and went on sale shortly after the road car became available to buy in early 1967. Despite its similar appearance (save for bigger wheel arches and a few cooling vents) the 47 was very different under the skin, being powered by a Lotus 1600 twin-cam-based Cosworth MkXIII dry-sump engine driving through a Hewland five-speed transaxle gearbox.

The set-up gave the car around 175bhp, more than double that of the Renault-powered road model and, combined with extra-thin, lightweight bodywork, made the 47 a real performer. Disc brakes front and rear helped to rein in the extra power, and handling was improved thanks to a revised rear chassis that made the racer considerably stiffer.

Lotus 47 GT on track

This car was raced by John Miles, John Calvert and Jackie Oliver

With the exception of the initial test car, all of the 60 or so 47s believed to have been produced were put together by Lotus Components rather than at the main factory, with this car – originally chassis number four – being finished in the white and green Lotus Components livery and allocated by Lotus to John Miles for the ’67 season.

In longer events, Miles shared the car with Jackie Oliver and, between them, the pair drove it to an impressive 17 victories through the year, its finest hour coming in the BOAC International 500 six-hour race of July in which it clinched a class victory.

Chassis four became a familiar sight at UK circuits thanks to its unique additional air intakes mounted behind the rear window that earned it the soubriquet of ‘the snorkel car’, and at the end of the season it was sold off by Lotus to owner-driver John Calvert.

He continued its run of success with an instant win at Croft on Boxing Day 1967 and several more podium finishes during the coming months before being forced into the barriers at Copse Corner during the Silverstone International Trophy race.

Major damage necessitated a rebuild onto chassis/body number 78 (which remains the basis of the car today), after which Calvert carried on racing it before registering it for the road and, ultimately, parting with it in late 1969. Thankfully, although the snorkel car ended up in that scrapyard, it was rescued.

Between 1981 and 2005 it was rebuilt and restored to its original Lotus Components appearance and has since been seen at many historic events. Charles Leith offers it now in turn-key condition, complete with Jackie Oliver’s signature on the roof.

1967 Lotus 47 GT

On sale with Charles Leith, Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
Price £POA charlesleith.com


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