As the long trip by boat from his native Cape Town came to an end at Southampton in the damp spring of 1961, one of Grand Prix racing’s most celebrated living mechanics admits to having felt gripping nervousness. At the tender age of 23, Cedric Selzer was on his way to Team Lotus, charged with the awesome responsibility of a new job: working under the command of Jim Endreweit and David Lazenby on Jim Clark’s Formula One cars.
After spending little more than a couple of local race meetings in South Africa “spannering” on F2 Coopers for New Zealanders Ronnie Moore and Ray Thackwell, and consciously befriending Stirling Moss with a view to getting a foot in the F1 door, Cedric possessed an unquenchable enthusiasm for the world’s most exciting sport. But nothing he’d done previously had prepared him for the shock that awaited him during his first week’s working for Colin Chapman.
“I was completely lost, and if it hadn’t have been for ‘Laz’ (David Lazenby), who bent over backwards to show me the ropes, I’d have wallowed around for ever like a beached whale,” recalls Cedric. “It takes a long time for an ‘outsider’ to be accepted in a team like Lotus, but luckily I survived, First, there was the inevitable workshop initiation ceremony: having your trouser legs clamped to a couple of bench-mounted vices while everyone else leaves for lunch, but after that there was the serious business of fettling the Lotus 21.”
The hours were long, the wages just about adequate, the schedule hectic and the working practices occasionally suspect — drawings for some components were done after they had been fabricated — but such was the life of a Grand Prix mechanic, and Cedric did not complain. “After a chassis frame had been completed in the chassis-building shop, it was my job to build up the rest of the car: but it wasn’t just a case of slotting everything together like a jig-saw puzzle,” says Cedric. “Even at Lotus, so many of the parts just didn’t fit, and had to be modified and reworked until they did.
“From a mechanic’s point of view, one of the interesting things about the early 1960s was that it was always possible to tell who’d built a car, because we were given a free hand, and each one differed according to who had screwed it all together. Dick Schammel and Ted Woodley, who were responsible for Innes Ireland’s car, were both very different from each other, and from Laz and I,” says Cedric.
It was typical of Colin Chapman at that time that he occasionally breezed into the workshops, said little and departed as quickly as he had arrived. Cedric recalls that the first Grand Prix he attended with Lotus was the Belgian at Spa in 1961, Jimmy Clark finished tenth in the race, but despite the hectic work schedule and the speed at which everything happened, Selzer admits that that Grand Prix was a very special occasion for him.
“I’d seen photographs of Eau Rouge in various motoring magazines, but here I was, actually looking down at this famous corner from the Lotus pits: it just didn’t seem real. I felt as though I had really arrived in Grand Prix racing. Brabham, Phil and Graham Hill, Ireland, Moss and the rest were all household names throughout the world, and suddenly, these people were talking to me about motor racing.”
Jimmy Clark was still very much the ‘new boy’ and no-one, except Colin Chapman, really knew his full potential. “He was a quiet, shy man and a true gentleman, but because he was from a farming background and had little experience of engineering, Jimmy wasn’t able to set his car up as quickly as some of the other drivers,” muses Cedric. “However, when he spoke, Colin knew exactly what he was on about, Of course, Jimmy always knew whether the car oversteered or understeered too much, but could never tell you why. Colin translated what Jimmy tried to explain and I had to make the necessary adjustments. Surprisingly, it was an arrangement which worked perfectly well.”
In fact, this team of Colin, Jimmy Clark, Jim Endreweit, Laz and Cedric worked so well that it was during the 1961 season that things started to go pear-shaped for Lotus’s ‘other driver’, Innes Ireland, despite scoring the team’s only victory of the year at the United States GP. “Innes was a first-class driver and won a lot of races, but spoke with a ‘plummy’ accent which, though Colin may not have realised it, made him feel inferior,” says Cedric. “It was at this time that the Lotus 25 was taking shape in Chapman’s mind, and he was in no doubt who his number-one driver would be when it finally took to the track.”
“Thinking back, I remember that we in the workshop had heard about an impending change of driver through a contact at Esso before Clark and Ireland.” Following on from the unsuccessful Spa outing, the F1 circus travelled to Reims for the French GP, which was won by Giancarlo Baghetti in a Ferrari, with Dan Gurney second in the Porsche and Jimmy Clark placed third in the Lotus 21. According to Selzer, the occasion was memorable for two different reasons. First, he had a rude lesson as to why mechanics shouldn’t wear jewellery: “I shorted an identity bracelet that I wore around my wrist between two battery terminals and welded it to my skin.” He still winces at the thought of the pain. And second, the post-race ‘scrutineering’ took place at the renowned Bridget’s bar where all the teams traditionally retired for a glass or six.
“The idea here was to be thrown out by the police,” laughs Cedric. “While John Cooper was trying to catch a woman jumping from a tree, and breaking her arm in the process, Paul Hawkins and his crew were busy taking the wheels off a police car that was parked outside. The boys in blue were so upset that they chased Hawkins down the road with guns, but Paul managed to outpace them.”
At the German GP a few weeks later, it had become obvious to Cedric and others who worked behind the scenes that Innes was well and truly out of favour. After crashing his car in flames on the exit from the Nurburgring’s infamous Karussel, the team, unbeknown to Innes until recently, was instructed to take the remains of the Lotus back to England, salvage what they could from it, shotblast the chassis and repaint it ready for further use. Such a car would normally have been scrapped! Meanwhile, the boys in the workshops had also been told to prepare a special lightweight version of the 21 for Clark, with strict orders from Colin Chapman that its existence must not, under any circumstances, be brought to Innes Ireland’s attention.
“Innes was nobody’s fool and was well aware that Chapman was giving more and more attention to Jimmy and less and less to him, but up until the day he died, Innes always thought that Clark was instrumental in his dismissal from the team at the end of the season.
“I know that this was not the case,” says Cedric emphatically. “Jimmy Clark just hadn’t got it in him to scheme against anyone, and he certainly wouldn’t have known how to conspire with Chapman to push Innes out. No, no, Ireland’s sacking was all Colin’s doing.”
A good illustration of Clark’s true character was demonstrated at the non-championship Cape Grand Prix at the end of the 1961 season. Trevor Taylor had been enlisted to drive the number 2 Lotus and won the race from Clark who finished second. History records that Clark, in a rare moment, spun the Lotus to avoid hitting another car. And that’s the way the story has always been told. In reality, Clark confessed to Cedric that he’d spun the car deliberately to allow Trevor Taylor to impress Colin Chapman. Why? “Because Jimmy was that kind of guy,” says Cedric.
For everyone at Lotus, the 1961 season had big ups and spectacular downs. At the Oulton Park Gold Cup, where Moss won in the 4WD Ferguson, Jimmy Clark again finished tenth. “His car had had a hard season,” says Cedric, and at the end of that race a spectator approached me with a large piece of the chassis that had dropped off the car onto the track.” Back at the factory, this particular 21 was literally thrown into the rubbish bin, one of the few Lotuses of the 1.5-litre era that was actually scrapped.
Conversely, Wolfgang von Tripps’ fatal accident at Monza, in which Jim Clark was involved, wasn’t remotely funny. “It was a bad day and a cloud hung over the team for a long time,” recalls Cedric. “Colin bundled Jimmy into his private aircraft and flew home straight away, because Colin realised there was a chance that Jimmy could have been arrested. The incident, which in my view was one of those inexplicable ‘racing accidents’, had a profound effect on Jimmy and I don’t think he ever got over it properly.”
At the end of the season, Chapman sold the 21s, sacked Cedric as part of a costcutting exercise, immediately reinstated him, and the team got on with preparations for the 1962 season. Because Chapman had designed the revolutionary Lotus 25 at home, no-one at Lotus had even an inkling of its existence, or that its monocoque construction was about to change the face of Grand Prix racing.
The torsional stiffness of the Elan, with its backbone chassis, had impressed Chapman, and it was this sports car that gave him the inspiration for the single-seater. “The first chassis was built in my workshop, and once again, we were sworn to secrecy about its existence,” says Cedric. “The car staggered me. None of us had seen bag petrol tanks before and it was obvious that we were going to have to adopt different working practices.”
From start to finish, the 25 took four months to build, and it wasn’t really ready for the first Grand Prix of the season. “We spent a long time with Jimmy fitting him for that first chassis,” says Cedric, “and with one thing and another, we ran out of time.” Two Lotus 24s were prepared for non-championship race at Pau. “We were so pushed for time that Laz and I agreed to work non-stop for three days and two nights for an extra £10 in our pay packets,” laughs Cedric.
“At the end of that stint I was incredibly tired, and Colin called me into his office. I sat down on a chair and he lifted my legs up onto another chair.” In the usual Chapman style, he poured Cedric a large Scotch in the hope that it would revive his flagging mechanic, but the man who had dreamt of getting into a bed for so long simply passed out. But not for long.
While Selzer was left behind to finish building the car, with help from mechanics from other parts of the factory, the rest of the team left for Pau. As Cedric was in no fit state to drive the transporter, Colin telephoned Peter Arundell for help. Booked on the midnight ferry with little hope of catching it, Cedric and a hastily-prepared Lotus 24 were bundled into the transporter, an inspired Arundell at the wheel.
“It wasn’t a pleasant trip to Dover, but I was honestly past caring. We were going full bore down the Walthamstow High Street on the wrong side of the road overtaking everything, when an old lady who was crossing the road put her arm up to tell us to stop. Her hand actually hit the windscreen before she jumped to safety,” says Cedric. “Peter screamed an unprintable obscenity at her, which I thought was singularly inappropriate as she was not of a canine species and was clearly beyond the age of sexual reproduction anyway.” Miraculously, they reached Dover in time to catch the last boat of the day.
It was not a good start to the season for Lotus. This was the year when BRM would come good with another ex-Lotus mechanic, Graham Hill, taking his first Drivers Championship. The Lotus 25 had yet to be developed, but its debut at Zandvoort caused “absolute uproar”.
“Innes Ireland, who was then driving for the BRP concern, wanted to know when they were getting a new 25, and Dan Gurney reckoned that it was good enough to win the Indy 500 straight out of the box,” says Cedric. “The 25 was a true milestone in Grand Prix history and the product of Chapman’s undisputed genius.” The cars weren’t a hundred per cent reliable throughout 1962: there were niggling problems with clutches and gearboxes, but, despite that, Clark scored four outright victories — at Spa, Aintree, Monza and Watkins Glen.
Cedric had driven the 25 on many occasions, usually to and from a Grand Prix if the team wasn’t garaged at a circuit. “At Monaco we had to take the cars for some seven miles along public roads from where we were staying to the circuit, and even at relatively low speeds, they felt absolutely wonderful,” he says. “The front wheels felt part of your feet: the whole car fitted my body like a glove, and above 5000rpm the Coventry Climax engine developed a lot of useable power.”
When the team took part in a non-championship round at the Solitude circuit near Stuttgart, Cedric came across a side to Chapman’s character that he hadn’t seen previously. “Jimmy had an accident and retired, and Trevor Taylor was circulating a long way ahead of the car behind him. I just happened to mention that I didn’t know what the gap was between Trevor and the next car because I only had a one-day clock,” laughs Cedric. Chapman was not amused, and Cedric was told in no uncertain terms to keep his ridiculous comments to himself.
“Colin was a genius. He was dynamic, brilliant and exciting to work for, but although well capable of taking the mick out of and laughing at other people, he couldn’t stand the mick being taken out of him,” says Cedric. “He was intolerant and always on the end of a short fuse, but it was because of his temperament that he could always get out of aggro, and I’m sure that Lotus wouldn’t be in the unhappy situation they’re in today if he was still alive.”
Despite many problems with the 25, the 1962 season went reasonably well; but 1963 was mustard for all concerned with Team Lotus. Not one member of the team put a foot wrong all season, and Jimmy Clark won seven out of the 10 rounds of the championship, finishing second, third and tenth in the three others.
“Jimmy really came of age that season and proved that he was the genius Colin always knew him to be,” says Cedric. “We achieved everything we set out to achieve. Winning was all-important to us; finishing second was the same as finishing last, but this time, Jimmy had won the championship In a car that I had built and prepared for him. It was all very special and a great personal achievement for me.” After clinching the title, Clark gave Selzer a framed photograph of the great man in action at the wheel of the 25. On the bottom of the picture Clark wrote. “To Cedric, with many thanks for all your help for preparing my car to win the World Championship. Many thanks, Jim Clark.” It is one of Cedric’s most treasured possessions, and he proudly keeps it hanging on the wall of his study. As a gesture of his appreciation for their efforts in winning the 1963 title, Colin Chapman presented each member of the team with a brand new Ford Cortina GT.
“I had the great fortune to be introduced to Fangio at a cocktail party a few years ago and, through an interpreter, he told me that he ranked Jim Clark as the world’s greatest driver ever, which I thought was quite something,” says Cedric. “It’s always worth bearing in mind today that Clark won 54 Formula One races in his short career: not all of them were for World Championship points, but they were all contested by the top drivers.”
Selzer stayed on with Lotus until the British Grand Prix of 1964, when he finally handed in his overalls and spanners. “I’d lost my hunger for winning: there were no more mountains to climb, so I took a job as the manager of a Mercedes-Benz dealership,” he explains.
Brief flirtations with motor racing included working with Ulf Norinder and Robin Widdows with their Lola T70 in 1968 and 1969, with Jackie Oliver in F5000, and the Hon Gerald Lascelles with the Nerus Silhouette project in 1970. “That season cost me so much money that I swore I’d never look at a racing car again,” says Cedric. “By that time, the world of motor sport had changed. The people and the cars were altogether different. I used to think about all the really nice people I’d met, like Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs, but Bruce was killed at Goodwood and there didn’t seem to be a lot of point any more.
“Jimmy had died at Hockenheim, and after that, I lost a lot of the enthusiasm I once had. That was a dreadful day for everyone involved in motor racing. Fangio told me that the rear suspension must have collapsed, because if a breakage had occurred somewhere in the front suspension, Jimmy would have easily been able to control the car. But I suppose we’ll never know what really caused Jimmy’s fatal crash…”
Like everyone who has been infected with the racing bug, Cedric eventually discovered that he couldn’t keep away from the circuits. A trip by helicopter to the British GP in 1980 reawakened his interest, and he discovered a ‘new’ world of historic single-seaters. Since then, he has been totally absorbed: building, rebuilding and maintaining old Grand Prix cars for a variety of clients throughout the world who, like Cedric, have come to appreciate that the controversial 1½-litre racing cars built between 1960 and 1965 are amongst some of the most important and exciting GP machines of all.
Some years ago, he rebuilt his very own Lotus 25, and enters it for selected historic events today. “Some of the bits and pieces were taken, with permission of course, from the Lotus scrap-heap a long time ago, and over a period of time, I made or bought a sufficient number of parts to complete the car,” says Cedric. “I’ve no doubt that if Colin were alive today, he would claim that it still belonged to him — but that would be one battle that he most definitely wouldn’t win!”