Lotus 18 track test: Power behind the throne

Their laughter fills the place. Morning in the Goodwood pitlane. Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin are a couple of shop floor boys, trading gentle insults. Dick Scammell feels as easy in this company as we muse at the delicate little racer sitting low in front of us. Scammell squints at the exhausts, jokes to Duckworth that maybe he got that bit wrong, that maybe the car needs bigger pipes. Huge smile from Duckworth, belly laugh from Costin.

The rest of us are laughing harder; the notion that these guys got the pipes wrong wouldn’t be nearly so funny if it wasn’t for the statistics — the least boring I think I’ve ever seen. In the last 40 years, Cosworth has racked up 175 Grand Prix wins, delivered 13 world driver championships, powered 56 Formula One teams and scored ten F1 constructors’ championships. Not to mention 186 Indycar wins, 11 CART championships and 37 World Rally Car wins. Extraordinary figures, extraordinary men.

And it all started here, with this car, on March 19, 1960 when Jim Clark won in his Lotus 18 Formula Junior, the first for a Ford Cosworth-powered racer. That weekend changed everything for the Northampton company, and for Duckworth, it was make or break time. Mike Costin was still with Lotus, lured by the security of a senior technical position — he had a family to look after while Duckworth hadn’t His friend, though, was looking out for him. “Chapman was in favour of going with Speedwell-tuned BMCs, but Mike said ‘that’s an old hat engine, but Keith is playing with this new Ford Anglia engine and it looks to have more future, – says Duckworth. “But there were terrible problems with the camshaft and we were going to go broke if my next design didn’t work. So I started from square one and this time, it worked for the Anglia engine. But it was a real trauma on the weekend that Jim won; the engine had oil surge in practice and we had to change the big ends and the mains. We did it in the paddock with the car on its side, Mike and I, him being Lotus, me being Cosworth.” Duckworth allows himself a reflective laugh. What he didn’t know then; what he knows now. “Jim hung the tail of that 18 out a lot and that caused surge in the wet sump Lotus made us use for economy,” he says. “But we could see for ourselves that we were off to a good start. Jim, John Surtees [driving a Cooper] and Trevor Taylor in the other Lotus were substantially ahead of everyone else. They were out on their own.” And so it went. The 18 would dominate the Formula for the years to come. Duckworth was a made man, and Costin joined him permanently in 1961.

Standing beside it, the Lotus barely reaches thigh level; it is an exemplar of the Lotus culture of lightness and efficiency. The skinny front Dunlops sit just 49 inches apart and the narrow pipes snaking off that 997cc motor do indeed look impossibly delicate for a race machine. Likewise, the wishbones are only as thick as they need to be — the car looks like you could tuck It under your arm. Diminutive it might be, but Chapman considered it his first true F1 design and, one month after Clark won in it as alunior at Goodwood, it won Lotus’ first F1 race, with Moss at Monaco.

I had worried about being too big for this car. Unduly, though, as18s are noted for their relatively generous cockpits. Feet on the bulkhead ahead of the seat, hands on the roll bar behind, I slide my legs under the skinny rimmed leather and aluminium wheel. It feels an instantly natural environment, a comfortable place to work and not even slightly intimidating. The driving position is reclined and the clear view forward is of wheels and tarmac, clean and simple. The instruments are equally straightforward, just a large central revcounter, and satellite oil pressure, temperature and water gauges. Looking ahead, I’m struck to laughter at just how close the wheels are, feeling as though they are attached directly to my anIdes. To my left, a pretty, stubby aluminium gearlever controls a reverse H-pattern gearbox straight out of a Renault Dauphine where first is a pull to the right and a shove forward.

And then, the delicious ritual. Ignition on, fuel pump on, drop right hand to the floor where the starter button lives and press, with just a little throttle. The Anglia motor, tuned to within an inch of its life, coughs, catches and clears, belting out a hard edged rasp of pure inspiration. Engage first and let the sharp clutch out plenty of revs here or you’ll stall and then the short trip down the pitlane. Goodwood is empty and a little damp. First lap out, careful, slow, just enjoying the feel of being here. In this car.

Second lap. A bit drier. With 95bhp, acceleration is strong but manageable the car weighs just 7701bs with the little Anglia engine pulling hard and clean from 5000-8000rpm, holding a long emotive bark down the Lavant straight Brake into Woodcote and through, watching the delicate suspension work, tyres maintaining flat contact with the tarmac, even under hard cornering. Over the top of that little screen, a view unchanged in 40 years.

The lines are drying. Pushing harder now, simply amazed; strap on a modern body and I doubt a driver of middling ability would guess he was pedalling a 40-year-old machine. If Caterham were to build a mid-engined road car, it would feel like this. The steering is light and yet delivers superb feedback. Going around Lavant quicker, the 18 is terrifically balanced, neutral, hinting at a drift. Even the drum brakes pull the car up in a straight line. The only thing that gives the game away at all is the gearbox rules meant that it had to be sourced from a production car, and Dauphine gearbox technology could hardly be expected to keep pace with the rest of this car. It’s positive enough between gears, but the ratios, especially the yawning gap between third and second, make life difficult for the little Anglia powerplant.

And then the other inevitable sensation, an electric pulse of fear. It was just a little waggle, a little warning that neutrality could turn to snapping oversteer a little quicker than you might expect. Through the left at St Mary’s with that unhelpful camber. And you’ve never really forgotten that lightness and weight distribution came first, 40 years ago, with driver safety pretty secondary to the plot You remember where your feet are, the consequences of going in nose first. Obvious, really, but worth reflecting upon. Back in the pits. There’ll be other laps.

Mike Costin is leaning against the pitlane wall when! emerge from the car. These chaps are not particularly nostalgic — they’ve lived a pragmatic life that was always about looking forward to the next innovation — but Costin has a big smile for the 18. And he allows that Cosworth was a very different thing in the ’60s. He won’t say it was a better time to be an engineer, but his expression says otherwise. He remembers when working at Cosworth meant doing it all, including the testing. “We had to test at racing speed,” says Costin, brightening at the memory. “It was the only way you’d find things out.” He stares out at the start/finish line: “you’d be in second at seven or eight thousand here, up into third and into Madgwick at something like 8000rpm.” Seconds later, he straps himself into the Lotus, goes out to check his own figures. He’s back in after a couple of laps, disappointed the noise restrictors have robbed the 18 of its full complement of power and voice.

Duckworth has a go, too. He enjoys the experience, remembering a little about how things were. Like Costin, Duckworth wonders whether a large organisation like Ford will be able to maintain the Cosworth way, says he doesn’t know the answer. “It was a different culture at Cosworth, a culture that demanded you don’t do the calculations until you understand what the problem is,” says Duckworth. “Mike and I were always concerned with getting it right the first time and avoiding development costs. We prided ourselves on our engineering and reckoned we could do for one bob what any bloody fool could do for a pound.” Mike Costin adds: “It’s not a job, it’s a commitment. You can only achieve that with a relatively small committed organisation.

Dick Scammell, former Team Lotus racing mechanic and Managing Director of Cosworth Racing until December of last year, takes a more measured view. “It’s not better or worse now,” says Scammell. “Just different. Back then it was possible to have somebody who knew the whole car, and teams were a fraction of the size they are today. Now, you’ve got ten people working on the cylinder head alone. You just couldn’t have a single individual who’ll know all about hardware, software, aerodynamics and soon. With the DFV, for example, development didn’t happen that fast because it was so dominant for so long. Now, it happens about 20 times faster. And back then, you could only afford to do what you could. I remember teams going to meets and not having enough money for petrol to get them home. So some things are much better, and some aren’t. After all, it’s the winning. That’s what its all about.”

Which is what the Lotus 18 did, in spectacular fashion throughout 1960. First in Formula junior, then in F2 with Coventry Climax power at Oulton Park, with Innes Ireland driving. At the Goodwood Easter weekend meet, Ireland won both F1 and F2 categories. Then Rob Walker caught the fide and bought Stirling Moss an 18 just in time for that historic win at Monaco.

I’ve time for one more lap bethre the clouds bring us rain. Hard out of the chicane and across the start/finish line, Costin and Duckworth momentarily break conversation to watch the car come past I’m aware of them watching, take extra care over the upshift from second to third Through Madgwick, on to Fortlwater, the car gripping better than ever, hinting at limits higher than my own. For the moment, I’ve forgotten the history, the laurels, the colossal achievements of Ford, Cosworth and Lotus. And one more time through Lavant Glorious.