Mistakes? They made a few...

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Jack Sears – Lotus 40

Jack Sears had to contend with many poor cars but none did his career more harm, he tells Marcus Pye, than Colin Chapman’s hasty attempt to build a winning sportscar for Jim Clark

Former Silverstone chairman and BRDC director Jack Sears celebrates 50 years in motorsport this year, having earned his driving licence in 1947, and started competing a year later in a Morgan 4/4. He contested driving tests, sprints and hillclimbs, before moving on to an MG TC, “a jolly good car” in which he made his race debut at Goodwood in 1950. Despite remaining an amateur, the Norfolk farmer progressed to become one of the world’s finest sportscar racers, and British Saloon Car Champion in 1958 and 1963.

Sears’s mechanical sympathy honed as a young man in VSCC events with his father’s 1914 TT Sunbeam and ultra-smooth driving style saw him excel in a wide variety of cars, from a Lister-Bristol and Aston Martins to Tommy Sopwith’s sublime Ferrari 250SWB and the 330LMB in which he finished fifth at Le Mans in 1963 with Mike Salmon. But it is for his wonderful mastery in big bangers that ‘Gentleman Jack’ is best remembered. From AC Cobras and Shelby Daytona Coupes to the vast 7-litre Ford Galaxie in which he won the ’63 Saloon Car title (a car which he bought back 25 years later, and loves to exercise still) he tamed them all, and was a match for anybody.

“I drove and raced a lot of cars, but it’s stretching my imagination to say which was the worst. I was always quite loyal to my cars, and tended to forgive them for their bad habits. I consciously tried to take a leaf out of Archie Scott-Brown and Jim Clark’s books in that. Both of them were Sears was quick in any sportscar. He took British saloon title in 1963 brilliant, and seemed to be able to drive around any problems. They just got on and drove the socks off the bloody things.

“Many people can probably think of a racing car they’ve driven which they have absolutely loathed, but I can’t remember ever feeling that strongly about one in a negative way.

Some of the cars were undoubtedly challenging because they were always extremely difficult to drive the Lotus 40 sportscar was definitely in that category but I didn’t actually race the brute. I was merely asked to do development work for Colin Chapman in it… and it finished my driving career.

“The Austin 105 Westminster in which I won my first Saloon Car Championship maybe doesn’t conjure up the picture of a most likely racing machine, but I was a works driver for the British Motor Corporation for four seasons and have rather fond memories of it. We were not allowed to modify the cars very much for rallying or racing 40 years ago, and although it rolled a lot in the corners an extraordinary angle of lean by today’s standards the Ford Zephyrs and Jaguars rolled just as much.

“Because first of all we didn’t know any better in those days, and the framework of the regulations did not permit any suspension alterations anyway, we had to overcome this alarming roll by altering our driving styles, or live with it. But I’d certainly never say that the Austin 105 was a bad car. I was fortunate to have a lot of success in it and we won a lot of awards together.

“Unlike some people, I never climbed into a car, did a few laps and turned to its owner and said I don’t ever want to drive it again! Some cars were much trickier than others of course, but I think, if I had to label something the worst, I’d have to plump for a truly difficult car rather than a downright terrible one. That Lotus 40 fits the bill perfectly. I don’t have happy memories of it.”

Sears had a two-part contract with Ford in 1965, and results again underlined his speed and versatility. As team mate to Jim Clark in Lotus-Cortinas he won his class in the Saloon Car Championship, and he was also in Carroll Shelby’s squad which beat Ferrari to the World GT Manufacturers Championship with the awesome Daytona Coupes. He also got to drive Colin Chapman’s Lotus 30 sportscar, which married a 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine to a backbone chassis not dissimilar to that of the Elan, albeit with the power unit in the rear of the racer.

“The Lotus 30 wasn’t quick enough, and flexed a bit with all that torque, but it was quite a reasonable thing to drive,” recalls Sears. “I tested the works car on ‘many occasions and in fact kit comfortable with it. Colin let me race it at the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone, where John Surtees won, and I finished third, but Jim Clark did most of the races without success, so Chapman had to come up with something competitive for him to race in the Pacific Grand Prix in the USA at the end of the year.

“Colin thus put the 40, a derivative of the 30, on the drawing board in a hurry, and it was made very quickly. Jimmy didn’t want to test it, so I was hauled in to try this thing, which had a bigger 5.3-litre engine. I think we shook it down at Snetterton, then took it to Silverstone for a serious test. It was very unpredictable, incredibly twitchy, and it caught me out at Abbey, which was a 150mph corner…

“I don’t know what happened to this day, perhaps I was trying to concentrate on finding one good point rather than being aware of its shortcomings, but it was a massive accident.

The car rolled over, and I woke up in the ambulance with Jim Endruweit who was chief engineer on the project trying to console me. I was in Northampton hospital for three and a half months, and it took a year to get over it, which (did thanks to the skill of the surgeons and the good Lord looking after me. The car, meanwhile, was fixed in about 10 days.

“Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, the extra power merely exacerbated the fact that the chassis wasn’t capable of dealing with it, and it also had no downforce by today’s standards, so it was a pretty wild animal. Jimmy didn’t win the Pacific GP, and he probably told Chapman at that point that it was never going to be a winner. If he couldn’t win in it, nobody could. For that reason, it will go down in history as one of the least successful Lotus models ever.

“It was not Clark, but Richie Ginther who famously described the Lotus 40 as ‘a 30 with 10 more mistakes’ after he had tried it. Strangely, I think at 68 years old that I’d still quite enjoy the opportunity to do a few quiet laps somewhere in a 30, but I certainly wouldn’t go too far to drive a 40 again.”