Jimmy’s Lotus comes home

When the Henry Ford Museum brought Clark’s 1965 Indy-winning Lotus to Goodwood it was cause for a celebration

There was scarcely a dry eye in the house when we set eyes upon it. Christian and Bob from the Henry Ford Museum had arrived at Goodwood with Jimmy Clark’s 1965 Indy-winning Lotus-Ford 38. This was the car’s first return to the land of its birth since it had dominated that long-gone 500-mile classic, and finally turned the world of USAC racing on its head. For more than a few of us old-time fans and team members, seeing and touching the car again was pretty much akin to a spiritual experience.

So many of us recall the high hopes with which Team Lotus had first sallied forth to Indy in 1963 with a stock-block Ford V8 behind the cockpit of their Lotus 29s. The whole deal had been Dan Gurney’s bright idea, and one which Colin Chapman – typically – had grabbed with both hands and driven forward with frenzied energy. Jimmy finished second in that debut 500, with Dan a respectable – but inevitably disappointed – seventh in his sister car. Jimmy had just been pipped by Parnelli Jones’s traditional front-engined Watson-Offy roadster, its leaky lubrication system, a truckload of vested interest, and perhaps by the superstitious hoodoo applied to green cars at the Speedway. But in addition to finishing second, Jimmy had led for 28 laps.

Back again in 1964 the latest Lotus-Ford Type 34s ran new race-bred four-cam V8s born in Detroit. Dunlop racing tyres replaced the rival – and bulletproof – Indy-proven Firestones. Birmingham’s boots were not up to the job and their tread blocks overheated, chunked and stripped. Jimmy’s left-rear tyre failure after just 47 of the required 200 laps caused such imbalance vibration that the entire suspension corner shook apart and collapsed. He slithered to an ignominious halt, and Dan’s sister car was wisely withdrawn after 110 laps, in part before the same could happen to him…

And so to 1965, when Len Terry perfected the Lotus 38 full-monocoque chassis, Ford brought the 4.2-litre four-cam V8 to perfect pitch, and Dunlop’s best gave way to Firestone’s durable finest. And after qualifying second fastest, Jim Clark promptly led for 190 of the 200 laps and secured his historic victory at 160.729mph. Bobby Johns brought Team Lotus’s back-up 38 home in seventh place, while Dan parked his Yamaha Organs-liveried sister car due to an engine failure after 42 laps.

The full legend of Indy ’65 could fill a book, but as we ran our hands and eyes over chassis ‘38/1’ much of its story told itself. The car had been presented to the Ford Motor Company immediately after its win. Once the shine wore off it became a neglected irrelevance to them. Years of neglect saw it deteriorate into a disgraceful state. Ultimately its new guardians, the Henry Ford Museum, recognised its iconic status. As a stop-gap they completed an external aesthetic restoration, but preserved the cockpit and hidden surfaces untouched. It’s believed the car retains its race engine and gearbox to this day.

Sometime, way back before Ford cared, the entire front-end assembly beneath that long questing nose cone was blown over with a spray can full of matte black. But beneath that jollop the care with which the car had been prepared remains evident. Even each jubilee clip-retaining bolt on every hose is lock-wired for security. The suspension wishbones carry the welded-on reinforcement applied pre-race.

And then on the back of the rollover bar there’s evidence of Team Lotus’s work rate against time. It’s apparent that a fuel system breather was required, and it seems as if two of the blokes had tackled the task, one working on the hefty rollover bar itself, and the other on its detachable, centreline supporting brace. One had drilled a hole to the right of centre on the back of the bar, but the other had welded the supposedly matching pipe fitting to the left of the support brace. So when they came to match them up – aaaagh! And that’s why today there’s a welded patch on the right rear of ‘38/1’s rollover bar (pictured top), while to the other side there’s a nicely fabricated breather connection spliced into the support brace. Perhaps that was not the only error made during Team Lotus’s attempt at Indy ’65 – but to see it there today adds real charm to our much-loved hero’s once-raced wonder car.