How Lotus awoke a lost Can-Am beast: ‘Like finding a new Beatles single’

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Colin Chapman's stunning Lotus Type 66 Can-Am design lay rolled up in a draw for over 50 years – James Elson speaks to the people who brought it to life in 2023

Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Lotus Type 66 has been brought to life by Russell Carr, Simon Lane and a small "skunkworks" team

Lotus

It all started like something out of a film: part sci-fi fantasy, part Lost Ark uncovering.

One evening at the Classic Team Lotus base in sleepy Norfolk, at the back of a (probably) dimly lit storeroom, Clive Chapman was searching for more blueprints of his mercurial father Colin’s many world-renowned F1 cars when he unearthed something astounding – and entirely different.

“I was trudging through schemes when I found something I’d never seen – never even heard of,” he tells Motor Sport.

What Clive happened upon was the culmination of his father’s Transatlantic ambitions and design genius let off the leash – a monster put in a box and forgotten about for almost five decades. It was Lotus’s ‘lost’ Can-Am car: the Type 66.

Can-Am, the no-holds-barred American sports car series, would as Clive puts it “have appealed to my father – both lucrative and pretty ‘light-hand-on-the-tiller’ rules.”

 

Colin Chapman’s Can-Am vision

Lotus Can-AM Type 66 scheme 2

Lotus

Lotus Can-AM Type 66 scheme 3

Lotus

Originally conceived by the legendary team boss in 1969 and penned under his supervision by Geoff Ferris, who would later to go on to work with Brabham and Penske, the car has the big-block brawn of a classic Can-Am creation combined with the unmistakably svelte lines of a Lotus.

It was designed at a similar time to the Lotus 72, a machine which has claim to being the greatest F1 car of all time – the Type 66 would likely have been piloted by eventual double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi too.

Chapman’s American dream would never happen though – the project was ultimately shelved until its rediscovery many decades afterwards.

Now however, seven years later, this 830bhp, V8 beast roars: Hethel’s self-proclaimed ‘skunkworks’ Lotus Advanced Performance department has brought the car to life with ten track day versions planned. These will have many of the performance attributes of a modern machine but look to all extents and purposes like Chapman’s original conception.

Lotus Can-AM Type 66 model 3

Carr’s foam recreation of Type 66

Lotus

Simon Lane, head of LAP says: “If someone had asked me as a kid to design a racing car, it would have looked like this”. Russell Carr, Lotus’s head of design, adds: “It’s like finding a lost Beatles track – there’s something about this car that just makes you smile.

Along with Clive, these key players in the Type 66’s second coming explained to Motor Sport how they brought it to life so many years later.

 

The Motor Sport feature that started it all

Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Just 10 Type 66 cars will be made

Lotus

After Clive discovered the schemes, the ball began rolling when he wrote about the car in Motor Sport’s September 2016 issue.

“You guys were to blame!” jokes Carr. “It was obviously a real find, so Clive came to us and we turned the schemes into some sketches, as well as 3D images which we could render [to be shown in the magazine feature].

“I loved the thing so much that when we were finished, I had a scale foam model made. In some ways it was – aerodynamically – an inspiration for the Lotus Evija [Hethel’s latest electric hypercar], with air flowing through it. But the model just sat on my top shelf for years.”

From the archive

Lane moved over from Aston Martin at the end of 2021, charged with forming a new creative department at the famous Norfolk marque.

That was LAP, which is essentially Lotus’s own James Bond Q-style experimental department for those customers who want something a bit different. Lane was looking for its first big project which could also commemorate the marque’s 75th anniversary.

“I’d been heavily involved in the continuation car programmes at Aston, Jaguar had done its C and D-type, and there were the Bentley Blowers, but I didn’t want to just do a ‘blueprint recreation’,” he says. “I wanted something with modern tech in it, and be deliverable fairly quickly.

“I went to Russell, and he got his big book of half-baked ideas out, but behind him in his office was the Type 66 Can-Am model.

“He explained what it was, and it really is like finding an unreleased Beatles single – a car designed by Colin Chapman in his peak era. It was amazing, I said we really should bring this car to life.”

 

Turning Type 66 sketches into reality

Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Lotus plans to possibly race its retro track day car

Lotus

Once Clive gave the project his blessing – followed by Lotus Cars’ execs – then the real hard work started.

The Type 66 drawings comprised of three sketches – none quite matching up with the other. How does a design team take three slightly impressionistic schemes and combine them into one coherent machine – which might be liable to bite its driver’s head off à la the Can-Am machines of old?

From the archive

“It’s a bit like remastering an old band’s track,” says Carr, the music analogies flowing. “You don’t want to lose what made it special originally.

“We had to pick the best bits from the three drawings which all best matched each other. All the basic shapes are there: the classic wedge profile, offset driver’s position, integrated rear wing.”

“Although the car was clearly a very purposeful machine, it looks like a work of art,” adds Lane. “So I really wanted the surfacing to be as beautiful as possible.

“We did a full-size clay model and got the surfacing absolutely spot on. The team did over 1000 hours of CFD work proving out all the aerodynamics [with help from race manufacturer Multimatic], so although the car looks like the original one, a huge amount of work has gone in to make sure the aero works and is safe.

“My late departed boss Peter Horbury, who unfortunately died earlier this year, he referred to it as ‘professionally flat’. So it should look as though the panels are flat but actually everything’s got subtle curve to it – so it never looks hollow.”

 

…then add downforce

Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Front end of 66 proved trickiest for the design team

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What resulted from the outer – and under – design work was a car which produces 800kg of downforce at 150mph.

This downwards push came from what both men say was the trickiest part of the car, and to some extent informed the rest of its redesign: the front-end.

“We resisted some of the more obvious bigger changes, but as very often on ‘race’ cars, there was a real need to get more downforce on the front of the car from the nose,” says Carr.

“It would have been easy to do a multi-element front wing, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the period.

“So we were able to do it by the positioning of the front wing, the attitude, and some little venturi tunnels underneath the front corners of the car that contribute [to creating downforce].

“What was also critical was to retain was the side-mounted radiators – an innovation you also see on the Lotus 72 – which was crucial to the airflow.”

 

Modern safety standards

Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Larger roll bar and crash structure were priority in design considerations

Lotus

While the car retains features which makes it Can-Am appropriate, including an unbranded V8 big block engine complete with jaunty trumpets, several aspects have been introduced to make it both modern-day safety compliant and more user friendly.

“You want to take everything you know today to enhance and make it stronger basically,” says Carr. “So that obviously affects the way you approach it visually, it affects the way you approach it technically as well.

“The foam model has this floating front wing, supported by pontoons on either side. We really wanted to keep that, but the reality was if we wanted make this safety compliant with a crash box on the front, you need body work at the front of the car before the driver’s ankles.

7 Lotus Can-Am Type 66 track car

Car has classic stylings but with a number of modern amenities

Lotus

“The original wheelbase was 94in and we took it up to 97in, and that’s partly because we moved the occupants slightly rearward because of safety, bringing their heels behind the axle line. We also had to have safer roll hoops than were provided at the time.

“It’s really important we made it accessible to people; the type of gearbox [a sequential shifter, with the option of adding a paddle-shift steering wheel at the track] and engine we use are crucial in terms of making the thing driveable.”

The car also has an anti-stall clutch, race-ready ABS, power steering and traction control – all you need for a pleasant blast round Road Atlanta.

 

Track time beckons for Type 66 buyers

Lotus-Type-66 rear wing

A – relatively – user-friendly V8 engine will produce 830bhp

Lotus/David Coyne

Lane says the car in simulation is about “1sec per lap faster than your average GT3 car, and would wipe the floor with an historic Can-Am field,” but still has hopes of a mini race series where the ten cars will be brought together.

Lotus plans to hold track days at the five remaining circuits left from the 1969 Can-Am series, including Mosport, Watkins Glen, and Laguna Seca, but what does the man who originally drew the car think of it?

Hethel had lost touch with its former draughtsman Ferris – now 87 – but Lotus managed to track him down at his home in Somerset, and presented him via video with the images of the Type 66 he sketched out some 50 years ago.

From the archive

“Geoff was incredibly supportive,” says Lane. “He was close to tears, really emotional about it.”

The Type 66 was unveiled at Pebble Beach during Monterey Car week, appropriately by Emerson Fittipaldi and Jenson Button too, predictably causing quite the stir.

With the car set to go into production towards the end of next year, Lotus is now firmly set on making its past part of the future going forward – “We just hope Mr Chapman looks down and thinks it’s a faithful interpretation,” says Carr.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate 75 years of history by realising an original design from the past,” emphasises Clive.

“The car company as it is now has so much more interest in the heritage, which is really exciting for us.”

With such support from Classic Team Lotus, does Clive have any other projects in mind which LAP could set its mind to?

“I’m looking at the Lotus 96T right now as we speak on the phone,” he says of Gérard Ducarouge’s unraced early ‘80s IndyCar effort. “It was never actually fired up…”

Perhaps LAP already has its next revival project on its hands.