Great racing cars: 1965-67 Lotus 38

Indycar Racing News


A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1965-67 Lotus 38

Dario Franchitti
Four-time Indycar champion, three-time Indy 500 winner

This is 38-01, the car with which Jimmy Clark won the Indianapolis 500 in 1965, and I was lucky enough to have a run in it at Indianapolis a few years ago. It was a stunning car to drive. The four-cam Ford engine is a great engine and the Lotus 38 is one of the most stunningly beautiful cars I’ve ever seen. I just love it. I was so delighted to drive it at Indianapolis.

Bear in mind that only a few people have ever driven that car: Jimmy, Jackie Stewart and me, plus one of the Lotus mechanics. I feel very fortunate to have driven it. The 38 is just wonderful and very significant as the first rear-engined car to win the Indy 500.

John Kirkpatrick
Racing school boss who nurtured many talents

This is very much a heart answer rather than a head answer. There have been some remarkable cars that have had longevity, but I think the one I have to choose would be the Lotus 38 Indycar. Not least because it was a ‘Jimmy’ car and he was the man for me. My complete hero.

It clearly changed the face of Indycar racing as there was never another front-engined car that could be competitive against the new breed, so it was kind of revolutionary.

The Lotus 38 is a thing of beauty to me. It was a Len Terry design and Terry’s cars always looked beautiful. The Eagle F1 car that he designed was to me one of the most beautiful Grand Prix cars ever built.

When you look at the transition from front to rear engines, it happened in Formula 1 long before it did at Indy, with the Coopers and so forth. Imagine putting yourself in the position of somebody who had been there for years, like Andy Granatelli or AJ Foyt. It must have been pretty fascinating to see the reaction to what Lotus brought over at that period. I would love to have seen old AJ’s face when he saw it being brought in to the paddock for the first time! When Andrew Ferguson was alive, he and I would just sit and talk about the Lotus 38 and Jimmy Clark. Andrew was a great character and he tells all in his wonderful book – Lotus: The Indianapolis Years – of the challenges they faced.

The effect Clark had on Scottish motor sport was huge. Overnight it was the place to be. I think Indy was broadcast from the US for the first time in 1966, in cinemas. We were pretty convinced Jimmy was going to win again. Of course, he didn’t because he spun twice and there was all the confusion and the win went to Graham Hill and the Lola. It had a huge impact at home.

I still have some copies of the following day’s newspapers and it made front-page headlines in most of them, as far as I recall.

The Lotus 38 was just so clean and sleek. It was of course the first full monocoque chassis and the mid-mounted Ford V8 engine gave it brilliant weight distribution. The whole thing was just a work of art and, with that unmistakable helmet in the cockpit, it made a lasting and deep impression on me and many others.

Clark’s perfect Indy winner
Designer Len Terry on the car he drew for Jimmy. Interview by Gordon Cruickshank

At Lotus Len Terry sometimes clashed with Colin Chapman over design matters, and was happiest left alone. He doesn’t count the first Lotus Indycars, 29 and 34, as his – merely modified 25/33s. But for the 38 he had carte blanche because Colin was out at the Tasman races, and he made full use of it to push aero design principles. Instead of the 33/34 ‘bathtub’ – driver sitting between two stressed-skin tubes – he drew essentially a single rigid hull with a hole for the pilot and two sponsons behind to cradle the V8. “When Colin came back he didn’t like the full monocoque because of accessibility. But it was too late! And I wouldn’t have changed it.”

Essential info: Lotus 38

Notable entrants: Team Lotus, AJ Foyt
Notable drivers: Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt, Roger McCluskey, Joe Leonard, Lloyd Ruby
Debut: 1965 Indianapolis 500
Achievements: 1 win, 0 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 0
Drivers’ Championships: 0

He may be slight, but Len was never one to be slighted. Holding the wheels on was a lop-sided variant of the F1 car’s suspension – wishbones and top link up front, reversed wishbones, top link and radius arms behind, heftier discs and uprights all round. Len beckons me round the back to show how despite the asymmetry – body hunching 3in left to even out loads on ovals – the swing axle lengths work out equal for even steering response. Pointing at the rear cross-member he explains how to plot pivots to give over- or understeer as the driver prefers. “What did Jimmy like?” I ask, and he laughs. “He didn’t care! He could adapt to anything, he was absolutely brilliant. In testing you didn’t dare let him have more than two full-out laps, because by the third lap he’d have adapted to anything wrong with the car and covered it up!”

The result just looked… right. Slim nose, curved rump hiding the two-speed ZF transaxle, air-gulping intakes and those mustard tailpipes pointing skyward like ack-ack guns. A broad-shouldered cousin to the 33 F1 car.

Though he knows this car inside-out, mechanic Dave Lazenby marvels at it. “It’s so purposeful, so right. One of the best cars ever.” Crew chief at Indy, he recalls how smoothly the long, leisurely May run-up went. “It was finished on time, and once we got to Indy there was nothing to do. We’d just push it out each day in the evening cool, Jimmy would go faster yet, and we’d put it away again.”

Len Terry grins: “Development is correcting the designer’s mistakes. That’s why you had an easy time.”

Easy if you don’t count building up a second 38 and running Cortinas at two US races…

Taken from the July 2010 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here.

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