Americana: Lotus 38

When Jim Clark’s Indy-winning Lotus 38 went for a meticulous rebuild by Classic Team Lotus, Gordon Cruickshank assembled the boys who built it

I just want a picture of the boys.” Hazel Chapman, Colin’s widow, lifts her camera and ‘the boys’ stop talking. Boys. Their bus passes are dog-eared now, but they were lads when they built the machine in front of us. It was 1965 when this was last in a Lotus workshop, when these boys slaved through many an April night to get it ready for the Indianapolis 500, to give Jim Clark a chance to avenge the cruel reverse of 1964. That year shredding tyres tore up an almost certain win for the Scot. A year later some of these boys were there to see Clark in his funny little back-to-front device lift the greatest prize in American racing.

From that glory moment to this, the green and yellow Lotus 38 has been preserved in the museum called The Henry Ford, virtually unchanged. It came to Goodwood last year and sat quiet and still. Now the museum wants it restored to bellow up Lord March’s drive at the Festival, and here at Classic Team Lotus Clive Chapman’s team are about to strip it to its nuts. Before that, on this chilly January day, the Team Lotus mechanics who built it 45 years ago will pore over every detail while Clive makes copious notes. He needs to know exactly what every button, scoop and tube is for so that the rebuilt car can be absolutely authentic. So here are Dave Lazenby, Bob Dance, Bob Sparshott, Graham Clode, and the car’s designer Len Terry. They’ve been chatting eagerly but they go quiet when the cover comes off the yellow-striped projectile. This thing is special to them, and to history. It flies Indy firsts like flags. First rear-engined winner, first Ford victory, first 150mph average, first foreign driver to win since 1920, first British car to hi-jack the solid-silver beer barrel of the Borg-Warner trophy. Track records lay in shreds as Clark climbed out of this device.

Part of the Ford deal was that it kept the winning car, and for 45 years it’s been a proud but silent trophy in the museum. (The car that went to two Swiss hillclimbs in 1966 wasn’t this one, despite reports.) Over the years it began to look weary, so in 2001 it had a cosmetic clean-up; that’s why the paint is shiny. But as the guys remove panels and peer inside we can see the dull alloy, faded labels and grimy corners that tell you no one has had this device apart before. Clive points out details, like the protrusions on the seat back, that confirm this is chassis 38/1. That dull red wheel is the one Jimmy gripped; that stubby gear lever the one he tugged from low to high for 200 laps. All these parts crossed that finish line together, as 200,000 people cheered and Indianapolis history turned a page.