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September 5th 2015

The Lotus Seven Story
by Jeremy Sale

"The Seven was the car I dreamed about as a schoolboy. When I got the chance to build it, it was the most basic, lightest, high performance little car we could come up with a studentís car, if you will,-a four wheeled motorbike." - Colin Chapman.

I, too, dreamed about Lotus Sevens as a schoolboy! I dreamed about buying the kit one could "put together with a few friends on a weekend". I later dreamed about buying an ex-race car Seven in the Ď60ís, from Autosport, in Cooksville. The bank manager wisely said "Dream on!" which was a very good thing, as Iím sure I would have quickly met an untimely end. Years later I joined VARAC and raced a Bugeye Sprite, then eventually bought my 1962 Lotus Super Seven.

Lotus Seven Brochure

Colin Chapman started his career buying and selling second hand cars, a successful but short-lived occupation as when petrol rationing ended and new cars became plentiful the demand for second hand vehicles stopped. Selling the stock at a loss Chapman used the left over bits to produce an Austin Special, (later retroactively dubbed the LOTUS MARK I). He and wife Hazel used this car for "trialing" which they both enjoyed and were successful at.

Chapman's Austin Special AKA Lotus Mk I

(This bizarre British sport is completely beyond any rational explanation. Please feel free to Google this yourself or YouTube "British Trial Cars - Top Gear 1992".) Chapman then built an improved second car which was an immediate success. According to the Lotus Seven Register "Colin had never watched a motor race when he took part in the Eight Clubs meeting at Silverstone on the 3rd. June. Qualifying in one of the "Half Hour Speed Trial" events he went on to win the "Five Lap Scratch" race beating Gahaganís GP Bugatti into second place!"

By selling the Mark II and Mark I, Chapman raised the funds to buy an Austin Seven saloon for the basis of the Mark III, which was later followed by the IIIb and IV. Only one example of each was made. Chronologically the next Lotus to have been produced should have been the Mk V. This designation was planned to be a 750 Formula car capable of 100mph, but it was never built.

Chapman then commenced building the first Mark VI with an all Lotus designed space frame chassis. This was the forerunner of the iconic Seven which is still being produced in various iterations today, more than half a century later. The prototype debuted at Silverstone on 5th July, 1952 where it caused quite a stir, finishing second in two races. In 1953, the first full season, the first four Mk VI cars to start racing gained no less than 47 awards in competitive events including 19 first places. Colin Chapmanís own car remained unbeaten in its class in that year, taking 20 awards. The Seven was to wait quite a bit longer to appear and before that time Chapman had brought out several race cars which put Lotus firmly on the map.

Lotus 6 Spaceframe

The Lotus Seven

Finally in 1957 an updated version of the Mark VI appeared called the Seven.

From the Lotus Seven Register: "Mac" MacIntosh recalls the genesis of the Seven:

"Earlier in the year I was at the Chapman house one Sunday, as usual, when Hazel said, ĎI think we need a more basic car, a successor to the Mark 6. The Eleven is fine, but itís expensive to buy and even a slight dent in the bodywork is expensive to repair."

Colin looked dubious, but I said, ĎI think Hazelís right, thatís a very good idea.í Colin thought for a moment and then said to Hazel, ĎYou do the washing up and Mac and Iíll get on with it.í

We based it on the Eleven and we had done all the stressing by 10 oíclock that night. Colin took the drawings into work the next day and a week or so later, we had built the first Seven!"

The car itself was formally launched at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show although no actual vehicle was provided for the display stand. The star of the show was the revolutionary new Lotus Elite, a two seater coupe with integral glass fibre body/chassis. The Seven was displayed only as part of the Lotus brochure; sufficient evidence of Chapmanís priorities if any was needed. Nevertheless, it was the Seven that kept Lotus going from a cash flow point of view. The Elite was proving a difficult car to get into full production with the emergence of problems with its all fibreglass construction. As a result, deliveries were delayed and thus it was the Seven which was keeping Lotus fortunes afloat. The basic cost of a Seven was £1,036 fully built and £536 in kit form. Almost inevitably, most were sold as kits, the huge price differential being due to the Purchase Tax charged on fully built cars. Car components were totally exempt. The burgeoning kit car industry which emerged in Britain in the 1950ís was very much a product of this tax loophole.

The first production Seven had much in common with the "Sport" version of the Series Two Eleven, having engine and gearbox from the 1172cc. Side-valve Ford 100E, rigid Ďliveí rear axle from the BMC/Nash Metropolitan and drum brakes to all four wheels. The engine produced between 28 and 40bhp depending on state of tune and the 3-speed gearbox had a Buckler ĎCí type close ratio gear set. Like the Mark VI before it, the concept of the Seven was as daily transport to work during the week and for entry level competition at week-ends.

Lotus 7 S1

Brands Hatch 1958

It was just days short of my sixteenth birthday in January and my brother and I showed up for Boxing Day at Brands Hatch in 1958. We enjoyed the racing from our usual spot at Druidís Hill Bend but we were totally oblivious of the history being made as we watched the Coventry Climax powered Lotus Super Seven factory demonstrator competing in the capable hands of Graham Hill. Hillís car was the prototype of the first Lotus to be called the "Super Seven", later dubbed the Lotus Seven "C" for Climax. What was incredible about Hillís victory over various Lotus XIís, Lolas, and Elvaís was that his car had an ordinary Stage I tune 1098cc single overhead cam Coventry Climax FWA engine and drum brakes, together with the aerodynamics of Anne Hathawayís cottage. Hillís competition were the successful sports racing cars of the time, fitted with de Dion rear suspension, disc brakes and aerodynamic bodies, as well as more power. The win says a lot about his skill as a driver.

Druidís Hill Bend, Brands Hatch

Further history being made at the same meeting was that it marked the first outing by Jim Clark, driving for the famous Scottish "Border Reivers" team. The future world champion finished second to Colin Chapman, both in pre-production Elites. A spinning back-marker held Clark up and allowed Chapman to pass him for the win. Looking at the Club Elite registry I see that at least five of the fifteen pre-production Elites were in this event including Chapman, Clark, jazz band leader Chris Barber and Mike Costin.

I often say that my 1962 Lotus Super Seven "makes up for my lack of talent". Itís a fabulous car to race, even in my clumsy hands. I have had success with it at various race tracks and enjoy driving it more then I can express. But Iím glad I didnít get my hands on a street version as I had intended when I was much younger. Iím quite sure I wouldnít be around to write this story...


































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