by Brett Johnson
In England registration numbers
are a bit different from the license plates in the USA, which change
annually or at least periodically. Once assigned, in the UK the number
generally stays with the car for its life. The number XAR 11, however,
appeared on no less than five of the 270 or so Elevens built, and all of
these were "works" cars. It was not originally assigned to a
Lotus; indeed, it may never have actually been formally assigned to a
Lotus. The letters AR indicated that it originated from Chelmsford in
Essex, a fair distance from the Lotus "works" in North London.
The transfer to a Lotus is possibly tied to finding the number in a
scrapyard attached to a wrecked Austin while scavenging pieces for new
Lotus cars. Since the earliest examples of the marque were Austin
"specials," this could have explained the appearance on an
Eleven. If not, at least it's a good story.
The first XAR 11, chassis 160,
the eleventh Eleven first appeared at the Mobilgas Economy Run on June 9
- 10, 1956. Fitted with a detuned 1100 Coventry Climax FWA, it finished
a respectable second, averaging 60 mpg over the 650 mile route on public
roads. It subsequently was fitted with a 1500 cc FWB and was campaigned
that year in sports car races at Rouen, the British Grand Prix F-2
support race, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Imola. In its British Racing
Green Team Lotus livery this XAR 11 was piloted by none other than Colin
Chapman. This car was then shipped to U.S. Lotus importer, Jay
Chamberlain, who had the car painted yellow and installed a new FWA
engine, Lotus having kept the "special" works version.
The second XAR 11 was also
powered by the larger displacement FWB. It was the final wide-chassis
Eleven produced and was painted in white & blue, American racing colors, by request of its
first owner, Charles Moran. Chassis 275 was one of four works cars built
for Sebring 1957. The car was disqualified after running out of fuel and
being pushed into the pits by co-driver Jesse "Doc" Wyllie.
Moran campaigned that summer in Europe and results
included a 9th place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix for sports cars at
Spa. His tow vehicle was a Jeep Commander, painted in the same American
livery as the Lotus. Returning to race in the eastern U.S. this XAR 11
was again competing at Sebring in 1958 and 1959. It was then sold to H.
Warren Rohlfs, who ran it with a friend, Eric Pasquini, in sports car
races in the Northeast until 1962, when it was part traded for a Jaguar
at a Connecticut dealership.
This Eleven survives today
This Eleven survives today
The third XAR 11 was, perhaps,
the most significant Eleven built, certainly of this group. This car,
chassis 323, was prepared for Le Mans with a special small bore FWA
fitted with a custom made three bearing crankshaft and displaced only
743 cc. This tiny engine was coupled with a lighter-weight body,
standard chassis and magnesium wheels. Its configuration allowed this
XAR 11 to compete in the coveted "Index of Performance"
category, which had been a stronghold for the French, and as such, a
special challenge for Chapman. Finishing fourteenth overall, it handily
won the Index. It subsequently competed at Rouen two weeks later and
with an 1100 FWA engine won at the Brands Hatch race on Boxing Day. It
was then sold to "Doc" Wyllie and shipped to America early in
1958. This car was reportedly destroyed in a racing accident
in July 1961 by owner Jim Kaser in an SCCA club race, but there are
occasional rumors that it survived. Perhaps someone can shed light
on this and put the rumors to rest.
A fourth XAR 11 is mentioned as
having run at the Rest and be Thankful Scottish Hill Climb the week
after Le Mans, June 29, 1957, finishing second. This car, driven by
Edward Lewis, had an FWB
engine and apparently made just one appearance in this guise. It may be
surmised that Chapman, anxious to capitalize on the instant notoriety of
the Index winner, simply arranged for the number to be used. The chassis
number of this and the fifth XAR 11 have been lost in obscurity.
The fifth and final XAR 11 was
entered in the 1958 British RAC Rally. It was definitely ill-suited for
this use, though not surprisingly, it did quite well on the
"special stages" held on race tracks. The segments where snow,
deep ruts and sharp corners were present proved too challenging and the
Eleven was not classified as a finisher. This rally participation was
actually a ploy to satisfy Le Mans organizers to allow participation in
the 1958 24 hour race. In retrospect, with the disappointment Le Mans
would bring, they may have been better served sitting out both events.
After this, the famous number was apparently retired by Lotus or perhaps returned to the car it originally came from. In the early 1980s it was found to be unused, was acquired, and is displayed today on an Eleven Sports model in England.