the Gullwing Expose

by Rod Leach (1976)               

preface by Victor Thomas (2003)              





















In 1974 an XI  was offered for sale after a long period in the wilderness.  It had a very pretty Gull-Wing Coupe body fitted to an otherwise conventional Series 2 car.  An English dealer named Rod Leach purchased the XI, had it finished and made into a running car.  Mr Leach never disclosed the exact source of his purchase at the time and so tracing the car prior to this is quite difficult.

In an article written by Rod and published in the HLR newsletter, the design and building of the car was attributed to Frank Costin, aerodynamicist brother of Mike Costin.  The actual work was claimed to have been done by the apprentices School at the deHavilland aircraft company in Hatfield.  Two other sister cars were mentioned, but there have never been any signs of these.  It was suggested to Rod that the GT XI was commissioned with the intention of it being raced at Le Mans.

As Lotus XI Registrar at the time and in spite of some efforts, I failed to meet anyone who could give a first-hand account of the history of this car.  I did take the trouble to talk to Frank Costin at his home during this period and unfortunately he could not recall a  single thing about this project ---- the impression I gained at the time was that he had not actually been involved.  I now believe that those who gave Rod Leach their memories of the car from the early 1960s were probably simply describing one of the numerous XI  GTs that were raced during this period.

It remains a great mystery in XI history as to who instigated the building of this excellent project and as to whether it was in fact built at the deHavilland factory. The following is the body of the article written by Rob Leach in 1976 with notes in Italics indicating current knowledge.

The car that I owned was certainly never completed and it is impossible to say at what stage it had reached when it was finally moved out of the workshops under a tarpaulin outside the DeHaviland factory.  I have been told that an engine was fitted in the car but subsequently 'removed'.  This is certainly possible but judging from the difficulties we had installing and running another similar engine in recent times, I would say that the original engine certainly never ran in the car, or was properly mounted etc.  It is also impossible to say how much of the interior fittings and trim were installed back in the late 50's, though the shape of the seats and the way they have been built, together with other interior details lead me to believe that a fair amount was done at the time the car was originally built.  Certainly the car from the scuttle back seems to 'fit together' as a total cohesive whole, both internally and externally and does not appear to have been added to or messed about with over a long period of time.  Anyway, there is much room for conjecture but what is certain is that the car certainly remained under the tarpaulin at DeHavillands for many years until it was rescued (if you can call it that) by a 'private' dealer who I believe removed the engine and the bonnet for nefarious purposes.  I believe he got his 'just desserts', however, as the engine subsequently blew up and he accidentally ran over the bonnet while it was removed from the car!  

Subsequently the car was sold without engine and bonnet and from the late 60's to 1974 it passed through several dealers' hands, each one making a quick turnover profit, doing nothing but damage the vehicle's reputation in the process.  I received a telephone call from one of these people in June 1974 and immediately went to see the car where it resided in a very large workshop near Huddersfield, Yorkshire.  Amazingly it looked quite presentable and I was able to get inside, outside and underneath the car since it was located over a deep pit (this is something I have subsequently not been able to do - you know what the ground clearance of an Eleven is like.)  The bonnet, of course, was missing but there was a 1098 cc. engine and gearbox both dismantled in an oil bath which were to be sold with the car. The interior trim was partially removed but all the suspension; brakes, diff, etc. were complete and intact.  The Gullwing doors had no handles and the under-bonnet space was totally empty apart from a header tank and radiator.  I immediately bought the car and decided that now was the time to complete it some 17 years after its original development!  I contacted Lynx Engineering at Rye in Sussex who are well-known for their work on D-Type Jaguars etc. and produce the Lynx Replica D-Type; they agreed to take the car on as a project and from initial observation estimated the job would take about 4 months.

Well, of course, the 4 months turned into 18 months!  I would stress that this was purely due to the amount of problems we encountered with the car, and was in no way due to any inefficiency on Lynx Engineering's part. On the contrary, I am full of praise for their engineering and development work on this car which must ultimately have been an absolute nightmare for them, as each aspect they turned to was found to be useless or unworkable.  I certainly do not intend to detail all the problems we encountered, but let me just mention that once the engine, etc. was installed using the existing mounts, depression of the clutch pedal moved not the clutch, but the whole engine itself! [because the gearbox mount was incorrect] Back to the drawing board!  Ultimately they stripped every mechanical part off the car and rebuilt it.  Obviously this would have been necessary in the case of the brakes, the cylinders of which had long since seized, but to be on the safe side we decided to tackle every other part of the car too.  The trouble was that although everything looked complete, like the instruments etc., upon closer inspection it was found that nothing worked or could properly work given the system that had been installed.  The only part that wasn't stripped and reconstructed was the engine which had been build up by the workshop in Yorkshire and arrived as a complete unit.  Since I was assured by the person who sold me the car that the garage in question had a very good reputation I decided to leave that part of it alone - we had enough problems already!  A new bonnet was made by a local firm, lights were installed, the chrome wheels which had badly pitted were shotblasted and stove enamelled, windscreen wipers and all other road equipment was added and a U.K. MOT was obtained, so that the car could be road registered.  (For this latter purpose I had to provide a chassis number.  Needless to say there was no number to be found anywhere on the car so we had to make up our own.  This is 11LM56/018 - this being interpreted as 11 Le Mans, built in 1956, [Series 2 cars like this one were not built until 1957] and finally arrived with me 18 months after I first saw the car!)

  The first thing we did with the car was to take it to Silverstone and enter it in a gentle historic race     for Group 1 cars (i.e. sports racing cars built from '45-60).  We used the original type of road tyres (!) and had to remove one of the doors since 6'0" driver + crash helmet could not fit inside. I have a lovely photograph of the car's first lap with the great domed top of the driver's crash helmet sticking out above the roof-line.

For some unknown reason the engine would refuse absolutely to pull more than 4,000 rpm and the general consensus of opinion was that the Weber carburettors were too small. [although to original Climax specification]  Anyway we finally gave up after 5 laps, as although the car had plenty of urge in the lower rev scale, as I mentioned it refused utterly to rev and thus was cruising around at 60 mph.  After the race meeting I decided to send the engine to Tony Mantle of Climax Engine Services who pulled it engine apart to decide to what stage of tune it had been prepared.  The simple answer to this one is that it was prepared to stage minus 3!  Tony said that he had never seen such a standard original engine in all his life and it probably would have done stalwart service as the original fire pump unit, even having the original flat pistons [low compression?] etc.

We reckon that with a single 1 1/8" SU carburettor, the engine would have run beautifully up to its maximum rev. limit, and would have given about 50 bhp.  We were trying to use twin 38 DC0E carburettors and had debated increasing the size of these!  On top of this Tony found such little gems as gaskets made out of Kelloggs Cornflakes packets and various other disasters which the so-called experts in Yorkshire had built into the engine during its reconstruction.  The basic engine block and main components were, however, in extremely good order and we decided, therefore, to develop what we had to the customary Stage II+ (i.e. road/race spec.), and obtained about 95 bhp from the unit.  This has now been done and the car goes and behaves as it should.  


We have not yet had it out at any race meeting but I intend to do so next Spring, once I have obtained some decent racing tyres for it (this can also be a problem as the clearance

on the inner wings is very limited [because of the Series 1 bonnet] so I shall have to pick and choose carefully). I have, however, covered some 122 miles in the car now, and therefore you

could say that it has an original 122 miles on the clock from new!  It will certainly pull 7,000+ in the gears and comes on strong at about 3,500 rpm -much quicker in fact than I had anticipated though, of course, the proximity of the road and the general 'feel' that one gets once installed inside, makes even 50 mph seem impressive!  I do not know what the final drive ratio is but I am

getting about 16 mph per 1,000 rpm in top, so you tell me. [4.55:1]


Finally, a few words about the car's construction.  The thing that impresses me most about it is the internal and external aluminum work, carried out to the extremely high standard one would expect in an aircraft manufacturing company [most parts are original Williams and Pritchard].  Unlike most Elevens, every internal panel is boxed and shaped to perform its particular function and then beautifully riveted in place.  The whole of the underneath is totally enclosed in the riveted undershield, save a very small hole for the sump [normal for an XI].  The edges of this undershield are beautifully rolled and wired, and they still bear the original aircraft marking for the individual panels [ie aluminium manufacturers stamp].  Nice as this looks, however, it is of course a nightmare to keep clean, and makes the adjusting or overhaul of suspension/brakes etc.

extremely tricky.  There is however an access panel to the rear brakes from inside the car so perhaps one shouldn't be too critical.  I wish I could show you details of some of the interior aluminum paneling but unfortunately a lot of the work that I have been referring to is tucked away under the dashboard in similarly inaccessible places.   I have managed to retain the original spare wheel which has its original chrome [?] in excellent condition, and the special 3-eared hub caps too [modernElan items unfortunately].  All the windows including the windscreen are perspex (I do not dare use the windscreen wipers and hope I never get caught out in the wet in any event) and we have put in a ventilating window in the drivers side.


Even with the rear window removed, however, on a sunny day the temperature inside is phenomenal.  Although I have considered spraying the car in Lotus colours, the general consensus of opinion and my own too, is that it would be a sacrilege to cover the exterior aluminum work with paint.  Perhaps the most remarkable feature about the whole car, however, is the interior trim.  As I mentioned before I am not sure when this was installed but it would not surprise me if it was done at the time the car was built.  All the seats, dash and some rear panels between the seats are genuine best quality pigskin!  The cappings on the inside of the doors and along the top of the door openings are made of teak; the floors and other parts of the car are carpeted.  There used to be a radio aerial in the rear wing which we have removed, though we have retained the cigarette lighter and ashtray!  (Did the private Le Mans entrant intend cruising down the Mulsanne Straight at 140 mph smoking a cigar and listening to Radio Luxembourg!!)  There was also a vast panel of switches in the middle of the dashboard which we have also taken out but the rest remains original.


Getting in and out of the car is undeniably difficult though we have now installed struts to prop up the doors in the open position.  Once in, however, it is very comfortable though extremely bumpy and noisy.  The car is remarkably rattle-free however and goes like a well-prepared Eleven should, frightening other road users into total apoplexy!   There is really no need for me to describe driving the car, for you are only too well aware of what an Eleven is like --simply imagine one totally enclosed with all the accompanying claustrophobia etc. and you have exactly the picture.


We intend to get it out racing next year, but in the meantime I merely intend to give it the occasional road outing if the weather is dry.  Actually October/November is the ideal time for it really was a sticky experience using it in July and August!