The (first) Monza Eleven - revisited

by Victor Thomas, Jay Sloane & Russ Hoenig


On a sunny day at Hornsey

Moss climbs inside

Frank Costin sends Moss out

At speed, minus the tail

Chapman & Mac Fraser return

Mac on the banking
























Baptista at Cumberland, Maryland

Note the air slot at windsheild base



In a bigger photo you would see the tube has been re-welded.

Chassis 235 in the mid-1970s



In the HLR magazine Volume 5 - No. 6   Vic Thomas gave an account of the knowledge to date of the Series 1 Eleven  which so successfully set up World Speed Records in 1956. More information has recently come to light concerning the possible whereabouts of the car today and it is therefore worth reiterating the whole story in order to try and `put it to bed.'

  In September 1956 Colin Chapman, Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Co set off for Monza in Italy with an unusual looking XI on the back of a lightweight trailer. The car, with a complete bubble canopy over the cockpit area, had only been tested briefly (without number plates or other legalities!) by Mike Costin around the streets of Hornsey. The rest of car was virtually to standard specification, except for twin choke DCOE Weber carburettors and lack of air scoops for the rear discs and diff in the under tray, plus a cover over the silencer aperture. No doubt a very high ratio axle was also fitted.

  Stirling Moss was persuaded to extrude himself through the letterbox type aperture in the canopy, exposed when a the driver's door was opened, and set off for fast laps on the rough concrete surface of the Monza bowl. After records were taken in the 1100 cc class up to distances of 50 miles at 133.76mph, Moss heard a loud bang, but being a professional pressed on for the next record. A lap later he noticed a large piece of aluminium lying by the track and men in the pits gesticulating at him to slow down. What had happened was that the extremely bumpy surface had cracked the rear chassis frame just above the battery causing the rear body section to pull away, allowing the wind to get under and rip it off ------ hence the `bang` at that speed. The battery weight then ensured that the rear chassis tubes were trailing on the ground at this point.

The car was brought home and repaired, raced at Castelfusano with a 1500cc FWB and then taken again to Monza early in October with American Mac Fraser driving. This outing achieved even higher 1100cc records cumulating in 1 hour at 137.5mph and fastest lap at 143mph. These World Records stand today!

Although the frame survived intact this time, the vibration and distance involved caused Mac Fraser to pass blood from his bladder for some weeks later.  Mac of course went on to be the star of the Team Lotus drivers from this time on, but was sadly killed in 1957 in the works FPF twin-cam X1 at Rouen the following year.  The Record Breaker was brought home and according to J.C. Kilburn, a U.S. Lotus enthusiast who was around the factory at the time, it was dismantled and parts divided amongst at least three cars ------ no doubt to disguise the fact that these particular parts had been slightly "shop soiled."

Almost 20 years later with the birth of the Lotus Eleven Register and the Historic Lotus Register the hunt was on to find what some consider to be the most pure of line of all Elevens.  A shop diary from Williams & Pritchard had noted that the “Monza car” had been either chassis number 217 or 218 and so this was a good starting point for the search. Eleven 218 was in the possession of LER founder Russ Hoenig in Michigan in the 1970s, but the car was partially dismantled and almost scrap so it was difficult to tell if in fact it had been the very one to run at Monza.

Ten years later Peter Ghormley in California purchased 217 and so began an examination of it as a Monza contender.  At the time neither Russ nor Peter had access to detailed photographs of the actual car which ran at Monza and so they were not in a position to prove one way or another the history of their particular cars. Also in the late 1970s in England a car was claimed to be the actual record breaker and so strong was its’ owners belief that it was rebuilt with a bubble canopy and a large Coventry Climax logo painted on the front panel. After many years of residing in a Japanese museum, this car was shipped (complete with bubble) to owners in Florida, where inspection has shown positively that it is in fact chassis #168 which of course was much too early to have been the Monza car.

Meanwhile it was well-known that the Lotus-Monza had once been owned & raced by Frank Baptista in the USA.  One magazine article* stated: “In 1956 [Baptista] purchased a new Lotus Mark 9 and romped to the championship. Late that same year Frank acquired the Lotus ‘Monza’ Mark 11 which Stirling Moss drove at the Italian Track in speed runs. Making his debut with it at Nassau’s Speed Week, Frank finished second in class and third in the Governors Cup race . . . while hampered somewhat by a 3.77 rear end.For years race reports and sale adverts continued to refer to this car as the Lotus-Monza, with the last trace of it in the Carolinas in the early 1960's.

As further evidence, photographs of Baptista’s Eleven show clearly the extra slot cut into the aluminium at the base of the windscreen surround to prevent misting of the inside of the bubble canopy. Also, team member Rick Kelly clearly remembers the impossibly high axle ratio and rear braking problems (from not having any vents) at the Nassau debut.  The question was where had the Baptista car gone?

In the late 1990's the three authors of this article began an exhaustive search through the records for any trace of this car amongst the survivors today.  Luckily a photo was found of the rear chassis of 11 #235 taken in the 1970s by Russ Hoenig, and it is possible to see clearly a weld repair to the near-side chassis tube above the battery in exactly the place where the car broke at Monza. Furthermore, the factory records show build date and other data that placed #235 as a prime candidate for the one picked for Moss.  

At this point the mystery of the original cars identity seemed resolved, except that detailed inspection of more 70s-era photographs of the front of #235 indicates that although the airbox was similar to the one at Monza (lengthened to match the Webers as opposed to SU`s) many original characteristics did not match. Various theories were hatched to explain the differences but there was no proof, so the puzzle remained.

A breakthrough of sorts was made by Russ Hoenig who obtained family photos of Frank working on his Lotus-Monza, and these were a revelation.  As seen in these photos, the Baptista car exactly matched the details of the car seen at Monza, but also had unique features - factory modifications not found on any other Eleven yet examined.  The three researchers would have to start over and re-examine about twenty cars for traces of these new and unique details.

Unfortunately Eleven #235 had been severely damaged in a crash and was totally rebuilt by 2006, when the three authors examined it at Sebring.  Not even the welded tube in the 70s photo was still present.  At least on forensic evidence they could not make any connection between this car and Baptista.  

As for chassis’ 217 and 218, comparisons with the under-body photographs taken during the record run at Monza (from the first attempt with Moss) make it possible to say with some certainty that chassis 217 has none of the positive identity of the Monza car. Although it does have Dzus fasteners for the body panels (instead of Terry springs) these are set higher than on the Moss car.  The limited information available on #218 reveals the same tantalizing similarity, but more differences to offset this.   

Today, with Russ Hoenig leading the way,  a car-by-car examination of forensics, and on-going search through old photos and ownership notes continues.  

Will the search for the 1st Monza Eleven ever end?



  * Foreign Cars Illustrated and Auto Sport, April 1960, page 27.