Stirling tries to find the way into the cockpit of the Lotus Record Breaker, and causes some amusement to Colin Chapman, Frank Costin and Brian Turle.

In this exclusive article Stirling describes the hazards of record breaking on Monza's bumpy track, and the drama of this particular attempt.

I ARRANGED with Colin Chapman to have a crack at some of the International Class G records in a 1,100 c.c. Lotus Eleven, at the Monza track during October.  Then we heard that the track would not be available at the time and so hurriedly we had to change the date to Monday, September 3rd—the day after the European Grand Prix.

     You can imagine the reaction from Lotus Engineering Company when I told them on the telephone that the "record breaker" was required in Italy in eight days.  As I was so tied up with Maseratis before the Grand Prix, I was not directly connected with preparation of the Lotus for the attempt but I heard what was going on from Colin Chapman ("brains and brawn " of the Lotus Company) and from Ken Gregory who was responsible for the administration side of the venture.

     My telephone call gave Colin something to think about.  Apparently he walked out of his office, took a quick look at three Lotus cars in the process of construction, picked out the most advanced one and said, "This will have to be the car for Monza."  There is no doubt therefore that the car we used was absolutely standard, and my only hope is that the overseas customer for whom it was intended has received a replacement.                         

     In view of the short time available, preparation of the "record breaker" was given super priority and work continued long into the nights.  Main variation from the standard "Eleven" was the welding into place of the head fairing, (which is, I understand, to be a feature of all new Lotus cars) with a completely enveloping bubble cockpit cover.  This cover was a Perspex extension of the standard windscreen which lapped into a groove in the head fairing.  A Stage 2, 1,100 c.c. Coventry Climax engine was installed, but in place of the normal SU carburetters, they fitted a pair of Weber twin-choke units.

     Dunlops were developing special tyres for the original attempt scheduled for October, in view of the unusual characteristics of car and track.  We were going to do very high speeds with a car of very low weight on a very bumpy surface—however, the drastic bringing forward of the date made it impossible to have the special tyres ready.  Therefore, as an interim measure it was decided to fit slightly larger tyres than was usual on the "Eleven". It transpired that these tyres, together with the lack of time for testing the car, were a vital factor in the subsequent attempt.

     One point which must be remembered about the Monza banked turns is that the track is constructed of concrete slabs of uniform size supported on pillars, and there are still definite irregularities, like ruts, at the joints despite much work to remove them.  In those circumstances it was essential that the circumference of the tyre should not be a factor of the distance between joins, otherwise the same spot on the treads would be subjected to repeated damaging blows.  Got it?

     At the "eleventh hour," the car was given a very carefully applied coat of paint, and great attention was paid to all body joints to make them as perfect as possible.  Although it was not sprayed, the undertray was polished and the joints there were masked over, so that the air would flow cleanly under the car.  Completion was literally in the "nick of time" and the car was pushed straight out of the workshop on to a trailer hitched behind my Vanguard van, and that combination was driven flat out to Italy.

     It had been intended at least to do some running-in laps on the Sunday evening or very early on the Monday, but torrential rain put paid to those plans so that when my practice in the car began it had done less than two miles under its own power.

     On the morning of the attempt I had to get up before 6 o'clock—a wretched hour under any circumstances, but even more horrible when you have driven the full distance of a Grand Prix the day before. I awoke to a strong smell of garlic, a smell I dislike intensely—but found it was from a nearby Cif petrol refinery.  This evil smell did, however, add to my haste in leaving the hotel quite near the Monza track.  On arrival I had great difficulty in persuading the old woman at the entrance that I had come on official business and was not just a sightseer, and therefore should not pay—fancy sightseeing at that hour of the morning.                                

     I found the Lotus surrounded by an active crowd of people and looking very sleek and purposeful in its coat of shining green paint.  Already in attendance were Colin and Ken, aided by Mike and Frank Costin, chief mechanic and aerodynamicist of Lotus respectively, Brian Turle of Shell and Dennis Druitt of BP Petroleum, and Dunlop "Mac" from the famous British tyre company were there, too.  Everything seemed to be ready and Colin immediately began explaining to me how to get into this, his latest creation.  It soon became obvious that the only easy way to enter this Lotus was first to lay under a steam roller.  The complete Perspex bubble cockpit cover was fixed in position and I had to make entrance by sliding through the little space left in the side when the normal        "Eleven" hinge-down door was open.

     Finally, I mastered the art of inserting myself therein and set off for a few practice laps.  I found the driving position very comfortable and the air conditioning excellent; great thought must have been given to the latter as I was in a completely enclosed cockpit yet there was a delightfully fresh supply of air around me.  This air appeared to enter by a small slit beneath the front of the screen and pass out through two small slots in the top of the bubble.  Frank Costin must have placed these slots in exactly the right place, whereas I always had plenty of fresh air around me, I never had air actually rushing past me.

     I seemed to take up all the available driving space in the car, for even though I appeared to be sitting very low down, my helmet nearly touched the Perspex top.  On my practice runs I put in a few laps at one minute nine seconds (135 m.p.h.) and quickly got the feel of the car—this was the first time I had driven a Lotus.  I found that it weaved a little on the banking and that at times I could hear wheel arch bottoming on the near-side rear tyre.  On the banking I needed a foot-rest for my left foot but after returning to the pits I had to agree with Colin that there was just no room to fit one.

     After my practice runs the car was filled with fuel, the filler caps were taped over, further to improve the streamlining, and I took on some sweets for nourishment.  Then, still at a time before most people have reached their office desk, 8.20 a.m.—the record attempt began.

     I completed the standing lap in 1 minute 21 seconds, 115.58 m.p.h., and found that the car was handling well, although at full revs it was vibrating a little and still weaving on the banking.  My second lap was completed in 1 minute 9 seconds, and I found on the third lap that the car was entering the South Banking at 7,400 r.p.m., which we worked out later to be an actual speed of 148 m.p.h.  The car was going round the banking just on 7,000 r.p.m., and as the laps went by I noticed that the bumping at the rear appeared to be getting worse—I immediately put this down to the extra fuel, and my sweets.  About this time I put in the fastest lap of the attempt in 1 minute 7.6 seconds (138.30 m.p.h.).

     The banging at the rear of the car became more and more noticeable.  Suddenly, as I went on to the banking the cockpit door fell open.  I had to try and close it with one hand and with the other hold the car round the banking at over 130 m.p.h.

     Immediately I did shut the door I thought I was under fire from the local Boys' Brigade.  It felt as if airgun pellets were flying around the cockpit and dropping into my lap.  I then realised that these were the bolts holding the Perspex cockpit top in position, but I was too occupied with the weaving of the car and a sudden drop of 400 revs to wonder why these bolts should suddenly start dropping out.  As usual, next time past the pits, I looked for the lap time, but I sensed more activity than usual there.  I put this down to the fact that I had covered the 50 kilometre distance and had perhaps beaten the existing record.

     As I went on to the banking again I spotted ahead a strange heap lying at the bottom of the track.  Flashing past this inert lump, I recognised to my horror that it was the complete rear bodywork of the Lotus which I was driving. The next signal called me into the pits. It transpired, from inspection after the run, that the larger tyres had been hitting the underside of the wheel arches before the suspension bottomed on the bump-stops.  The terrific hammering that the rear wheels had given the bodywork over this bumpy track, had slowly caused the rear body section to lift very slightly. Any change such as this in contour of aerodynamic shape can be serious, and in this case a slit was made into which air was pouring until pressure built up to such a pitch that it caused the "quick release " tail bodywork to release itself a little too quickly.

     The banging at the rear did not diminish with the jettisoning of the body but increased as a rear sub-frame member fractured and allowed the rear-mounted battery to droop and take a severe hammering from the track. This unfortunate sequence of events put paid to the attempt and so the signal had gone out to call me into the pits. I was most disappointed as I had been most impressed with the performance of the car, and I feel it could easily have collected all the records up to one hour.

     We all agreed that the whole project had been well worth while and I am sure a great deal was learned by Colin Chapman and his "merry men."  In a nearby cafe we were delighted to learn that subject to FIA confirmation, we had taken International Class Records for 50 km. at an average speed of 135.54 m.p.h. (218.12 k.p.h.) and 50 miles at 132.77 m.p.h. (213.66 k.p.h.).

   Getting under way at the start of the record attempt at Monza in September, the day after Stirling Moss had won      the European Grand Prix