SPORTS CAR & LOTUS OWNER Vol. 1 No. 2 December, 1956
SHEEP IN WOLF’S CLOTHING
by Ian Smith
Things have not changed much after all. Le
Mans Bentleys In the ‘thirties were hotted up genuine sports cars, and
now Lotus Editor Ian Smith and Tim Martin have driven a Le Mans Lotus
from Lands End to John o’Groats in 17 ½
hours using less than 24 gallons of petrol. Ian Smith undertook
this task to demonstrate the narrow margin which really exists between a
sports car for road use and a sports/racing car. Fuel consumption is an
important factor in the determination of normality, and it is
significant that in spite of a leaking union they averaged 38.5 miles
HUNDRED and ninety-two miles was the R.A.C. estimate for a route from
Lands End to John o’Groats via Appleby in Westmorland. Mindful of
present day traffic conditions in this country, that seemed an awful
distance in one go, however, the Lotus Eleven was to change that
impression. To give that car something to think about, you would have to
dream up a much longer and tougher run than the one to which we
subjected Lotus DEC 494 on the second and third of November.
always liked long distance driving and often take holidays on the
Continent where, of course, some fantastic averages can be attained.
When the “Eleven” began to capture all the International Class G
records at Monza I started wondering how the same car would perform on a
long distance road run—in fact in the role of a true sports car.
Following a word “in the right direction” at the Motor Show, I was
promised the loan of one of the Le Mans team cars, which were specially
built for the race with wider bodywork, bucket seats and a full-width
wrap-round Perspex screen. The only snag was that the car was available
from Friday, 2nd November until Monday 5th—take it or leave it ! The
chance was too good to be missed—so arrangements had to be made
I have always liked long distance driving and often take holidays on the Continent where, of course, some fantastic averages can be attained. When the “Eleven” began to capture all the International Class G records at Monza I started wondering how the same car would perform on a long distance road run—in fact in the role of a true sports car. Following a word “in the right direction” at the Motor Show, I was promised the loan of one of the Le Mans team cars, which were specially built for the race with wider bodywork, bucket seats and a full-width wrap-round Perspex screen. The only snag was that the car was available from Friday, 2nd November until Monday 5th—take it or leave it ! The chance was too good to be missed—so arrangements had to be made smartly.
Earlier on at the Motor Show, I had
mentioned my idea to Club Lotus Treasurer Jack Richards who had
immediately been keen to be co-driver if I could arrange the car.
Unfortunately, Jack found he was heavily engaged that weekend but,
wonderful sportsman that he is, he insisted on us having his Lancia
Aurelia as tender car—and who could wish for a more delightful car for
such a purpose. As Jack could not come himself, he suggested his friend
Tim Martin, who had had a lot of experience with Jack’s own
“Eleven” particularly at night on the public highway. Without more
ado Tim was fixed—staunchly switching two days to fit in with the
proposed dates. Pat Stephens, Advertisement Manager of Sports Car,
and of Motor Racing, then came into the picture
and took over the detailed organisation. There proved to be a great deal
to do in this direction and Pat did a wonderful job— right down to
detailed schedules for each person involved, showing exactly when
everything would happen—if all went well !
was completed by Geoffrey Goddard, in whose hands was photographic
coverage, and Joe Miller who came along to give a hand as mechanic,
tender driver or as required.
of the Esso Petroleum Company was very interested in the idea and
promised to supply the Lotus with petrol and oil and also to look after
supplies for the Lancia as far as was possible. Reg and his assistant
Geoff Murdoch were most helpful in arranging fuelling and sealing
facilities in the outlandish places we proposed visiting, and also in
finding the requisite hotel accommodation.
stage was set, and on the Thursday afternoon I walked into the Lotus
works at Hornsey to collect “my car.” I found Bill Griffiths still
trying to make the twin S.U.s give the 1100cc Coventry Climax engine
just enough fuel but not too much ! The car was exactly as raced at Le
Mans and still retained the 3.9 rear axle ratio. For the run, however,
the engine had been returned to Stage 1 tune and “six inch nails”
put in the S.U.s for needles, harder springs had been fitted all round,
and Dunlop Gold Seal tyres replaced the usual racing covers. Bill took
me out in the car to explain how critical the engine temperature was
with the detuned engine and that it must be kept at about 85 deg
C. At that temperature, the performance appeared to be reasonable but as
later events were to prove, we had not allowed for the big difference
made by the extra weight of a full fuel tank and our protective
clothing, not to mention Tim’s excess of avoirdupois over Bill’s.
Tottenbam Lane just before five in the evening and hoped to beat the
rush hour through the City and over London Bridge. However, I was caught
in traffic jams which began at Old Street and did not begin to thin out
until the Brixton Road. These conditions did however show me how docile
the “Eleven” can be in traffic. I did have to remove all radiator
blanking to stop boiling and in bad hold-ups had to switch off the
engine. The 3.9 back axle meant careful use of the clutch when
repeatedly having to stop and start, but the delightfully light and
responsive steering, and the nippiness of the car, allowed me to take
every opportunity of a break in the endless stream of tail lights. In
spite of being the quickest car across London that evening, it took me
very nearly two hours to reach my home in Old Coulsdon, Surrey—a
journey of only 23 miles. This average of 11.5 mph was to be drastically
improved upon during the rest of my acquaintance with DEC 494.
hurried meal, I filled up the car and collected Tim from his home in
Croydon. He took the wheel for the first spell in order to remind
himself of the “Eleven” at night. As we set out the rain began and
continued to fall, all the way to Staines. Tim soon felt thoroughly at
home, his only discomfort being the nearness of the steering wheel—he
had to have two cushions behind his back in order to fill up the
distance which was more suitable to my six feet three. Tim’s night
experience on the “Eleven” had been gained during bedding-in of the
brakes on Jack Richards’ car, and he soon began to motor the car very
swiftly on head lights which were very high on full beam, and very near
to the car on dip.
passenger seat I was aware of a steady stream of oil and road water
spraying up from the gearbox breather on to the door ledge on my left.
When we changed over on the Basingstoke By-pass, I found that the water
had found its way into the passenger seat and from there through my
Over Salisbury Plain I soon felt at
home, the road was still wet and in those conditions the newcomer to the
“ Eleven” must pay full attention to driving. As the road dried, I
became more bold and began to marvel at the quite extraordinary road
holding on fast bends, the delightful “finger touch” steering and
the effectiveness of the disc brakes. The car was fitted with the MGA
gearbox which is magnificent for road use—the change is so sweet that
you only have to tickle the gearbox lever with one finger and the next
cog just clicks into place. A little care over your revs and the clutch
becomes unnecessary for all gear changes.
Tim took over since we were now on the first part of our route for the
run north, and it was a good opportunity for him to get used to the
road, even though we were traveling in the wrong direction. We reached
Penzance at 2:45 am, but despite a tour of the town, we
had to ask at the police station for the Queens Hotel. We were shown the
way to the Promenade, where we found the night porter of the hotel
awaiting us with a cold supper, and he made us a pot of tea which we
thoroughly enjoyed. I handed over my damp garments and we turned in at 4
am with strict instructions not to call us before 11.
a fine but cold day, and on leaving the Queens Hotel I was surprised at
the nearness of St. Michael’s Mount, which stood out clearly across
the water to the east. We motored gently out to St. Just on the north
coast of Cornwall where we found Messrs. J. 1. Andrewartha and K. D. C.
McKenzie of Cam Bolsavern Garage ready to welcome us, in company with
the local Esso representative Mr. Parnell. After satisfying a
photographer with some shots of the car, we went for a drink at the
local and then lunch at “The Little Restaurant” in the main square.
After our meal, we motored out to the Lands End Hotel where we found
everyone preparing for the Western Hunt Ball that evening. This turned
out to be very lucky for us, otherwise we would have found the “first
house in England” closed to visitors for the season. Visibility was
good as we watched the sea breaking on the rocks below.
cliffs we found a signpost to John o’Groats—to some no doubt that is
a joke, but to us it was a serious pointer to the route which lay ahead
that night. This signpost is obviously a good business proposition, one
of the arms is blank but with runners into which can be fitted letters
to make up any town name and mileage. Imagine what goes on in the summer
with families photographed around this post with one finger pointing
proudly to— “Hackney 310 miles” and so on. Before leaving Lands
End, we weighed ourselves in our traveling kit and obtained the
staggering total weight of 26 stone 13 lb—quite a heavy pay load for
back at the garage in St. Just by 3 pm and immediately set about
preparing the car—the main item needing attention was the rear
nearside wheel arch. On our journey down to Cornwall we smelt burning
rubber, and on arrival we had found a large blister in the paint on the
nearside tail fin caused by the tyre rubbing on the inside. The reason
was that this car bad been built to carry a driver only, and so was
rather upset when my weight was added to the passenger side. On corners
and under acceleration the tyre fouled heavily on the wheel arch. We
could not allow this unpleasant smelling brake effect to remain and so
let a mechanic deal forcibly with the offending bodywork with a large
was checked over and the various items of kit and tools carefully
stowed. Headlamp glasses were cleaned and the nearside lamp re-adjusted.
Finally the low sleek bodywork was polished ‘till it shone. Whilst all
this was going on, the weather turned to a real Cornish horror—fine
driving rain which penetrated everything in a few minutes—our hopes
for a comfortable run sank fast. The fuel tank was drained, and then
under the supervision of Mr. Parnell, was filled with 17 1/2 gallons of
Esso Extra and the centrally placed filler cap was wired and sealed.
As if by magic the rain ceased, and
at 6:30 pm when we left for the 6 mile run down to Lands End the roads
were dry, and overhead was a magnificent starlit sky. We ate our evening
meal of a real Cornish Pasty in the kitchen and then killed time by
checking and re-checking our route—this was the worst time of all
—nothing to do and nine o’clock was still some time off.
time before zero hour we climbed into our heavy raincoats, helmets and
gloves, so that a local photographer could take a starting picture. Then
we had to motor round to the side entrance of the hotel, where Mr.
Beniman the landlord and our starter, said “they all start from.”
o’clock struck, a hand dropped and with Tim at the wheel we started
our long trek. We were obliged to make two early stops to adjust the
radiator blanking to ensure a running temperature of between 80 deg and
90 deg C. With a full fuel tank, the “low down” performance of the
car in the gears was very fluffy, and although mindful of the need for
economy Tim had to use the gears quite considerably. Nevertheless, on
the dry roads he was making very good progress and certainly showed his
experience of night driving an “Eleven.” In the other seat I kept a
careful check on progress, and in this was greatly assisted by the
Collite illuminated magnifier—a new aid to navigation, giving you an
enlarged and illuminated view of map, route or watch, without letting
light rays stray into the eyes of the driver.
On a 50 mph
average we were five minutes ahead of schedule at Bodmin, into
Launceston on time and in Exeter at 11:15 pm—again ahead of schedule.
We had been advised not to bother with the Exeter By-pass which was
sound advice since we soon found the Bristol road out of the town and at
12:45 am passed under the lofty Clifton suspension bridge—nearly 15
minutes ahead of schedule.
between Exeter and Bristol are excellently marked with cats eyes—the
only trouble being that now and again the eyes were real as a furry
creature dashed to safety in front of the car. During the night, these
animals were seen in the road quite often but luckily no solid contact
progress was made to Gloucester but there rain began to fall and
continued for about half an hour. Soon after this I must have dozed, for
I missed Tewkesbury altogether—rather a pity as I wanted to have a
look at the old town, having stayed there when hill climbing at
Prescott. I was wide awake by Worcester, which we passed through at 1:55
am— about 10 minutes up on schedule. Tim had really settled in the
groove and was getting the car along very swiftly—he was however
sparing a thought for the sleeping population and went through the towns
on a light throttle. It was just as well—in Kidderminster we shot past
a parked police car—but luckily it remained parked.
Wellington was reached at 1:55 am and deserted Warrington at 4 am—this put us still ahead of a 50 mph average, and clearing Wigan we began to get on to faster roads again. At Kendal we were well up on time but from this Lake District town we had to take to the hilly road through Grayrigg, Tebay and Orton in order to reach Appleby on the A.66. Our half-way stop in Appleby was at the garage of Frank Allison—father of Cliff who, as a member of Team Lotus this year, has done great things for the marque. As we twisted and turned in the “Shap” country, the rising and falling engine note could be heard by Pat Stephens, Jeff Goddard, Joe Miller and Mrs. Frank Allison, who awaited our arrival at the garage. We turned a corner in the town, there was a blinding flash as Geoff “shot” us, and Tim pulled up at the Esso pumps at 6:04 am—8 minutes ahead of schedule.
Allison had a most welcome breakfast of fried eggs and bacon ready
which, after 460 miles non-stop in an open car, was delicious. As the
others busied themselves about the car, getting the local policeman to
witness the refueling and sealing of the tank, Tim and I washed and
went briefly over the next leg of our journey. Then handing over route,
map and Collite, I took the wheel, and exactly half an hour after
arriving we headed up the hill out of the town.
breaking and by the time we reached Penrith, lights were no longer
necessary. I quickly settled dawn and found on the rolling moorland
roads I could get the car up to 4250 revs in top—just over 80mph—but
that was the lot I We cleared Carlisle, with its red brick fortress at
7:10 am—badly down on our 50mph average. At 7:25 we crossed into
Bonnie Scotland at Gretna Green and the old smithy looked far from
romantic at that hour.
through Abington, where the Glasgow road branches off to the left, at
8:15 am, exactly 15 minutes behind schedule, and after going “a little
over the speed limit in places” through the industrial part of
Scotland, arrived in Stirling at 9:10 am—still 10 minutes down on
schedule. On some of the roads in this area it was quite icy and once or
twice Tim flashed a sideways glance as the tail wagged momentarily.
Lovely open roads enabled us to get up to schedule by the time we
reached Crieff, but between here and Dunkeld, where we joined the A.9
the road became very bumpy and tortuous—with the result that we
entered Pitlochry at 10:12 am instead of a scheduled 10 o’clock. After
this, however, the road was a sheer delight and for the 100 miles into
Inverness the Lotus sang along in the 70s and 80s with the exhaust note
blaring out over the heather and barking back from the fir woods. We
passed under the Inverness arch, after a slight traffic hold up, at
11:51— nine minutes up on schedule, and took the road north round
Beauly Firth to Dingwall. The sun was now out strongly and glinted on
the sea—it felt far more like July than November.
now that the fuel tank was not so full, was a more willing performer and
did not hang fire so much on pick up. Bonar Bridge was reached at 12:48
pm and we set out on the road along the Caithness coast 15 minutes ahead
of our 50 mph schedule. The view was wonderful—Tim told me this later,
because at the time I was very much occupied with keeping a sharp watch
out for sheep which would suddenly stray into the road. As the road
unfolded, northwards, it began to dip and climb and soon we had hairpins
to negotiate. With the rather restricted lock on the car, it was
necessary to sling the car into these turns so that the back slid out,
to make the turn in one go.
As we raced
north, more and more power seemed to be available, and faster and faster
we flew along the coast. We went through Wick just after 2 pm—turned
right at the AA box after Reiss—then thundered down the long straight
which seemed to go straight into the North Sea, and we were there—as
we scrunched to a stop beside the gaunt John o’Groat’s House Hotel.
Mr. Mackenzie the owner dashed out—time 2:28 pm— just 20 minutes
ahead of our schedule, an average for the 892 miles of 51.06 mph.
mutual congratulations, Tim and -I had our tea and awaited the arrival
of the Lancia. Eventually out staunch supporters, a little out of
breath, arrived and we took the Lotus gently back to Wick where the tank
was officially drained and contents checked. The result proved quite
for the extended distance of 915 miles, giving an average of 38.525 mpg.
It was in
the garage at Wick that we discovered that the continual hammering of
the nearside rear wheel on the wheel arch had caused the chassis
sub-frame to break just above the battery. We therefore left DEC 494 at
peace in Wick with instructions for a little attention from the welding
we had a celebration dinner that night and all of us for obvious reasons
were quite ready for bed by 10 o’clock. Tim and I both agreed that the
run had not been unduly tiring and that owing to the delightful handling
of the Lotus, each could easily have driven the whole distance solo. The
only discomfort, which had indeed been fatiguing, was the continual
beating of icy wind on that part of the face not protected by helmet and
Sunday, Joe drove the Lotus south whilst Tim and I occupied the back of
the Lancia and were able to appreciate the grandeur of the east coast of
Scotland at our leisure. As the day wore on, I marveled more and more
at the effortless high speed motoring of the Aurelia, which, like the
Lotus, also has a De Dion rear axle. We spent the night at Appleby, and
the next morning we were back at Frank Allison’s garage to refuel the
two cars. I took over the Lotus for the final day’s run, and after a
brief look at Ullswater and Lake Windermere, headed south via Kendal,
Lancaster, Preston and Buxton.
As the road
ran through the country south of Buxton, I was able to let DEC 494
really have its head and with its lightened load, the rev counter was
showing 5250 in top gear—l05 mph and as steady as a rock. The Dunlop
Gold Seal tyres certainly seemed to suit the car and gave perfect
adhesion without any noise. So the miles reeled by and regretfully as
the traffic thickened nearer home, I had to rein in this magnificent car
in which you can indulge in the sheer joy of fast motoring.
And so on
Tuesday the sixth, I was back at Hornsey with the “Eleven,” the car
having covered 2,000 miles in 4 days, its willing Coventry Climax motor
only using a gallon of oil during all its hard motoring. I was very
sorry to part with DEC 494 and can now only look forward with
anticipation until the next time Colin Chapman finds me another of his