Conversations and Recollections with Jay Chamberlain

 By Russ Hoenig





LeMans in 1957



With Chamberlain at the wheel, Chapman helps push the twin-cam 1500 to scrutineering.


In the Lotus pits, pre-race.


Roger Masson pushing his car four miles to the pits.


Cliff Allison takes over for the last stint.


Mac Fraser leaps off the wall for his last stint . . .


. . . and tears out of the pits for the finish.


1,100cc winners, Mac Fraser (at wheel) and Chamberlain


Index winners Allison and Hall.


Hall, Fraser, Allison, Chamberlain, and three beauties.

The race course as described in 1957 by Bernard Cahier, European correspondent for Road & Track: The circuit of LeMans is a first class example of a near perfect type of road, beautifully designed with smooth pavement on which very high speeds can be had by all types of cars. When leaving the pits, you first have the long, uphill Dunlop bend, then a short downhill before entering the Esses, which end with the slow turn of Tertre Rouge. After that, you have a long three mile straight, ending brutally with the 30 mph turn of Mulsanne. From Mulsanne the road goes into the esses of Arnage, and then, after another sharp turn, it is straight going up to the stands, cut in the middle, by the fast and dangerous bends of La Maison Blanche (White House).

Team Lotus drivers remembered LeMans this way:  As you breast the brow of a blind hump 500 meters before the Mulsanne corner for the first few times, your foot to the floor, the marker board indicating turn right, you start to lift off, unnecessarily so as over the other side there is another quarter of a mile to go. As the XI goes over the bumps and humps at full speed, about 135 MPH, the shape acted like a wing and made the steering very light. It did not take long to start enjoying the famous corners, Arnage, the cambered Indianapolis, and the Esses. The thrill of pulling maximum revs and then changing into top gear just as you pass the pits is never to be forgotten.

Jay Chamberlain drove LeMans for the first time that year and recalls the challenge: “Chapman built a really fine little race car, but that’s all they did. I mean they raced them right out of the box and assumed that, ‘from the factory’ was the best that these cars would ever be.  I got them in touch with Dunlop, and we measured the circumference of every Lotus XI tire that they were to supply for LeMans, and set about matching tires.  What resulted was an unbelievable improvement in handling.  We used this throughout the season including introducing Colin to the time honored ‘sprint car’ traditions of staggering tires and frame jacking.  We wedged the rear springs on the LeMans cars and even experimented with shimming the deDion to alter the rear camber and toe-in.

“Colin was very resistant to any of those changes to His cars, so after all of the 1ong, hard hours of preparation, we would work after hours setting the cars up to handle.  We experimented with all of this, plus cam profiles and timing, as well as carb settings.  All of this quite normal preparation for racing in the States, but again remember that ‘from the factory’ was the best that these cars would ever be.

“Wednesday’s practice in Ashdown’s backup 1100 was spent trying to learn the track under Colin’s scrutiny.  After each of us had done some laps, we took the team 1100’s out to make sure that all was ready and the loose ends had been fixed.  Mac (Herbert Mackay Fraser) had the 1500 out but it was plagued with overheating, which by the time the mechanics had corrected, the valves were starting to go.  With the team cars ready, we continued to practice in Ashdown’s 1100 backup car, each taking turns trying to become accustomed to driving the course in the dark.

“Thursday’s afternoon practice was going a lot better along with my first driving of the 1500 car, but I still could not better Mac’s time.  Mac was a downhill and slalom skier and he used that balance and rhythm in his driving. Later Colin took the 1500 out and set a new course record for the 1500cc class, taking only 5 laps to do it.  That gave all the other 1500 teams an awful lot to worry about.  Although it was not to be, as just before the end of practice, Mac failed to pass the pits.  The 1500 had dropped an intake valve on the Mulsanne.

“The only other 1500 engine running that Colin knew of was back in England and was fitted as a marine engine as I remember.  There was not enough time to retrieve this engine and convert it from marine use to our use.  Colin scratched the 1500, rearranged drivers and cars, so Mac and I ended up with Peter Ashdown and Alan Stacey’ s reserve entry 1100 car.

“Race plans for us called for fuel and driver changes every 35 laps, which worked out to just under 3 hours driving time.  Our car, in fact all of the cars ran without mechanical problems, even though Colin had anticipated electrical problems, and had a second wiring harness installed as backup under the cowl.  We ended up 9th overall, 1st in the 1100 class, and followed the 750 car with 2nd in the Index of Performance.

“This was a great moment for all of us, and it seemed to me that now that the race was over it was time to celebrate, but all anybody else wanted to do was take photographs and congratulate each other.  As soon as it was prudent, we went up to the Girling and Dunlop rooms above the pits for some food and drink, with the emphasis on drink. The mechanics enjoyed this, but not for long as everything had to be packed up and taken with the cars to Rouen for the next sports car race.

“We stayed for the awards dinner and presentations to which we were late in arriving.  Colin picked up the money and we took over the first unoccupied table, which, quite handily, was next to the table the fashion models were seated at.  Some of those ladies are in one of the photos.

“This was the high point of my 1957 European racing association with Chapman.  The next weekend of racing at Rouen was okay for me, coming in second to a Porsche in the team’s 1500 single-cam car. Mac had a wheel hub break in the LeMans entry 1500 twin-cam car, which is very scary to have happen in an Eleven.  The following weekend at Rheims, I destroyed the 1100 car in practice, and ended up in a Paris hospital.  Poor Mac was killed during the race in the 1500 LeMans car.  The excitement of LeMans was over.”

The information above has been gleaned from conversations I had with Jay Chamberlain along with records, recollections and conversations with Colin Chapman, and Graham Hill.  The photos are from Mike Costin and various other friends of the history of the LOTUS Eleven.

Click here  for the published race report . . .


Click here  for the victory advertisement . . .