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YOU’RE A KID in Cleveland reading this: “Imagine an MG-powered machine which weighs exactly one-half that of a stock TD and you have a thumbnail sketch of the Lotus.” Heady stuff, especially when the complete kit is available for $1540.
Matters are complicated by noting this price is f.o.b. 7, Tottenham Lane, Hornsey, London, N.8, and the year is 1953.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, 1928 – 1982, was not yet Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, but he had already founded a sports car company, Lotus Cars, the year before. Chapman was an automotive engineer extraordinaire, with a straightforward philosophy: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
It was later that a motoring wit recast this as “Keep reducing components until the car breaks; then put that last bit back on again.” A darker implication combined these breakages with race driver fatalities, but in 1953 this was years in the future.
John R. Bond was Technical Editor at the time at Road and Track, the magazine destined to swap and for its & within a year. In the June 1953 issue, Bond offered details of “The Lotus Chassis.” I share tidbits here.
The car, later evolving into the Lotus Seven, was a kit matching English Ford 8/10 components and power of one’s choice to Chapman’s tidily engineered frame. Square and round tubes were fabricated into a truss-type structure. Stressed panels of aluminum were riveted to add rigidity. As Bond noted, the result qualified as a semi-monocoque design, quite advanced for the era.
The frame, complete with assembled chassis tubes and riveted aluminum panels, “costs $310 f.o.b. England.” A handy Inflation Calculator puts this at around $2800 in today’s dollar.
For an additional $210 f.o.b., a set of body panels included the scuttle, bonnet and wings (cowl, hood and fenders to us Yanks), floor tunnel and “rear deck door.” There were no doors per se.
To these, one added components from an English Ford 8 or 10 model, things like the Dagenham-built beam front axle, converted to a pivoted independent front suspension (not unlike those of the era’s Allards and latter-day Twin I-Beam Ford pickups).
“Ford 8/10 wheels and the standard Girling mechanical brakes are normally supplied,” Bond observed, with nary a comment about “mechanical” implying rod-and-cable actuation, not hydraulic means.
Ford didn’t switch to hydraulic brakes in the U.S. until 1939, the last major automaker to do so. Ford of England continued with rods and cables into the 1950s. By 1958, though, the English Ford Consul had modern brakes.
Speaking of the Consul (my first car), I note that Chapman suggested its 1508-cc inline-four as one of three engine choices for his kit. Bond notes “This latter engine can be reduced to just under 1500 cc by regrinding the crankpins .020 undersize on a .009 shorter crank throw radius.”
And didn’t this prompt teenage boys to learn more about such stuff!
The other two engine options were the 1172-cc Ford L-head and the 1250-cc MG XPAG.
For the American market, there was a complete kit available for approximately $1540 (around $14,000 today). “This kit included the frame, all body panels, axle converted to I.F.S., rear axle with 4.125 ratio, suspension units, pedals, steering, radiator, upholstery, fuel tank, instruments, Ford brakes, and wheels and tires.”
Concluded Bond, “All that remains to be done is to drop the engine-transmission in place, couple up the drive shaft, and complete the necessary wiring.”
Looking back, I paraphrase the final exchange between Police Detective Tom Polhaus and Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, 1941:
“Light. What is it?”
“The stuff that dreams are made of.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016