Simanaitis Says

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THE LOTUS ELEVEN—IN A RETROSPECTIVE AND IN TONY’S WORDS PART 2

BACK IN THE OLD DAYS, intrepid sports car drivers could, at least in theory, finance their motor sports through starting stipends supplemented by occasionally finishing in the money. And so it was for Tony Hogg (destined to be R&T Editor-in-Chief during my days at the magazine, and recently appearing at SimanaitisSays in “Tony’s Bug”).  

Here in Part 2, it’s not a Bugatti, it’s a Lotus Eleven. And let’s have Tony tell it as he did in “racing in Tito-land,” R&T, 1958. Quoted words are Tony’s. 

Paris in the (Late) Spring. “One bright, sunny day in the middle of last June,” Tony began, “I found myself in Paris with a Mark 11 Lotus, a Bedford 3/4-ton truck and a trailer to transport the Lotus. Also present was my partner, Dan Margulies, with his wealth of experience in Continental races.” 

“This may sound like an ideal situation, but owing to numerous race cancellations, our finances had dwindled to the the point where they were almost nonexistent. We had heard of a race in Yugoslavia which was scheduled for the following Sunday, and we therefore decided to blow a few hundred francs on a phone call to our agent in London to see if he had been able to negotiate anything with the organizers.” 

What’s a Dinar in Real Money? “It turned out that he had cabled us full details five days before, but the neighborhood bureau de poste had fouled up on delivering the cable. The arrangements were for starting money of 40,000 dinars (of which 10,000 would be paid in gasoline) and hotel accommodations at a special rate of 1000 dinars a day, including three squares per day per person. There was also prize money in quantities of 30,000 dinars for first place, 20,000 for second and 10,000 for third.”

“The Yugoslav dinar was at that time sold by the Yugoslav government at the rate of 370 dinars to the dollar, and we therefore stood to gain all of $81 in cash and $27 in gas. We had been warned that when you try to sell dinars outside Yugoslavia (if you can find anyone who will buy them), you only get about one-third of what you paid for them. This is why the gasoline proposition interested us—we had to get to Denmark by the following weekend for our next race.” 

Traveling Challenges. “The race was to be held at a place called Opatija, near Fiume on the Adriatic coast, which our maps showed to be exactly 1000 miles from Paris if we went by the most direct way. The map showed another thousand miles from Fiume to Copenhagen.” 

Tony and racing partner Dan had plenty of adventures en route. For instance, “On the way out of Trieste is a long, steep hill, where a truck of incredible proportions was proceeding so slowly that it is doubtful whether it has yet reached its destination. Due to its length and the frequent bends, we were unable to pass it. Then, on one hairpin, we spotted a gas station with an extensive forecourt.”

This and the following illustration by Toby Nippel from R&T, June 1958. 

“We were just congratulating ourselves on our skill and ingenuity when we were overtaken by two extremely suave Italian cops riding Moto-Guzzis, who handed us an already-made-out receipt for 1000 lire.” 

The Opatija Circuit. “The circuit would not have been satisfactory to SCCA organizers. The pits were situated on the inside of the apex of a 90-mph bend, and the outside of the apex was to be used by spectators. A strand of 1/2-inch rope, loosely suspended from poles, separated them from the cars.” 

The rest of the course included several haybaled hairpins (of which more anon) and “a fast straight to enable competitors to pass the pits at maximum speed.” 

The Competition. “The day’s racing was to consist of a number of events for motorcycles, followed by one event for cars of any displacement. The car entries consisted of an old 2-liter Maserati, a Porsche Spyder which we knew to be suffering from an internal disorder, our Lotus, an elderly vehicle of dubious parentage, and several Gran Turismo Alfas and Lancias. These had been pressed in service at the 11th hour due to a shortage of entries, and were the tow cars of some of the more affluent Italian motorcycle competitors.”

Slivovitz and an Infamous Hairpin. “Dan was to drive the race, and when he set off on his first practice lap, we could already feel the warmth imparted by the prize money of an extra 30,000 dinars in our hip pocket. But after a seemingly interminable absence, he drew into the pits to announce he couldn’t get around one turn without reversing!”

Tony and Dan chatted up the offending hairpin’s course marshal, “a very friendly cop in a uniform similar to Marshal Tito’s…. We reached an agreement whereby he would personally remove the haybales before the car event, and we would personally recompense him with an adequate quantity of Slivovitz. Anyone who has ever tasted Slivovitz will realize that it is not much recompense for moving haybales around on a hot afternoon.”

The Race. “We had pole position on the grid, because Dan had managed to complete a single lap faster than the Maserati, including the tight hairpin. When the flag fell, Dan beat the Maserati and, as the cars disappeared in the hairpin, he had a 3-second lead.”

“A minute later, I could see the cars climbing the hill. The Maserati was in the lead, then the Porsche, followed by the Lancias and Alfas.”

“It later transpired that when he arrived at the curve in the lead, the bales were still there and he got stuck in the middle of the turn, to be shunted by the Porsche as it passed.” 

“This ridiculous state of affairs was likely to leave us with a very bent Lotus if carried to a conclusion. Dan decided that he would have to put in a few laps before retiring because the organizers had paid to see the Lotus go. He therefore circulated as rapidly as possible for half the race and then retired to the pits.” 

“A win is always good for the morale,” Tony concluded, “but the venture remains one of our most unusual trips in the season of journeying around the European circuits….”

I never asked Tony how they did in Copenhagen the next weekend. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022  

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