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THE FORGOTTEN LOTUS
The first Lotus single seat racing car was designed by Colin Chapman during the winter of 1951/52 to the order of Clive Clairmonte. Following closely after the design of the Lotus Mark VI, it was given the name Lotus Mark VII.
John Teychenne joined the newly formed Lotus Engineering Company in February 1952 to build this car (he had helped get the order from Clairmonte) and work soon started on the front suspension, and then the chassis frame itself.
The deal was that Lotus would supply a rolling chassis, and Clairmonte would supply the Riley 6 cylinder 2 litre engine and gearbox (from the ex-Hector Dobbs Riley he had been racing in 1951), and the Halibrand Final Drive Unit, with delivery in time for it to be raced in Formula 2 events before the end of the 1952 season.
The design included several very advanced features, many not to be seen again on a Lotus for several years.
Space frame with correctly sized tubes. (Works Lotus Mk 8 1954) De Dion rear suspension with inboard rear brakes. (Lotus Mk 8 1954) Rack and Pinion Steering (Works Lotus Mk 9 1955) Wishbone front suspension (Lotus 12 1957) Cantilever upper wishbones with inboard springs (Lotus 21 1961)
Work on the car progressed very slowly as all their effort was being put into producing the prototype Mark 6 with Ford Consul engine, and money ran out to pay John Teychenne so he had to get another job and carry on in the evenings and at weekends.
In about September 1952 Clive Clairmonte lost patience and collected the car to finish it himself in his factory in Shanklin Road, Crouch End, less than a mile from the Lotus works at Tottenham Lane Hornsey.
THE CLAIRMONTE SPECIAL
This car started life as the Lotus Mk VII Formula 2 car with Riley 2 litre engine. Lotus took so long to make it that Clive Clairmonte collected the partly finished car (chassis frame, front suspension with brakes, Final Drive Unit and engine mountings in position), to complete it himself using his mechanic Fred "Sorrento" Boon.
He experienced an expensive engine failure with the engine in the Hector Dobbs 6 cylinder 2 litre Riley he had been racing in 1951/52, and which he had intended to use in his new car. This, plus the fact that the Formula had only one more year to run, must have caused Clairmonte to abandon the idea of having a single seater, and he decided to convert it into a 1.5 litre sports car instead.
Sorrento (so named because if his obsession with all things Italian) worked hard to widen the frame, complete the rear suspension, fit the new 1.5 litre Lea-Francis engine and gearbox, and get it ready for Williams & Pritchard to create the distinctive shaped body which you can see in the photographs.
It raced with some success in 1953, and in 1954 was fitted with a 2 litre Connaught engine and raced in the 2 litre class, mixing it with Archie Scott Brown in the Lister, and (in 1955) with Mike Anthony in the Lotus Mk X.
Clairmonte and Chapman became locked in a legal battle for compensation, which is why Clairmonte decided to call it by another name, and Chapman (not wishing to be reminded of his lost opportunity) disowned it completely, and five years later used the name on the successor to the Mark 6.
Over the years the body became damaged and replaced with shapes quite unlike the original, and this is why it is today shown without body so that details of the very advanced chassis design may be clearly seen.
The owners, David Harvey and Peter Ross, intend to restore it as a 2 litre sports car for racing in Historic Sports Car races for cars with drum brakes. A replica chassis will be made, a Riley 2 litre engine and gearbox obtained, and faithful copies of the suspension made so that the world may see an exact replica of the original Lotus Mark VII as designed by Colin Chapman in 1951.
The engine has been removed and sent to Beaufort Restoration in Kent for overhaul, and the rest of the car is being dismantled so that the proprietry oparts may be identified.
For a full history of the car go to this website: http://www.simplesevens.org/clairmonte/index.htm
Other photos are shown on http://www.historiclotusregister.co.uk under "cars" and "Lotus Mk VII"
Story by Peter Ross, with many thanks for allowing us to use this on our website.