Thursday, 28 April 2011

Lotus 7

Every driver has motoring milestones. First drive on a public road. Passing the driving test. First 100 miles an hour. First drive in a great classic. First cars owned.
I might do a series. First drive on a public road was aged 13 in the family Wolseley ESM667. Passed the driving test first time; couldn’t face brothers if I hadn’t. We were a driving family. Passed in father’s Austin 16, HOJ 972.

My first 100 miles an hour was in a 2½ Litre Riley, LLF1, in Glencoe. First fast classic sports car; Frank Dundas’s Plus 4 TR Morgan PSM508. I could not believe the cornering. First ownership was Austin A30, GES945. First MG JCS648; red MGA almost always open even in Scottish weather. First Austin-Healey Sprite Cherry Red BXS467; second Old English White DGM777. I haven’t looked up these numbers. I remember them.
The Sprite on a nice day at Turnberry
Motoring milestones. Good idea for a series. First drive on a banked track, 1962 at MIRA - last one the Mercedes-Benz vertical turn on the test track at Stuttgart. Press release came in the other day saying Team Lotus Enterprise has purchased Caterham Cars. The people behind Team Lotus Formula 1 are to develop the brand. Caterhams were Lotus 7s, designed by Colin Chapman in the 1950s as kit cars. The design was sold to Graham Nearn in 1973 when Chapman got too busy with other things.
My first drive of a Lotus 7 was a motoring milestone. It was 1963, it belonged to Barry Watkyn, with whom I worked at The Motor; lived in Sevenoaks or somewhere. What a revelation. Here was a bare stripped-down racing car you could take on the road. It had lights and muguards and a sketchy hood, but it had the steering, handling and roadholding of a track car. You were close to the ground; it was cold, draughty and uncomfortable. It had that gritty, coarse feel of a racing car, you felt every ripple, bump and camber change through the steering, yet it reached levels of precision, sensitivity, grip and traction I never felt before. When you moved it moved. It was light and darted from corner to corner. There was little inertia pulling you this way or that. Barry’s Seven had a Cosworth engine of no great power, yet it didn’t matter. It showed what a car designed by an engineer-artist could achieve. It set a benchmark.
Barry Watkyn (left) and Roger Bell from The Motor at Goodwood in 1963.
The Lotus 7 remains a point of reference. It’s an ideal balance of power and intuitive handling. It is also one of the most-raced cars in the world and was the inspiration behind the Caterham-Lola SP/300R race and track day car. To celebrate its new ownership, Caterham Cars will build a limited run of Team Lotus Special Edition Sevens.

There will be 25 Team Lotus upgrade packages, applied to any variant up to the 263bhp, 150mph Superlight R500. Another 25 will be made for export. For an extra £3,000 the Sevens will be in Lotus green and yellow, and come with bespoke Team Lotus extras, including an invitation to the F1 factory in Hingham, Norfolk.
Cockpit plaques carry signatures of Team Lotus F1 drivers, Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen and owners will get a Seven history book signed by chief designer, Mike Gascoyne. Caterham managing director, Ansar Ali, said: “Caterham Cars is starting an exciting and important chapter, so it’s fitting that we celebrate taking Colin Chapman’s ‘less is more’ philosophy global. Owners of Special Edition Sevens will have not only a fabulous British sports car, but a genuine piece of automotive history.”
The new custodians of Colin Chapman’s concept say they will remain true to the rascally late genius’s philosophy of lightweight, minimalist sports cars. The current range starts with the Caterham Classic at £13,650.
More information on or +44 (0)1883 333 700
My memorable motoring moment? Collecting my teenage daughters from school in a McLaren F1.

The A30 on a snowy road near Tinto, Lanarkshire.


  1. My memorable motoring moments;Being picked up by you in a Royal blue DeTomaso Pantera which at the time looked more like a space-ship than a car! Second motoring moment being allowed to drive a Ferrari Testarossa on my 21st birthday "take it out before you get drunk" was what I seem to recall you said and third was driving the Aston Martin V600( I think it was called) the first ever 600hp production car with my new wife on board - and it was raining!

  2. I've seen alternative images of DGM777 along with BXS467 in your book "The Sprites & Midgets", one of the many Spridget books in my collection.



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