Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

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Clairmonte Special

The Forgotten Lotus
by Peter Ross

part II

How did you get on with those questions?

Most knowledgeable Lotus enthusiasts will give you the following answers:

What was the first Lotus with De Dion rear suspension? Answer: the Lotus Mk VIII 1954.
What was the first Lotus with rack and pinion steering? Answer: the Works Lotus Mk 9 1955.
What was the first Lotus Single Seat Racing Car. Answer: the Lotus Twelve 1957.
What was the first Lotus with wishbone front suspension? Answer: the Lotus Eleven Series 2 1957.
What was the first Lotus with inboard springs on the front wishbone? Answer: the Lotus 21 of 1961.

It will come as a surprise to learn that ALL these answers are WRONG, and the first Lotus with these features was built in 1952 by the Lotus Engineering Company (not Limited in those days) at Hornsey to the order of Clive Clairmonte for racing in the then Formula 2 class of 2 litres unsupercharged.

Second person in story:

Here I must introduce the second key person in this story. Clive Molineaux Clairmonte was born in 1921 the youngest of a family of five children, and his forebears were involved in the sugar plantations in Jamaica where many people of varying skin pigment still bear the name Clairmonte (both first name and surname). However Clive, his brothers George and Edward, and sisters Evelyn and Norma were born in the UK and are of the Caucasian ethnic group.

I do not know much of his early history, but during the war he and brother Edward ("Ted", five years older than Clive) ran a successful light engineering business at Shanklin Road, Crouch End some 3/4 mile from what was to become the Lotus Works at Hornsey. During the war they had made parts for aircraft production, and had made enough money to indulge in expensive hobbies. They were now making baking tins for Hovis, probably the largest bread manufacturer in Britain at the time, and they also did electro plating for most of the engineering companies in the surrounding area.

Clive began to take an interest in motor cars and started importing used Fiat 500s from Italy. These were the Pre-War Topolino (Mouse) model with four cylinder front mounted engine, which were later to achieve fame by being cut in half by Cooper and the two front ends welded together to make a 500cc racing car. Clive also imported the Cord saloon car from the USA, and is said to have been the only person in Britain who could dismantle a Cord electric gearbox. Evidently it was the biggest three dimensional jig-saw puzzle anybody has ever seen.

To help him with this work he employed a mechanic called Fred Boon, who was always known as Sorrento, because of his definite Mediterranean appearance. He had a thin pencil moustache, jet black hair, and always wore plimsolls. He was never seen in shoes. Clairmonte would not allow anybody to do any work on his car other than Sorrento. John told me that he was one of those characters who would probably get up when he felt like it, which would be invariably after mid-day lunch. When one uses the term "laid back" today - I'm afraid Sorrento was "laid back" in the Fifties in a much bigger way!

Dave Kelsey recalls: Fred was absolutely besotted with all things Italian, and more especially Alfa, even contriving to look Italian with co-respondent black moustache and black beret - well French-Italian, anyway!

It was known among the racing fraternity of the day that Fred would always appear in any photograph of a Grand Prix winner, grinning over the winner's shoulder as he fondled the trophy. He made more magazine covers than Jean Shrimpton! [top fashion model at that time-PTR] His technique was to sling a few tools in a bag, head for the circuit, whether here or abroad, and talk his way into the pits, attaching himself to the Alfa or Ferrari camps by helping to change a wheel or push a car. When the winner was presented with his trophy, there would be Freddie, looking just like Arthur Haynes with his chin resting on Fangio etc.'s shoulder, while the world's press snapped away. If he were still around, he would be up there on the podium with Alain, Damon and Gerhard being interviewed by Murray Walker!

Clive's first race is said to have been in a Cord saloon, which he won. If anyone with a complete set of Motor Sport could look through the period from 1948-1950 I would be delighted to have this confirmed. Incidentally Autosport did not start until August 1950.

By 1951 Clive had bought himself a Riley Special racing car. The pictures show what we would now call a 1-1/2 seater, where the driver sits slightly to the right of the centre line. It had a six cylinder Riley engine with six Amal carburettors, was unsupercharged, and had an orange stripe down the side. Contemporary race accounts stated that it was the ex-Kelley IRA, and I am still trying to find out more about its history.

The ex-Kelly Riley Special with Clive Clairmonte sitting in it at the Midland Motoring Enthusiasts Club, Silverstone 30th June 1951.

© Zoe Calvert
(daughter of Clive Molineaux Clairmonte)

With this car Clive entered six races, three in 1951 and three in 1952. There may have been others, but these were the only ones reported in Autosport. Most of the races were in the "Racing Cars up to 2000cc" class which was by then the Formula 2 class, and he was up against quick cars like the HWM, Alta, BMW, Frazer-Nash and Connaught.

Whilst attending these race meetings in 1951 he could not help being impressed by the speed of one of the other entries. the little Lotus III which, despite only 750cc capacity, was often beating cars of much larger engine size. He must have decided that although the Riley engine was pushing out a lot of power, he needed the lighter weight and better cornering power of a space frame chassis if he was going to do better in Formula 2 for 1952.

© 2002, Peter Ross, Photos © as indicated. Reproduced with permission.