Meeting of John and Clive
John's curiosity finally got the better of him, and he stopped on his way back from the swimming pool and introduced himself. He and Clive immediately hit it off, and they became good friends. With his connection with Lotus it is not surprising that the conversation soon turned to what the Lotus people were doing, their plans for the Mark VI with proper space frame, and John convinced Clive that he should get Colin to design him a car.
John had a chat with Colin, who was very interested in the idea of getting someone to finance the building of his first single seater, and told John that if he could get the order, he (Colin) would give him a job at Lotus, where he would be responsible for making it. This would be quite a big step for John who had a steady job with Poplar Council, but he got the order from Clive and gave in his notice to Poplar, starting work at Lotus early in 1952. according to John, Clive paid Lotus Engineering 250 pounds sterling. Colin must have designed the car during the winter of 1951/52, soon after completing the design of the Mark VI which they finished building in June 1952. As the next available number was Seven, the car was given the name Lotus Mark VII.
The new Lotus Engineering Company
The early part of 1952 was a busy time for the new Lotus Engineering Company (not Limited in those days) which came into existence on 1st January . They had just completed the move from the Allen brothers' home at Vallance Road, Muswell Hill. This had involved laying concrete on the floor of the old stables which had been used by Colin's father as a store room for empty bottles. This coincided with a some very cold weather, and fearing that the concrete would freeze before setting they had to fill the place with oil stoves. There was no electric light to start with, and they installed an electric generator and 24 volt bulbs for lighting.
Colin and Nigel Allen would continue their day jobs - Colin at British Aluminium in St James Square near Piccadilly in London, and Nigel as a dental student. Michael was initially the only full time employee, with Mike Madden joining soon afterwards from Laystall Engineering, and John Teychenne (as already mentioned) from Poplar Council. They were kept very busy with a flood of orders from customers wanting to race in the 750 Formula, Austin Seven engine overhaul and tuning, chassis modification, hydraulic brake conversions etc.
Their most immediate job was to complete the Lotus Mark IV trials car for Mike Lawson, and this was delivered in February or March in time to be entered for its first trial on about 16th March. The team were itching to get on with the Lotus Mark VI, but cash flow required that no customer could be turned away.
So in the early part of 1952 the Allen brothers and Colin were working hard on the new Mark VI, in what one might call their spare time, whilst Michael, Johnny and Mike were doing small jobs for customers and Johnny was trying to find time to make the Mark VII.
Lotus VII specification
The Clairmonte order was for a rolling chassis with body, but the Riley engine and gearbox was to be supplied by Clive Clairmonte, as well as the Halibrand Final Drive unit. The latter was bought from the USA (a difficult undertaking at a time when dollars were virtually unobtainable in the UK) and allowed a low position for the prop shaft. The step up gears at the back of this unit brought the drive line up to the centre line of the crown wheel, and the transfer gears could be quickly altered to change the axle ratio. Clairmonte supplied a slave engine block to allow the engine mountings to be correctly positioned, whilst continuing to race his "hot" engine in the Riley...
Colin was determined that his first single seater would have a really up to date specification as can be seen from the list of features shown at the start of Part 1. The space frame used 1-5/8"x20g tubes for the main parts, and 1" dia for the others. The front suspension featured coil springs within dampers as on the Mark VI, and the lower wishbone was made from streamlined section tubing. At the rear the de Dion tube was located by twin trailing arms and laterally by a roller on the tube sliding within a vertical channel as he would later use on the Mk VIII. Front brakes were 11" diameter with Alfin drums, whereas at the rear standard 11 inch brakes with cast iron drums would suffice.
Because of the radically new front suspension (seen previously only on a Maserati Grand Prix car), this was the first part to be built.
Johnny Teychenne recalls: "What actually happened was that when I applied to get the welding bottles, they very kindly sent a representative and he gave me some welding tests - I was fitting the equipment up for the first time you see, I had NEVER used it. And he gave me welding lessons. And he came back the following week and he said "I don't need to teach you anything - you're a natural welder".
My memories of that wishbone! That was the first bit of welding I ever did for Lotus - edge welding of the upper wishbone on the Mark VII."
The chassis frame slowly took shape, but after about three months the little Lotus company began to run out of money, and John and Mike had to be laid off. John got a full time job with Arnott's, the supercharger people, who were starting to make 500cc racing cars, but he would come over to Lotus in the evenings to carry on with the Mark VII.