Changes for 1954
Taking stock of his 1953 season Clive Clairmonte could see that although he had managed to beat the rapid Peter Gammon in his TC MG Special, he was going to have to do even better next season, because already the Lotus Mk VI's of Phil Desoutter and Colin Chapman with their diminutive 1172cc side valve Ford engines were proving a threat, and Gammon would be using his potent MG engine in a Lotus Mk VI in 1954. And there were rumours of a new 1500cc Lotus MG from Chapman which could be even faster.
The Clairmonte Special had started life designed for a 2-litre engine, and the transmission, brakes and wheelbase had been intended for this power and weight. The extra weight involved was too much of a handicap for the 1500cc class, so he decided to buy a 4 cylinder 2 litre Connaught engine, a close relative of the Lea Francis he was already using, and take on the Bristol engined cars.
The Lea Francis engine was advertised in Autosport on 1st October 1953 as follows: Clairmonte Brothers Ltd offer: Two post-war Lea-Francis engines. One 1.707cc Standard complete. One racing 1,500cc dismantled, with new light alloy crank and bearings, large sump, re-sleeved block, polished rods, many spares including valves, camshafts and four-speed gearbox. GB Pounds 170 the lot.
The idea of a light alloy crankshaft must have caused quite a stir, but the following week this was change to "new Nitralloy crank".
So Sorrento spent a busy winter fitting the new engine and David Brown gearbox, and opportunity was taken to fit a front roll bar to overcome the understeer that was present and was likely to get worse with the heavier engine. To allow some variations to be tried out, the original upper wishbones were fitted with two roll bar attachment points, one in front, and one at the rear, giving differing distances from the wishbone pivot point. By reversing the wishbones a different leverage would be exerted and more or less roll resistance obtained.
This modification required a minor change to the nose cowl, and the grille was removed. A rather ugly external exhaust system appeared on the left hand side to replace the former system which had been tucked inside and underneath, and finally there was a new air scoop to give cooling to the central rear brakes.
Once again the MMEC meeting at Silverstone on 5th June 1954 was picked for its debut in this form. In spite of rear brake trouble which caused two retirements, it had a 2nd and a 3rd with Peter Gammon's 1500cc Lotus VI MG beating it by 0.02 seconds. It achieved a 3rd place in the USAF Trophy Race at Snetterton on 19th June behind the Sports Cooper Bristol of Jack Walton (whose son Tim competes very successfully in Historic races and rallies today) and Gammon.
It was entered in the RAC British Grand Prix meeting at Silverstone on 17th July, racing as No 10 in the up to 2000cc class, but although there is a photo of it with this number, I have no record of this race, and whether it actually ran. [Can anyone help?] This is the famous meeting where Chapman in the Lotus Mk VIII and Gammon in the Mk VI beat the works Porsches. After overheating problems at Snetterton (14th August) and Silverstone (21st August) the season finished for the Clairmonte at Silverstone with two second places and a third out of four races.
1955 started with a class 2nd in a Speed Trial at Wormingford Airfield (3rd April) and a 3rd behind Archie Scott Brown and Mike Anthony at Ibsley (30th April). On 14th May the car went backwards into the bank at Silverstone's Woodcote Corner and was reported as being 'very bent', but it was probably repaired for the 25th June meeting at the same circuit. The car was offered for sale in the 26th August edition of Autosport as:
Clairmonte 2 litre Sports Racing car. 1960 Connaught Alloy dry sump engine. 8 plug twin ignition. Alloy head (also cast iron head included). 4 Amals. 11" 2LS Girling brakes. Alfin drums on front. Inboard rear brakes. Tubular space frame, de Dion axle with quick change transfer box. All in excellent condition and ready to race. Makes very pleasant road car capable of 140 MPH. Silverstone Club Circuit 1 min 13 sec. GB Pounds 500. A Bedford Transporter was also available. From Clairmonte, Shanklin Road, London N8.
The car had not been sold by 3rd September when the Clairmonte won all three of its races at Silverstone, the fastest lap being in a 6 lap event for Sports racing Cars over 1500cc at 73.52 mph.
The subsequent history of this famous car is incomplete, and more research is needed, but the next registered owner was Mr. Mr R J Wild, who taxed it for 12 months. After him it went to Mr J D James, who sold it to Mark Ridout. He raced it at least four times, at Oulton Park on 27th May 1961, and at Silverstone at least once. I have photographs of him racing it. By now it was looking rather the worse for wear, with a new cowl and rear end, and an unsightly exhaust system with apparently no silencers at all!
Next owner was Mr G A K Carter, who taxed it for 12 months and sold it to its present owner in Lancashire in 1974, 27 years ago. Since then it has not been raced.
Anyone with access to old copies of Autosport who has time to look through the Club race meeting results could help to fill in the blanks.
Where is it now?
The Forgotten Lotus sits in the warehouse of a Furniture shop in North England. The owner has brought it back to practically roadworthy condition, and if the carburettors and manifolds were refitted and it was given a silencer it could probably be made to run straight away. The body now fitted bears little resemblance to the original, although the centre section is still there, it is painted dark green and the front and rear mudguards (fenders to you) are attached directly to the wheels, which would have given Colin Chapman a nasty shock.
It is for sale, and the owner claims to have had a firm offer of GB Pounds 32,500 for it from Japan. This is the equivalent of about US$47,000 at the current rate of exchange.
I would like to try to ensure that it stays in the UK or US. No disrespect to the Japanese, but sending a Lotus to Japan is rather like dropping it into a Black Hole - one never sees or hears of it again.
I would like to form a Syndicate of Lotus Enthusiasts to buy this car, restore it to its former glory as a 1954 2-litre sports car, and enter it in Historic Sports car races. Whilst doing this I would first completely dismantle it, take careful measurements, so that later on a replica single seater could be built as Colin Chapman originally intended, with a 2 litre Riley engine. This replica would not of course be eligible for historic racing, but in my opinion it would be a very historic vehicle. The present owner has already kindly allowed me to take extensive measurements, and I have made a drawing of the chassis frame, but to do the job properly one would have to dismantle the front and rear suspension.
To restore the body and check over the engine might cost a further $17,000 making at total of around $72,000. If we could find 100 people prepared to risk $720 then we could make a start.
The replica project would be separately funded.
I am sure that amongst all the Lotus Seven owners and Chapman-era List readers there are financial experts who could tell me the best way of putting all this on a proper commercial basis with guarantees to all Syndicate shareholders.
What do you think?