Chapter 6 - THE FIRST SEVEN

by John Watson



CLUB LOTUS AND SPORTS CAR AND LOTUS OWNER:

By the end of 1955 there had been enough Lotus cars sold and enough success on the racetrack for a club to be formed for those supporting the marque. The inaugural meeting was held at The Jolly Farmer’s, Enfield Road, Enfield on Tuesday 15th. November where it was proposed “Club Lotus” be formed and a monthly newsletter be produced. By November 1956 there was enough interest for a better club magazine titled “Sports Car and Lotus Owner” to be made available on the high street (priced 1/6d?).



A MAN NAMED EDWARD LEWIS:

For the small car manufacturer, working from premises in Hornsey, to the north of London, the Mark VI, Lotus's first production car, had been very successful, both in terms of sales and competition results. By the end of 1955 over one hundred had been made and demand for cheap, light and competitive sportscars was as strong as ever. The 'VII' designation had been reserved for the Mark VI's replacement for some time but as most of the small factories resources had been taken up with the aerodynamic race cars and their success at Le Mans and Sebring, it was quite a while before the Seven project finally appeared.


Colin Chapman had a customer for the first Lotus Seven even before it was designed! He was Edward Lewis, proprietor of "Westover Shoes", manufacturers of racing footwear, who was already a well-known Lotus racer. In 1953 he had competed in a Mark VI and in 1955 he drove a works-assisted Mark IX after which he considered a Mark XI but thought that he was getting a bit old for serious racing and was looking at creating a car of his own specification for hillclimbing.


The Edward Lewis Special was based on a Mark VI chassis with Mark IX running gear, de Dion rear end, 1100cc. Coventry Climax engine and drum brakes etc. with a Williams and Pritchard body of Lewis's own design. It first competed in the West Sussex Speed Trials on 14th. September 1956 and soon notched up several successes. Seeing the popularity of this sort of competitive motoring and the success that Lewis was having, Chapman decided that there was a potential market for a new production road/competition car, the long awaited successor to the Mark VI and a deal was struck with Lewis. Lewis's Lotus based Special in exchange for the prototype Lotus Seven. Lewis's car was duly delivered to the factory early in 1957 and languished there for quite a time under the watchful eye of Graham Hill. However, as it turned out Lewis had quite a wait before receiving his new car and so to keep him sweet he was lent a very quick works XI to compete in during the interim so he didn't mind too much.



MAC MACINTOSH RECALLS THE GENESIS OF THE SEVEN:

I parted company from Lotus before the end of 1957 because, as Hazel put it, I committed matrimony.

Earlier in the year I was at the Chapman house one Sunday, as usual, when Hazel said, ‘I think we need a more basic car, a successor to the Mark 6. The Eleven is fine, but it’s expensive to buy and even a slight dent in the bodywork is expensive to repair.’

Colin looked dubious, but I said, ‘I think Hazel’s right, that’s a very good idea.’ Colin thought for a moment and then said to Hazel, ‘You do the washing up and Mac and I’ll get on with it.’

We based it on the Eleven and we had done all the stressing by 10 o’clock that night. Colin took the drawings into work the next day and a week or so later, we had built the first Seven!


THE FIRST LOTUS SEVEN:


According to factory records #400, the prototype supplied to Lewis, was commenced on the 31st. of July and had the following specification: Coventry Climax FWA 1100cc. engine, close ratio Austin A30 gearbox, de Dion rear suspension with a 4.5:1 final drive ratio, wishbone front suspension, four-branch exhaust manifold, knock-on wire wheels, Dunlop racing tyres and spare wheel. No date of delivery or collection is recorded, but the first known of the car was when it competed in the Brighton Speed Trials on September 7th.1957 and, knowing Lotus in those days, the car was probably collected on the morning of the event!


THE 1957 BRIGHTON SPEED TRIAL:

The exact class entered and placed gained at this first meeting for the car are somewhat confused:-

The "Official Programme 1/-" states that E. Lewis was entered in Class 3 - Sports Cars upto 1100cc. as entrant #196 and also in Class 4 - Sports Cars 1101 to 1500cc. as entrant #177 in both cases driving a "Lotus of 1100cc."

According to "Autosport 1/6d" of Friday September 13th. 1957, E. Lewis won the Sports Cars 1501 to 2500cc. class at the event in a time of 29.72 secs.

It seems that Lewis entered the event not knowing what he would be driving or what capacity it would have and therefore put down for the two most likely. As it turned out he produced a totally new car and maybe was penalised because of it and put up a class.


The write-up in Autosport says: "E. Lewis in a new version of the Lotus described as a Mark VII and fitted with disc brakes and a de Dion rear end, yet closely resembling the dear old Mark VI, really did motor sideways, and came very close to travelling over the pavement and into a very rough sea."

There is also a picture alongside the article and interestingly enough it seemed that the car sported the numbers "196" on the nose!

However, according to Jeremy Coulter's excellent book, "The Lotus Seven - a collectors guide", Lewis was second in class at Brighton which is not altogether inaccurate as his time of 29.72 was slower than the 28.71 of Fisher's Lotus which won the 1100cc. Sports Car Class and the 28.20 of Frost's Lotus which won the 1101 to 1500cc. Sports Car Class. Take your pick!

Coulter also reports that on the following day, Lewis took the car to Prescott where he won the 1100cc. Sports Car class by a whisker from a similarly powered Lotus Mark IX.


Photographs by courtesy of:

L.A.T. Photographic TEL: 0208-251 3032

Sources and further reading:

Lotus Seven by Jeremy Coulter (1986 & 1995)

Lotus – All the Cars by Anthony Pritchard (1990)

The Lotus Book by William Taylor (1998)

Colin Chapman, Wayward Genius by Mike Lawrence (2002)

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