The beginnings of a legend

by John Watson


Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born on 19th. May 1928 in Richmond, Surrey to Stanley and Mary who owned and ran “The Orange Tree Public House”. Later the family moved to “The Railway Hotel” at Tottenham Lane, Hornsey in North London where Colin went to the Stationers’ Company School. With bombs falling on London, Colin was evacuated to Wisbech, Norfolk for most of the duration of World War 2.

In the Summer of 1945 Colin met Hazel Williams from Muswell Hill at a dance held at the Railway Hotel. Colin often attended these local dances as his father supplied the food and he could get in free! In October 1945 Colin attended University College of London University to study engineering; he was 17. His first motor transport for commuting to university was a Panther 350cc motorcycle which he wrote off soon after acquiring it by driving it through the door of a taxi, much to the surprise of the fare. For this reason he turned up at the “Freshers” ball covered in plasters! Shortly after, to keep him away from two wheels, his parents bought him a maroon 1937 Morris 8 Tourer for Christmas.


At University Colin befriended fellow student, Colin Dare and they became interested in buying and selling second hand cars. With the war recently over, new cars were in short supply as British manufacturers were exporting all they could make. Anyway, as the new cars were only slightly more modern than those built before the hostilities, it only took a little clever ‘tarting up’ to turn second hand cars around for a profit. However, this little industry was to be short lived as soon the basic petrol ration was to be withdrawn and there were then no takers for cars at all! The result was that the stock had to be sold at a loss and the Colins were to come out loosing all the profit they had made from their previous dealings.


the Lotus Mark I

However what was left over was a rather decrepit fabric bodied 1930 Austin Seven saloon for which Colin was unable to find a home. The idea came to him to modify it extensively as it had few prospects as it was. The thought of competition had not occurred to him so the car was altered using some ideas that he had formulated when planning to build his own ‘special’. One of the main areas of improvement was chassis/body stiffness and for that Colin employed the use of alloy-bonded ply panels for the sides along with very shallow ‘door’ openings (a bit like a Seven!). It was completed in early 1948 and re-registered ‘OX9292’ as the Lotus Mk 1 rather than the generic term ‘Austin Seven Special’. With Hazel in the passenger seat, they had a go at trialing which they both enjoyed and were successful at.

t was whilst at London University that Colin joined the University Air Squadron where he completed the required 35 hours solo flying time and gained his Private Pilot’s Licence. After university and in order to get more flying in, he decided to take a short service commission in the RAF and was stationed at RAF Tern Hill in Shropshire for the duration.


As the Mark I had not been specifically modified for competition, Colin decided to build an improved second car. In order to do this he researched all kinds of technical papers both in the motoring press and mechanical engineering papers. Doing this it wasn’t too long before he found the 750 Motor Club.


the 750 Motor Club


The 750 MC was founded in 1939 by Bill Boddy and Holland Birkett for Austin Seven enthusiasts who wished to compete in low-cost owner/driver designed cars under their 750 Formula. The ‘750’ refers to the cubic capacity of Austin Seven engines. After the war a similar formula was drafted for Ford 1172cc engined cars (1172 Formula). The list of people who cut their teeth racing with the 750 MC reads like a Who’s Who of motor racing – Colin Chapman of Lotus, the Broadley cousins of Lola, Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth of Cosworth, Brian Hart of Hart engines, Jem Marsh and Frank Costin of Marcos, hillclimb speciatist Mike Pilbeam, racer car designers like Tony Southgate, Gordon Murray and Len Terry, the list goes on.


It was whilst at London University that Colin joined the University Air Squadron where he completed the required 35 hours solo flying time and gained his Private Pilot’s Licence. After university and in order to get more flying in, he decided to take a short service commission in the RAF and was stationed at RAF Tern Hill in Shropshire for the duration.

As the Mark I had not been specifically modified for competition, Colin decided to build an improved second car. In order to do this he researched all kinds of technical papers both in the motoring press and mechanical engineering papers. Doing this it wasn’t too long before he found the 750 Motor Club.


the Lotus Mark II


The Ford powered Mark II had independent front suspension using a Ford 8/10 front axle cut in half. The rear axle in order to conform with the 750 Formula had to be Austin Seven. Colin didn’t think that the standard axle ratio was high enough for his purposes considering the planned light weight of the car and the extra power of the engine. Now there were two types of crown wheel and pinion available for an Austin Seven, 42/8 tooth giving 5.25:1 final drive and 44/9 giving a ratio of 4.9:1. Colin then built up an axle with the 44 toothed crown wheel and the non-matching 8 toothed pinion. Then instead of oil he filled the diff housing with “Bluebell” metal polish and ran the car like that for about 50 miles whereupon the shot bearings were replaced and the casing was filled with the correct oil. The result was an all-Austin Seven rear axle with a final drive ratio of 4.66:1 and perfectly meshed crown wheel and pinion!


In September 1949 Colin qualified for his ‘Wings’ and was offered a permanent commission in the R.A.F. This did not suit him and after a short period with a family friend’s construction company, he joined The British Aluminium Company in a technical sales role. 1950 saw the Mark II as one of the best in it’s class at Trials and quick enough to have a try at circuit racing as well. Colin had never watched a motor race when he took part in the Eight Clubs meeting at Silverstone on the 3rd. June. Qualifying in one of the “Half Hour Speed Trial” events he went on to win the “Five Lap Scratch” race beating Gahagan’s GP Bugatti into second place! This event was to be just the start of racing for Colin and next up on the drawing board was a car to compete in the Club’s 750 Formula Championship. (to be continued)


some photographs by courtesy of Ferret Fotographics and the Lotus Seven Register, text by John Watson



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