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The only street legal formula car - Lotus Seven - the story of a 7-Buyer 1978

Abridged version by Franco Rainoni, Switzerland, written in March 1985

The chronic illness struck me out of the blue on a Wednesday in November 1978. Ten years after the student riots and four years after the oil shock, the world seemed to have righted itself with and people were satisfied with whatever vehicle they owned . I also belonged to the silent majority of those who were only interested in the purchase price, trunk size and fuel consumption of a car.

The bug caught me unprepared at a nostalgic dinner with a good childhood friend whom I had lost sight of for 20 years and whom I ran into purely by chance. During the traditional gasoline talk about the good old days, the expression "Lotus Seven" came up, with which I had little or nothing to do with.

When I returned home, I looked curiously into an ancient catalogue. And what did I find there: A formula junior from the early days of this popular race series, provided with temporary fenders and an improvised lighting system in fine English style. The small print also said that the car was actually a kit delivered in a large one wooden crate with the assembled version reserved for Colin Chapman's friends. However, this interesting information was out of date by a decade, because the production of the "Seven S III" had ceased in 1970 at Lotus.

The sight of the small photo in the catalog and the data that was mentioned about the Seven (550 kg, 84 HP and only 90 cm high!) made my heart beat faster. Sleep was out of the question, at least not until I had drafted the text for an advertisement in the Automobilrevue:




After I placed the ad the next morning, I became overwhelmed by the stresses of daily life and forgot about all about the advertisement in the Automobile Review and the Lotus Seven. I wasn't even remotely counting on success, because I'd never seen a Seven in person!

To my great surprise, the phone rang after a week and a young man announced that he was going to sell me the desired Seven. His name was Fredy Kumschick and a few years later he would become the well-known and successful importer and license builder of Seven replicas.

The specimen intended for me was one of the only 350 "Series III", a rare left-hand drive, from 1969. But now it was dismantled in Nebikon in Fredy's box and didn't look like a car at all, much more like a scrap iron dealer's layout. Of course, a test drive was out of the question in this disassembled state and that was not possible with another Seven, because at that time only two more were in service in Switzerland and were not available.

Nevertheless, I decided to become a seven owner without further hesitation and purchase the heap of spare parts. However, on the condition that it was expertly assembled and given the official blessing. This was a decision that I have never regretted to this day!

Three weeks later, just before Christmas 1978, I took the train to Nebikon with my car number under my arm, to climb into my "Formula Seven" for the first time and to take my first test drive. To my utter astonishment, the Seven fitted like a glove, even though neither a seat nor a steering wheel adjustment was built in. The sound from the little muffled exhaust could be heard sonorous and loud, but only up to 80 km / h, because above it was drowned out ruthlessly by the rattling of the convertible top. The racing-like direct steering made tserpentine driving a lot easier, but it was arduous and nerve-wracking on long freeway straights.

In light drifting snow, the standard mini windshield wiper provided a useful overview to the front through the front windshield, which is only 25 cm high. The lack of any side and rear view had to be compensated for by the fact that the driving speed was not allowed to fall below the ominous 100 mph, [MOU1] which made it practically impossible to overtake other vehicles. The pre-Christmas journey of the Seven from Nebikon to Basel, in the drifting snow, in the very cold, with no view and constantly in a slight zigzag, was a memorable experience that (temporarily) dampened my Seven fever for about three months.

On the first sunny day of spring I felt the urge to do the first topless trip and on that day I decided to only want to drive without a top in a Seven. Have you seen a formula car with a convertible top? The Seven loses 99% of its irresistible charm when you pull the hood on.

With every seven trip my driving pleasure increased, because I got the nervous-direct steering better and better under control. The seating position, panoramic view with the top down, acceleration and maneuverability were unique anyway.

The road location was absolutely sensational, considering the age of the construction (around 25 years!). However, there was hardly any question of comfort, because the Seven had to win races and not "transport wimps from A to B".

Driving a Seven made me feel younger and better every time. Soon I had the crazy idea of ​​a comprehensive and long trip with the Seven, leading to the sunny Mediterranean island of Sardinia. There in the realm of bloodthirsty bandits and allegedly littered with potholes, lonely country roads I wanted to get to know and enjoy driving in its purest and most original way.

The Seven performed brilliantly and survived the ordeal brilliantly. There was nothing to be seen of potholes far and wide, but the very first Seven in Sardinia was enthusiastically celebrated by the natives. I couldn't stop anywhere without a crowd immediately surrounding it. Even mature adults laid down in the sensual curve of the front fenders to be photographed in this turn-on position. I wasn't entirely comfortable with it because the fenders are made of extremely delicate and don't have the load-bearing capacity of loungers or rocking chairs. The Seven enjoyed the exuberant admiration of the Sardinians and showed it by completing the entire three thousand kilometers without a failure - and not exactly at walking pace!

This adventurous excursion was extremely successful, even if it was favored by the always sunny weather and the ever-blue sky of Sardinia. Who would have thought that a spindly tubular frame, a wafer-thin body skin and a racing car that weighs a little over 500 kilos and was actually only intended for short sprint races would survive such a "trip around the world" without damage. Encouraged by the Mediterranean grandeur of the Sevens, I already planned an extended weekend in England for the following year at the "International Seven Meeting of Beaulieu". But this time the 3000 kilometers in 5 days should be characterized by typical British weather and penetrating continuous rain!

It also showed that frequent and intensive driving with pure driving machines makes the chauffeur an uncompromising part of the technical togetherness that is oriented towards driving as an end in itself. Therefore, the Seven-Driver refuses to use the improper top even in heavy rainfalls. This is also unnecessary as long as you can keep "Tempo 100". However, if you are forced to stop at traffic lights, it is advisable to open an umbrella that you have taken with you as a precaution, in order to avoid the extremely annoying filling of the uncovered Sevens! Colin Chapman had little connection to seafaring, otherwise he would have installed a self-draining device, or at least installed a drain plug!

Beaulieu Castle was the ideal backdrop for the approximately 150 Sevens that had come from all over the world. The crowds attracted by the attractive car museum at the weekend gathered around the many Sevens and created an atmospheric environment for the diverse activities and attractions of the meeting. Beauty contests in which not only the most beautiful Sevens of the different types were awarded, but also the most seductive driver with a mustache! Skill rides and a slalom in front of an impressive crowd crowned the three-day major event. I was very proud that my Seven won the beauty contest for the "Series III" and was also able to take first place in the rain slalom. Our Swiss delegation of 8 Sevens in the mother country of this extraordinary vehicle received particularly lively attention and an extremely friendly reception, which made the rainy trip a pleasant and unforgettable experience.

In the meantime, word had got around in wide automobile-mad circles what a fascinating car the Seven is and the company "CATERHAM CARS LTD" in a southern suburb of London had bought the plans and the right to continue building the Seven from Lotus, albeit with the restriction that the Replica was not allowed to be called Lotus. However, this regulation does not prevent any Caterham driver from screwing a Lotus logo onto the hood!

The clever Fredy Kumschick grasped the situation at lightning speed and took over Caterham sole agency for Switzerland. Nothing was given to him by the authorities, because he had to adapt the Caterham-Seven to the strict federal acceptance regulations and visit the various testing institutes countless times (HTL in Biel for exhaust gases and EMPA in Wimmis for noise). Thanks to his persistence bordering on stubbornness and his excellent nerves, he succeeded in the feat that no one thought was possible, the Caterham and also the soon-to-be-followed Donkervoort, the Dutch Seven replica, for the road. From then on, there were only three original "Lotus Seven Series III" in Swiss traffic, but from day to day there were more replicas that could not be distinguished by the untrained eye. Sometime in 1985 the mark of one hundred sevens of different origins was exceeded in Switzerland.

The owners of the three real Lotus Seven S III are no longer as exclusive as they were a few years ago. But they can benefit from the fact that the owners Club with the illustrious name "Lotus Seven Owners of Switzerland" (LSOS for short) now has almost 200 members and has thus become a force that the Federal Department of the Interior and the various Motor vehicle inspection organisations cannot overlook.

The bearded president, sweetheart and ex-racing driver Roger Savarè, who earned an excellent reputation throughout Western Europe by organizing the fantastic "International Seven Meeting of St. Moritz" for four years, counted on reliable and loyal members. Although the club members are fairly evenly spread across the Bern-Basel-St. Gallen, 20 - 30 of these Seven fans regularly come to the Zugersee for the monthly Hock! That's what I call club loyalty and collegiality! The club activity doesn’t stop there, but group trips are carried out with the beloved vehicles, with the route is usually laid on scenic, extremely low-traffic and police-free and therefore fun side roads.

Every year a group of "devoted" people are drawn to distant lands, mostly to the British Isles, to a seven-meeting. It goes without saying that everyone takes this opportunity to go shopping at "Caterham" and stock up on plenty of spare parts. The St. Moritz event has already been mentioned, with 80 and more Sevens from all over Switzerland and from many countries Go to the Engadin for a weekend together. The "neighbouring" Great Britain is also well represented every time. As long as Mr. Colin Chapman was alive, he sent a greeting telegram to the participants! The popularity of the St. Moritz meeting is based on the varied, original programme that because it was so exciting ,all participants get carried away and very enthusiastic.

At the end of the year, the club members meet to read the riot act together at the St. Nicholas Festival. The fact that the Seveners are able to maintain their childlike disposition even during this stressful time and that they are rascals who like to play funny pranks can be seen from the fact that Santa Claus still knows how to report anything that requires a few serious words .

I have described the Swiss seven experience in the form of the LSOS, the car must also be explained in such detail that even slightly restricted GTI drivers understand what is being talked about all the time. So I begin :

Colin Chapman was a young aircraft engineer whose work on the Spitfire fighter of World War II had given him plenty of practice in lightweight construction and aerodynamics. He and the many other British engineers made it possible for the Spitfires to defeat the enemy ME-109 and other swastika fighter planes, thus saving England from the Hitler invasion.

At the end of the war, the capable young men were no longer needed and returned to look after their own livelihood and their future. Chapman found a job that allowed him a modest income but did not allow him to have a car. So, he just sat down and developed the Seven, ingenious as it was back then, the name of which came from the fact that he used the mechanics of the Austin Seven. With his own construction, he took part in several of the typical English club races, where his design was highly competitive against all the renowned sports and racing cars (whose technology inevitably came from the pre-war period). So Colin's colleagues, acquaintances or even complete strangers came along and all wanted such a fast, curve-friendly and inexpensive sports car.

At that time, the trade in new cars in England (as at any time in any country in the world!) was opposed by the government's intention to abuse the car as a cash cow for the public purse through raised taxes. Colin Chapman was always a natural bypassing regulatory hurdles and he was also a genius at spotting the weaknesses in the regulations. He discovered that the fee was only payable for complete cars, not for spare parts. So, he decided to sell his Seven not as a finished car, but as a complete set of all its components. Of course, someone had to come up with this ridiculously simple idea first and it was certainly a brilliant act. However, it is easy to understand why "Rolls Royce" or "Jaguar" never came up with it: Or can you imagine a Baron Rothschild assembling his limousine by hand?

After the Seven followed the Lotus Elite (first edition!), Which with its lightweight construction technology took away the desire to race the "Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce". Next came the Lotus Elan, which was used by generations of racing drivers (Jim Clark and many others) to successfully learn to drive.

A total of 242 copies of the first series of the Seven were built between 1957 and 1960, most of them as kits. Then came the second series, of which 1,350 saw the light of day in eight years. The third series (Series III) was built from 1968 to 1970 in exactly 350 individual pieces. Until then, all the Seven series had looked the same. What followed was Series 4 with 1000 pieces, the slightly unsuccessful attempt to ride the fashionable beach buggy wave. It had a body made of plastic, which was much more spacious and comfortable, but which failed in creating the consistent racing car atmosphere of its predecessors. The successes of Lotus in all formulas and in all sports car classes cannot be listed here, because they fill the many books which are already available in stores.

What is so special about the "Seven Series I-III"? It is a sports car with a front engine and rear-wheel drive, the technical level of which dates from 1953, but which was exceptionally light for that time, as it weighed almost half of its competitors at the time. In the 1950s, Germans and Italians were primarily interested in increasing the performance of their engines and astronomical speeds and cared little about weight. The small English companies lacked the money for modern engines that could deliver high performance, so they were forced to create competitive racing vehicles with low power (more torque!) And extremely little weight.

This and excellent chassis was the recipe for success of Colin Chapman, John Cooper, Mike Costin and the other "little" British designers.

The Seven II has an extremely light and yet inexpensive tubular frame chassis and a wafer-thin body made of aluminum with polyester fenders. The mechanical parts come mainly from Ford high-volume cars: 116E-KENT engine, Cortina gearbox, Consul rear axle. The whole thing weighs 550 kilos dry and has almost everything to it that is required by the road traffic law. The extreme lightweight construction must be paid tribute, in that from time to time all units have to be tightened, screwed or welded on, which intend to detach from the rather provisional fastening. Before the start of each new season, the chassis must be meticulously checked for cracks and broken pipes, which are caused by the under dimensioning of all load-bearing parts.

When everything is assembled , the oil and water have been checked and the air in the Pirelli P7 rally has been renewed, things can start on the first Sunday in spring. The pure, original pleasure of driving, just like in the early days of the automobile. The wind tugs at your hair, the scent of flowers and grass moves unhindered through the passenger compartment, the exhaust roars its sensual melody with almost no dampening, the fenders tremble with relish with every bump in the winding side street and the passenger becomes more attractive and charming by the minute! As the driving pleasure progresses, the proud driver feels more and more comfortable with the matter and his self-confidence gradually increases immeasurably. Soon he forgets the real purpose of the trip out of sheer joy in the matter and the passenger, initially angry about it, accepts their fate of only being allowed to be the fifth wheel on the car. However, if the chauffeur has mastered his job well, the passenger will in time take part in the driving pleasure and will begin to rave heartly about the noble knight at the Seven steering wheel, which promises to be a lot of fun for the hours after the exit. If, on the other hand, the Seven driver is not quite up to the task, or the passenger is of the more timid and frightened kind, then hardly a stimulating conversation will follow the trip.

If the half hundredweight of a full-grown companion is too much of a weight loss, you must do without the lustfully excited or tearfully frightened comments from the passenger corner. Since the driver cannot take audience with themselves, they have to practice their driving skills where the spectators go because of it, and these are the occasions of the "Colin Chapman Cup", in which the faster Lotus owners compete in smooth driving. At such events, mostly slaloms with a relatively narrow course, the Seven feels on par with its brand companions Elan, Europe or Turbo-Esprit thanks to its maneuverability, even if the other models have much more power and a significantly higher speed.

The Seven behaves in the bends without any problems, as long as the road surface is perfectly flat and the driver has many years of experience in handling racing vehicles. There is not the slightest trace of boring, neutral driving behavior in modern constructions. As the cornering speed increases, the Seven becomes more and more willing to turn and requires courageous counter-steering if the driver is not in the mood for a pirouette. If the road surface is bumpy, the rear axle begins to bounce uncontrollably, as was the custom with pre-war racing cars. In such situations, the inmates must clench their teeth firmly to prevent the fillings from falling out.

If you are now thinking of buying a Seven yourself and joining the sworn community of Seven owners, you should first take a good look at yourself in the bathroom mirror and determine your body mass. The Seven is suitable for all types of people, as long as they are between 1720 and 1760 millimeters long and do not have a hip circumference of more than 900 mm. If you are younger, you can only pedal with special shoe insoles or not at all. If you are taller, you might get in the Seven, but you can hardly get out again. The reasons for this are the minimal internal dimensions and the lack of seat adjustment: However, racing cars are not controlled by the seven dwarfs or basketball players!

As is well known, everything that is really fun is either FORBIDDEN, or IMMORAL. Driving seven certainly doesn’t make you fat, because it takes almost the same number of calories as hard riding of the same duration on a horse.

Driving a Seven is not (yet?) prohibited, although according to reports a SEVENFAHR BAN is in the party programme of the "Greens" in the event that they should come to government!

So the only thing left is morality. And it is certainly immoral to arouse the sheer envy of other people, even if this is only done with gross negligence and not with reprehensible intent. Isn't it a nasty thing to do to the mentally poor, gleefully Sunday driving family fathers (in front of a nagging wife and yodelling offspring) with a Seven around the ears, that their eyes roll to their heads and their mouths water?

Note from the newsletter editor:

Franco Rainoni then drove many successful car races with his Lotus Seven SIII for over 30 years. After he got older, he sold his car with the exchange engines to Alexander Stauffer, who had an accident with this vehicle after the "60 years Lotus Seven Meeting" in Donington on the way to Wales. After restoration in England, this Lotus Seven was put up for sale again. The whereabouts are unknown.



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