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First Lotus open wheel race car story.

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  • First Lotus open wheel race car story.

    This story is my paraphrase from an Octane magazine #195.

    In 1956 after astonishing results from his hand built Lotus 6 and 11 sports car Colin Chapman decided to build a single seat race car. It was known as the Lotus 12. It incorporated many innovations including using the engine as a stressed member and the wavy magnesium wheels that Lotus race cars wore for many years after.
    The first open wheel Lotus was built for formula 2 and had a climax engine which was light as a feather and made maybe 150 hp. It was chassis #351, built for Ernie, Chapman ran it in formula 2 for a few "shakedown" races and delivered it to Ernie Tadgell a well heeled man who ran a crop dusting company in Australia with his partner Austin Miller.

    Both men had served in ww2 in the Royal air force. By 1957 they were running 32 planes in their business. They decided they needed two new planes from England, Prospector PC9s.
    They also bought two race cars, Tadgell bought Lotus #351, Miller bought a Cooper Type 41 F2 car.
    So they flew to England to pick up their new planes and race cars.

    Their method of getting all their new purchases home is a story that puts all my silly car adventures to shame.

    Aussies are known for their frugality and these fellows were no exception.
    The PC9 was a fine crop dusting plane which was not equipped with radar nor much of any instruments for flying long distance. They had just one short range radio so they could not talk back and forth either. They had to stay in visual contact for the entire trip.
    They disassembled the race cars, putting all the smaller parts in the planes and wrapping the frames with greased paper to ship by sea (avoiding taxes on each end of the journey by listing the race car parts as "crop dusting equipment".
    To reduce expenses they took on a passenger each for the trip back to Australia even though the planes were already overloaded. The passengers helped tremendously with map reading and landmark spotting. They got sponsorship from Shell oil who provided fuel at frequent stops along the way, arranged in advance by Shell.
    They took off, using a collection of maps from Shell oil and the British Army to navigate. They followed highways, railroads and rivers all across the Atlantic, down South America and miraculously made it without mishap back to Australia.

    The trip took 6 weeks. Think about that...6 weeks.

    So they put the cars back together and began racing. The Lotus eventually blew its climax engine comprehensively. Tadgell was undaunted. He cut the frame in half and added 6" to the frame to accommodate the flat 6, 7.9 liter Lycomming aircraft engine which had more than triple the horsepower of the original climax engine. The gearbox was changed and the rear end as well, but the car used so much fuel he had to add large pannier tanks hanging from the sides between the wheels to make it through the races. (I bet you can see where this story ends).
    So during practice for its first race the car had a frame or drive train failure leading to a crash. It caught fire. Tadgell got out safely with burns but the car when its magnesium wheels caught fire could not be doused and was soon reduced to a pile of non combustible bits, which were disposed of.
    The Cooper was run more or less continuously and still exists, campaigning in historic events.

    Someone should make a movie about this.
    Last edited by t walgamuth; 10-18-2019, 04:47 AM.
    Diesel loving, autocrossing, Coupe express loving, Grandpa Architect.