LOTUS SEVEN REGISTER
the web site for the
Seven made by Lotus between 1957 and 1973
Brighton Speed Trial 1957
The Brighton Speed Trials of September 7th. 1957 saw the arrival of a new British sportscar.
1957 was the year that Derek Ibbotson re-captured the Mile world record from the Australian, John Landy, in a time of 3 minutes 57.2 seconds, the Queen of England had been on the throne for just four years, a dog called Laika orbited the earth in a Russian 'Sputnik' and Harold MacMillan who had just become Prime Minister of Britain made his famous speech in which he said "We've never had it so good!" [He obviously knew something!!]
Other British sportscars available at the time included: AC Ace, Aston Martin DB2/4, Austin Healey 100/6, Berkley B60 and B65, Buckler, Dellow, Fairthorpe Atom and Electron, Jaguar XK150, Jenson 541, MGA, Morgan 4/4 and Plus 4, Peerless, Triumph TR3A and Turner 960 Sports.
For the small car manufacturer, working from tiny 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 1957 over 100 had been made and the 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 streamliner race cars and their success at Le Mans, 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 competed in a Mark VI and in 1955 he drove a works-assisted Mark XI after which he considered a Mark XI but thought 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 boy of Lewis's own design. It first competed in the West Sussex Speed Trials on the 14th. September 1956 and soon notched up several successes. Seeing the popularity of this kind of competitive motoring and the successes 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 facory early in 1957 and languished there for quite a while 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 Mark IX to compete in during the interim so he didn't mind too much.
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, Dunlop racing tyres and spare wheel. No date of delivery or collection is mentioned in the records but the first known of the car out of the factorywas 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 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 "Lotuis 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 calss. 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 and as they say the rest is history . . . . . . .