Just been reading the great article on Steel Brothers / Lotus 7 S4 in Feb/ Mar 2014 Classic Driver. I was then interested on the Club Lotus piece and in particular on page 115 the comment on a picture with “...last of Steel Brothers built Lotus Sevens which makes the car the world’s newest Lotus Seven”.
Interestingly there was a time when there was a bone of contention as to whether there were 3 later ones – these being the Bainbridge cars (of which only one survives – mine!).
The story of the ill-fated sale from Steel Brothers to Bainbridges is widely known but no doubt much of the details as to why, what, who, how, etc. has likely been long forgotten. Information I have come across is via the 1989/90 Court Document of Steels vs. Bainbridges. Much of it is around the payment (or lack of!) for parts, jigs, engines and gearboxes but also, as part of the counterclaim, is around licence, badge and insignia rights – which Bainbridge claim was part of the original negotiation.
A letter from Steels in 1983 pointed out that “the contract to Lotus Cars Ltd prohibits the plaintiff from assigning its manufacturing or marketing rights but not the sub-contracting of any work of the involving of any individual company on a relationship which is less than an assignment.” Then “The letter itself sets out the basis of such an arrangement – defendant acting as a subcontractor to plaintiff and paying a royalty of $10 per car”.
Steels appear to have provided – “chassis, fibre glass tub, the motor and one set of four wheels and tyres” it continues “...it is understood that you wish to take these components through to a complete car.” As can be seen on photos, the fibre glass tub certainly wasn’t used, as Bainbridge’s wanted to create a S4 with a S3 styled body out of aluminium – car was registered as a S4X.
The remaining pages of the 38 page document then go through the discussion as to what was said, written and contracted, and although it appears implied both in letters and verbally that the Lotus name was part of the deal, it was never written into contracts between the parties. The 1990 ruling was that the defendant “got what it was contracted to buy...” and defendant was ruled against on that aspect.
And there lies the grey area; a tenuous link that my car could in fact be the world’s newest Lotus 7, being it was built in 1985 while Bainbridge’s were working under the understanding around both the sub-contracting and the licensing agreement. It has chassis and components from Steel/Lotus jigs as well as the Lotus 907 motor mated to Elan+2 gearbox so either way it is closer to an original than not.
Certainly I see it as an interesting car, with a great story and people seem to enjoy seeing and hearing its history. Of course there are also smirks when you have to ‘fess up that the slickly named ‘Lotus Elan+2 5-speed’ gearbox actually has the internals from an Austin Maxi... can’t have it all I guess!
Great magazine where always something interesting comes to light. Lindsay H