Five Classic Trials
It’s 60 years since Lotus’ thinly-disguised racing car made its debut. To mark the occasion, we squeeze ourselves behind the wheel of an ultimate spec original Seven
The 1952 MkVI may have been Lotus’ first production sports car, but it’s the Seven that’s come to be recognised as a legend – a machine that blurs the lines between road car and racer and is the blueprint for many a successful kit car. Caterham’s decision to buy the rights to the Seven in 1973 means that it still in production to this day – and yes; you can still build one yourself, if that’s your bag.
Appearances alone suggest that you’re looking at something special. Our car is a Series 2, the original Seven produced over the longest period (1960-1968) and in the greatest numbers (1350). It’s stark and functional, designed at a time before aerodynamics were considered important; weight is kept to an absolute minimum thanks to the use of GRP in the nose and mudguards, plus unstressed aluminium panels attached to the tubular chassis. Were two people to sit in it, its weight would increase by around a third.
There’s only so long you can admire it, though, before realisation dawns – how are you supposed to get into it? After many abortive attempts, you’ll probably find that the best approach is to stand on the seat squab and slide in. There’s a surprising amount of legroom – you can actually stretch your legs out – and while the pedals are positioned close together, they’re not so close that you’ll accidentally press the wrong one. And although the steering wheel is so big as to be almost cumbersome, it’s nicely raked and a good distance from your chest. Leave the side-screens off, and you’ve even got enough elbow room to comfortably grasp the slender wooden rim.
Pushing the starter button adds to the initial drama. Then there’s the view ahead through the tiny aero-screen, dominated by the swooping wings, bonnet louvres and large chrome headlamps. The rev counter is directly in front of you, flanked on each side by oil pressure and water temperatures gauges, with the speedo way out of eye line facing the passenger – clues that prove that this is a 100 per cent driver-focused machine.
Driving it is nothing short of exhilarating. The low driving position, spartan cabin and sharp steering all add up to a sense of being at one with it.
It corners in such a way as to seemingly defy centrifugal forces. There’s absolutely no roll or pitch; the Seven has near-perfect front/rear weight distribution, which no doubt allies itself to this car’s superior roadholding. There’s no hint of understeer either – the only way you could truly unsettle it is by caning it on a race track. Of course, the downside to all of this is an unforgiving ride – potholes are definitely best avoided.
Lotus Seven aficionados will no doubt have raised an eyebrow at the term ‘S2 Twin-Cam’ – it wasn’t until the Series 3 that the Lotus Twin-Cam was mated to the Seven’s chassis (and even then only in small numbers). Even accounting for the Twin-Cam that left the Lotus factory in Delamare Road, Cheshunt, in March 1965 bound for racing in New South Wales, Australia, this example was actually built in 1964, so it’s has clearly been upgraded at some point in its life.
The twin-cam 1600 engine, with its twin Weber DCOE side-draught carburettors, revs to 8000rpm, though you’ll find your nerves jangling much earlier than that. Best to change up from second to third and ease off the throttle, because this Lotus is alarmingly quick off the mark thanks to its insignificant kerbweight; it excels at covering short distances absurdly quickly.
The gap between the dashboard and the transmission tunnel is very narrow, with only just enough room to rest your hand on top of the gearknob; it’s not technically a lever because it sits almost inside the gaiter. All four forward ratios can be engaged with the flick of the wrist without having to move your arm at all because the gearbox has such short throws, though the clutch and gearbox are hardly light.
So, how can we best sum up this paredback racer for the road – thrilling? Certainly. Uncompromising? Definitely. It’s no longdistance mile-muncher, but for something to take to DEFCON 2 on an empty switchback road, it has few peers.
Colin Chapman famously told his engineers to ‘simplify and add lightness’ and the Seven is the perfect distillation of that ethos. For that reason alone it is, quite simply, sensational.
low, definitely not slow. Those are cortina Mki wheels, in case you were wondering. THANKS TO Uk sports cars of wingham near canterbury in kent. This 1964 lotus seven s2 Twin-cam (rebuilt only 3000 miles ago) is currently for sale priced £35,995 after spending the past ten years with its previous owner. 01227 728190 uksportscars.com a degree of trial and error is required to establish what each of these toggle switches does. WHAT TO PAY // CONCOURS £35-40k // EXCELLENT £34-25k // USEABLE £24-11k // PROJECT £4-10k Words Chris Hope PhotograPhY Richard Gunn