The Hills, Spills and Thrills: Colin Chapman’s and Lotus Transition from Trials to Track
This article is written with inspiration from the following sources:-
• The revival of interest in Historic Trials [ see web references below]
• The editors consider that trials provided greater momentum to the development of Lotus and Chapman than is generally appreciated. In this article we debate this and provide some evidence.
The subject also has a strong reference to the Ford side valve engine and the continuity into racing of the 1172 Formula in which the Lotus Mk.VI was so dominant. The bibliography pays special practical attention to this subject.
A future article will compare some of the proprietary Ford specials of the era with the Lotus Mk.VI.
Trials driving is a particularly English amateur sport. It had a significant and strong following immediately post war with an increasing interest up to the 1960’s. This may have been influenced by the post war shortages but also the greater mechanical skills that many ex-servicemen had acquired. The dual role and reasonable fuel efficient competition cars would have increased their practical value.
This branch of motor sport was probably successful also because it was fun, inexpensive and family orientated reasonable safe and accessible to a large range of people.
It also provided seasonal interest.
Circa 1955 about one hundred people were competing nationally. This represented about 50-60 cars per event, and about the same time there was waiting list for second hand cars.
The sport benefited from its amateur nature and status, its enthusiasm, modest costs and rewards.
Old, but warm clothes and waterproofs were a perquisite as was a distinct sense of humour.
Part of this article was presented at a stand the editor held at the Bromley Pageant. Opportunity has been taken to update and extend.
British Post War Economic Conditions.
The immediate post war condtions were hard but they directly contributed to the specials building culture born of necessity. Purchase tax was approximately 30% of a new cars price. Petrol was rationed until the early 1950’s. The crippling cost of the war had produced hardship and rationing and recovery required exports which further reduced availability. It’s been estimated that 50% of all British cars at this time were exported. Part of the overall economic package restricted imports resulting in long waiting lists for some everyday popular models.
However towards the end of the decade the economy improved as did disposable income and the availability of credit. Possibly to a younger generation [See A&R article Design Decades] had higher expectation and taste. This combined with the arrival of the Mini, the Austin Healey Sprite, adjustments to Purchase Tax would reduce the desire to construct specials [it’s interesting to note that Chapman offered the Lotus Seven]. Ought we neither to ignore the impact of the introduction of the MOT. As we have noted many of the specials built from parts dating from the 1930’s and perhaps having a hard life and little maintenance were neither economic to repair or competitive.
John Bolster’s book “Specials “is an excellent introduction to the subject. Writing in 1949 Bolster identifies approximately 75 specials .The period of the 1930’s was particularly active with many wealthy people willing to commission and experiment. The testing/ proving ground of Brooklands also made a significant contribution. Bolster’s main focus is racing and he identifies the Austin Seven single seater racer designed by Alex Issigonis as a good example. [Note the Lotus Mk.III; the A&R will provide a major article striking a contrast between these two machines]Readers will appreciate the culture and momentum that was started.Of course we have to appreciate that the Second World War intervened and by its conclusion technology and society had moved on.Dussek comments:
“From the dawn of motoring , enthusiast amateur car builders have experimented with collecting and re-assembling components- notably chassis, a engines and suspension units – to create highly personalized sometimes transient and frequently unique vechicles.More often than not , these owed their existence to parts gleaned from scrapyards, the requirements of availability and economy being equally important…………The cult of the “special” flourished in Britain , particularly from the 1920’s to the 1960’s , when the unitary construction deprived the impecunious builder of easily available chassis”
Specials were built for many reasons including:-
• Specific forms of competition
• An ingenuity to improve upon standard manufactures
• Commercial opportunities to offer components or tuning to improve a product
• Limited income but a strong desire to compete on near equal terms
• At various historical moments the requirement to overcome shortages [ particularly relevant to the immediate post second world war
• Aesthetic considerations [ which may or not be an extension of individualism]
• A challenge of non-conformity to improve or provide superior products to that of the mainstream manufacturers
• A practical car that is easily and cheaply repaired considering the frequent damage hat competition is likely to engender.
To the special builder there is a requirement to take base components and incorporate them .The mainstream manufacturers who have possibly donated the most significant parts are:-
• Austin Seven
• Ford [ various but in this articles context the 1172 cc Side valve engine and related components]
“Probably more specials have been constructed on the basis of the Austin Seven than all other specials put together………….it remained in production for 15 years, by 1930 it cost £125… featured a chassis shaped like an A in plan a three speed gearbox and a simple rear axle…. it was propelled by a 747cc side valve engine developing 10 brake horsepower …..the original cars were very light , weighing 800 lbs. [ 364kg] …in time the power went up to 17 brake horsepower…………However from the 1930’s onwards , redundant Austin Sevens were available from scrapyards and became the basis for thousands of specials. This movement was fostered by the Seven Fifty Motor Club, Formed in the late 1930’s which was responsible for organizing competitions and encouraging amateur special builders in every possible way”
Stephens explains in his period book “Building and Racing My750” [ for reference Registration no GMA 219] that he allowed a budget of just over £196 and that after season the expense had increased to over £265 with upgrades etc. He believed that a 750 Formula car [i.e. similar to Lotus Mk.III] may be in the region of £250 to 300.
Close behind Austin Seven has been the use of Ford components. This is very interesting in that both large capacity V8’s were used in the 1930’s and again in the 1960’s in-between extensive use was made of the utility 1172cc side valve engine from the E93A and 100E.
Again Dussek notes:-
“During the 1930’s designs based on the Ford V8 engine were popular. The V8 was introduced in 1932 and a number of constructors exploited its power by the simple method of lightening the chassis and substituting light weight bodies. This combination was especially effective in trials…………In 1935 Ford of Britain introduced an upgraded version of the £100 Y Type “Eight”, this having 10 horsepower engine based on an 1172cc four cylinder unit with a bore of 63.5mm and stroke of 92.5mm developing 30 brake horsepower. This remained in use for 27 years in a variety of models………..like the Austin Seven , the 1172cc Ford was available cheaply in very large numbers as in production the cars had much shorter life than their mechanical components. The modest performance of the engine could be raised in a series of simple steps”
The British have been attracted to and been generously provided with many forms of motor sports suiting driving style, budget and technical ingenuity.
Specials were often designed for these and they include:-
• Circuit racing
• Sprints or speed trails
• Hill climbs
Building a special was no mean fete. There are sonme similarities with building a modern kit car. Although the editors would suggest that building a special in the early post war period required skill and determination and particularly the ability to innovate and overcome shortages and dedicated facilities.
The editors strongly recommend subscribers read the period special building manuals to full appreciate the effort involved. The evidence that many specials started with the best of intentions were not completed. Many builders underestimated the complexity and skill they would require. Often too they proved more expensive than originally thought. It’s a measure and indication of Chapman’s approach and the assistance and coordination of friends and his future wife Hazel that contributed to success.
To successfully build a special most of the following were required:-
• Garage or dedicated outside space for the duration of the build period [ preferably off road
• Hand tools but also important power tools and a welder [ Chapman did contract work out but this incurred extra costs ]
• Some technical knowledge/ mechanical empathy along with some of the reference manuals workshop manuals or perhaps a local library to conduct research
• A friend or family assistance at least for some of the heavy lifting
• A budget that might range from £150 – £250 [noting form A&R articles what wages and relative costs were.
• A vision of the purpose or branch of competition to be perused and perhaps a local connection or accessibility to events
• A donor car or access to a scrap yard
• Reasonable access to proprietary parts or good postal system as some items beyond self-construction would be needed
The Nature of the Sport and Competition
Trials really commenced from the dawn of motoring .They had a particular appeal in the 1930’s [an era of some spectacular specials particularly at Brooklands etc.] The sport of course evolved from long distance road tests to the more specialized trials driving off road, the sport enjoyed a particular revival post war and this is perhaps easily understood as explained above. Trials also provided publicity and we will note that some of the early one of specials entered production .Many driver/ constructor /owners may have aspired to this and of course Colin Chapman is likely to have been caught up in the enthusiasm and opportunity.
The following is a good outline of the culture and conduct of trials in the 1950’s.
The courses invariably consisted of a tightly defined route involving steep gradients, hills accents. Descents, adverse cambers, slippery slime mud fording streams and rivers, protruding trees roots, rocks, tricky unpredictable surfaces , tight spaces, tortious bends with minimal turning space have to be tackled without stopping. The hill climbing aspect involved attacking a severe gradient.
A trials car would often transverse country that a 4×4 or halftrack would find difficult
Trials are particularly associated with the fact that competitors are more often seen in the vertical than horizontal plane. Marking and scoring were strict and points could be lost for infringements including knocking down markers or by leaving the course.
No wonder that army tank training grounds were often the venue or an old disused quarry…
It’s fairly evident that considerable driving skills and some engineering empathy are required.
Quoted from Autocar “The sporting trial has been a feature of the British winter motoring scene almost since the inception of the sport and although originally designed for the ordinary production sports car, it now requires a specifically constructed trials car the characteristic trial is run over rough tracks, bridle paths, or Army tank testing courses. And the route often entails fording rivers and traversing large tracts of mud sometimes eight to ten inches deep.
Competitors who start singly, are each given a detailed route which thy must follow without deviation. Competitors are normally marked only on their performance in the “Observed Section and Special tests.” The former consist of off –the-road tracks or hills. Which by nature of their surface and/or gradient are particularly difficult to negotiate. The organizers favourite surface are deep mud, loose sand or shingle, wet grass or chalk [particularly when combined a steep.
Gradient] and narrow rutted paths, barely wide enough to take a car and often crossed by tree roots. . These sections, unless taken at the right speed and angle, will stop the car in its tracks.
Every car must cover each Observed section non-stop [the undriven wheels must not cease to revolve] and marshals are posted along each section to signal the failure to the officials
There are two basically similar systems for scoring, in the first the competitor is awarded a number of points at the start and has deductions made for each failure. In the second, he starts with no marks at all and is awarded points on each success. The more difficult hills are divided into sections, marks being awarded for each section covered. Where a hill proves unclimbable, each car is marked at its ultimate stopping place, points usually being awarded on the ‘furthest up ‘basis
Trials cars are controlled in their construction by certain regulations drawn up by the RAC. A fully operational differential is compulsory. Solid axles or variable slip differentials give an unfair advantage in that they allow one wheel to grip even on slippery surfaces. Four wheel drive is barred. Body design and types and sizes of tyres are also controlled. Passengers whose seating arrangements are also subject to these regulations, ride in the car [ no standing on the rear bumper to give extra weight in the rear].They may , however ,’bounce ‘up and down , and this , combined with the low tyre pressures used [ often only 5 or 6 lb per sq.in.], materially assists rear wheel adhesion.
When a car comes to a halt, engine roaring, wheels spinning wildly, passenger bouncing energetically to get the last ounce of tyre grip, special marshals record the stopping point and helpers push it to firmer ground .This is tough, satisfying sport in which an efficient car, warm clothes, a heavy but nimble passenger and a distinct sense of humour are almost equally to be desired.”
The nature of the sport provided great thrills whilst developing driving skills and mechanical empathy.
The editors believe that the first post war trial event was held on the 10thSeptember 1945 .The organizers were the Sutton Coldfield &North Birmingham motor Club. It’s reputed that approximately fifty cars attended including M.G.’s, Allard’s, V8 specials, Production cars and H.R.G in various degrees of tune and modification.
The 750 Motor Club and Trials Organizations.
The 750 Motor Club was and has remained the main organizer, and competition body for amateur motor sport. It to this organization that Chapman turned for advice and occasional inspiration when he became interested in motor sport as a young man. He would raise through the committee ranks [becoming president at one point] but retained a connection with the enthusiast for much of his career.
The 750 Motor Club had a long association with the Austin Seven as we have noted and it was this model that chapman took as the basis for his first car and entry into motor sport. [Although the Austin Seven was the specials builder of choice necessity played an important role in Chapman s deployment].It’s worth noting that the Lotus Mk’s I,III.II,IV,VI,VIII ,Seven and Eleven right up into the 1960’s competed in events sponsored by the 750 Motor Club.
In period the premier event was considered to be the Annual R.A.C.Trials Championship in conjunction with the Championship Trial [run by the Trial clubs on behalf of the R.A.C] the award sought was the British Trials and Rally Drivers Association Gold Star.
The principle Trials Clubs and Organizations of the era were;-
• British Trials and Rally Drivers Association
• Hagley and district Light Car club
• London Motor Club
• Maidstone and Mid Kent Motor Club
• Seven Fifty Motor Club
• Yorkshire Sports Car Club
More recently it’s believed that the National trials car Formula organized by the RAC Motor Sports Association and British Sporting Car Trials have been active.
The popularity of the sport was reflected in TV coverage as early as 1952.The BBC made an external broadcast in November 1952 [The A&R holds correspondence from the BBC archive] Mike Lawson driving the Lotus Mk.IV was competing for the South and helped win the event.
Spectators would be able to invoke the sights sounds and smells of the quintessential British landscape whilst being treated to the spectacle of spinning wheels , hot smoking tyres searching for grip , cars almost skating on slippery slime .Drivers manipulating an external “Fiddle: hand brake and athletic almost acrobatic passengers bouncing searching for grip.
In the autumn cars might have been glimpsed through gloam and they mud stormed through the loam or warm cracked mud on exposed frost laden mornings. Driving required not so much power as weight in the right place over the driven wheels. Driver skill was paramount regarding throttle control and the placement of rubber for grip.
The sport visually would capture the many thrills but equal disappointments.
If nothing else it was healthy and inexpensive.
Regulation and Mechanical Specification
The regulations determined the mechanical specification of the cars .The cars receive enormous punishment but must remain light. The desired traction encouraged low center of gravity and preferably a concentration over the rear wheels.
The Primary RAC Regulation and Formula stated that:-
• Weight should not exceed 8 cwt
• Cars should carry a compulsory spare wheel
• Cars should be taxed and ensured
• Mudguards and horns were required
• If a fixed windscreen was used a wiper was compulsory
• Cars must have four wheels [ two of which were to be driven]
• Tyres were strictly governed according to engine size
• A minimum wheelbase was stipulated
The preferred engine of the 1950s and 1960’s era was the ford 1172cc side valve and Austin 750, although at least one car was fitted with an 1100 cc Coventry Climax.
Engines were invariably highly tuned to produce considerable torque and power at low revs. After market tuning aids / equipment like Aquaplane [see A&R article] were often adopted and in minority examples ohv conversions.
Suspension was frequently highly original, but conventional back axles proved pragmatic and cost effective option, often located with coil spring dampers and Panhard rod.
To achieve maximum traction tyres were run at extremely low pressures. Security bolts were vital as without them inner tubes would be ripped out.
Good brakes were essential as was the ability to control individual wheels in the search for grip. In addition to the foot break an external break was adopted.
In the search for low eight cars often forfeited weather equipment, headlamps, dynamos, water pumps and conventional seats.
Over period of time, both the nature of the competition, and of courses produced cars which were more specialized and less road orientated and dual use. The period of the 1930’s and produced some rather extreme specials utilizing the V8 as we have noted .With an attempt to shift weight rearwards some cars suffered poor handling some dangerously so.
Form and function –The Trials Canon.
The distinctive appearance of the trials car was dictated first by the regulations and then by practical necessity. The cars were required to be dual use initially, they had to compete in arduous conditions and due to the frequent inevitable damage required to be easily and inexpensively repairable.
The functional requirements included:-
• High ground clearance often assisted by tall wheels e.g. 17-18”
• Tendency to be tall and Narrow track and relatively long with rear overhang [ relate to functions]
• Light weight [ aluminum bodies also minimized rust]
• Often large external fuel tanks hung over rear axle
• Twin spare wheels permitting changes for dual use [often “knobbly” tyres at rear and of course a mixture of wheels construction front rear and indeed diameters. These were frequently “outrigged” again for weight concentration.
• Fold flat windscreens/ or basic deflector
• Concealed or protected headlamps
• A range of hand grips permitting the passenger to bounce and retain their balance within the car
• Mudguard clearance to prevent clogging
• Fiddle hand brake to maximize traction
• Simple utilitarian unpretentious radiator cowls
In many respects the aesthetic had much in common with the prewar sports car.
The early years of the sport encouraged a large number of specials constructed by the owner. Colin Chapman and his first special is a fairly typical example. Gradually the sport became more specialized and two manufactures in particular tended to dominate .These were Dellow and Cannon .In this chapter we will attempt to explain these and a few others in a little more detail.
Sydney Allard is believed to have been a garage owner in Clapham, South London. He is thought to have held a Ford dealership and was an enthusiastic trails competitor. It’s believed that during the early mid 1930’s he took a damaged Ford V8 as the basis of a special. He undertook extensive modification suitable for trails. This included;-
• Removing the heavy standard body and replacing this in lightweight aluminum
• Relocation weight distribution towards the rear to increase traction
• Increasing the ground clearance
• Fitting a Ballamy split beam front axle
This car was very competitive both in trials and racing .Further examples were built with engines varying from Ford V8 to Lincoln V12. These cars were not cheap and Dussek suggests that might have cost £650. Following the war Allard went into production and it’s believed that 1900 cars may have been built including the famous J1.K1 etc.
It has been quoted that Dellow was “British Trials Special which was forced into limited production by popular demand”.
Ken Dellingpole and Ron Lowe who were business partners set up a tuning company They were also agents for H.R.G. [ see below] Ron built an Austin Seven modified with Ford components .The Dellow were fist built at Alverchurch then Oldbury in the Midlands between 1949 and 1957.
It possibly arrived a little late on the scene but none the less enjoyed considerable competition and commercial success.
Dellow are essentially dual use vechicles.Capable of being used on the road and in various forms of competition including circuit racing and hill climbs.
Dellow used a very simple chassis forming an “A” seen in plan of largish tubes of 3 1/8” from which small 0.75” tube formed the support for the body. Lionel Evans of Rad Panels, Kidderminster undertook to form the bodies.
The Dellow followed a typical trials canon in that it was small, light with an external 15 gall. Fuel tank and twin spare wheels [i.e. weight over rear axle for traction]
The car has been estimated at weighing between 11-11.5 cwt. Depending on specification and that it may have cost £636 c 1949 and this might have increased to £841-10-00d including purchase tax in 1952.[ This was not cheap .We can use this figure in connection with the economic situation to explain the culture and necessity of self-building specials.
Some evidence suggests approximately 300 cars were built. It has been suggested that sixty cars were built in the first year of production.
It’s believed that Walter Warring won the RAC Trials Championship in 1951 driving a Dellow
Derek Butler is thought of as something of an idealist and person of integrity not just in engineering terms. Possibly combined with the idealism to increase the take up of motor sport he spotted a commercial opportunity. It’s believed he produced cars and kits between 1947 and 1962 shortly before his early death.
It’s believed that Derek was born in 1910. After the war he and his brother inherited some
Engineering companies with an aeronautical connection.
C 1947 possibly 1949 he built is first special in which he won several hundred awards. Significantly he also won the National Road Fuel Economy Contest driving one of his own cars.
He believed there was a market for kits [see Economic conditions above] He therefore started
To offer a space frame chassis at moderate cost in the UK. It’s believed in total about 400-500 chassis kits were sold. From c 1947- 1949 to c 1956. This model was often referred to as the Mk. V.These particular kits used the Ford 10 components that we have alluded to .Many of the cars completed were dual use with the potential to compete in trials.
Bucklers were based in Berkshire at both Crowthorne and Reading.
Customers could use various engines and these included Ford, Morris, MG and rare Coventry Climax. This possessed a sturdy space frame and utilized E93A mechanical components. It has been suggested that the basic chassis kit [ simple aluminum body / cycle wings ] sold for £85.In total Buckler suggested in period he would expect a customer to be able to build a Mk.V for about £190 [ see Stephens and Austin Seven special ] and a professionally built car using new components for £450 cf Lotus Mk.VI. Whereas Lotus used Williams and Pritchard for coachwork Derek Butler commissioned work from both Taylor and Offord.
He produced what he called the Type 53 in 1953 and this was dedicated trials car [Reg No OCT 847 being quite well known]
He also produced a chassis range for the proprietary Ford Special shells including the DD2 for the Microplas and Convair bodies.
Buckler attempted an aerodynamic car quite early on and followed this up through the 1950’s with the DD1, BB90 and BB1000. The company also built one offs for F 500 and it’s believed they constructed some go carts.
Buckler had a reputation for quality and had some aero -engineering involvement. In particular their close ratio gearboxes were widely adopted and used by Lotus.
Like Chapman Derek Buckler is believed to have died at a relatively young age 
Derek Butler was a generous and flexible engineer and organizer, He helped people fulfill their dreams and also adapted his chassis to customer needs possibly suffering financially in the process. He supported and contributed to the 1172 Series alongside that of the 750 Formula.
Possible slightly overlooked he none the less was an inspiration and we can deduct that Colin Chapman was a peer and possibly part inspired by Derek’s achievements.
The Gregory brothers [Believed to be Bob and Peter Allen] are believed to have built a small number of specials including V8 [on the Allard / Ballamy principle] and 1172 side valve special using space frame chassis. Bob Gregory is believed to have been based at Taplow, Bucks’. It’s thought that the 1172 side valves may have been constructed around 1956.
The 1172cc side valve special seems to be closely based on the Lotus Mk.VI and seem to share a similar specification [Ford engines, gearbox, axles and aluminum bodywork] and performance. Both seem to share the same track and wheel base. There appears to be differences in the chassis but this is not significant the most notable difference regards the front suspension; the Gregory uses a transvers leaf spring and hydraulic dampers. The Gregory is believed to have used round tube throughout whereas the Lotus Mk.Vi uses a mixture of round and square. The disposition of the tubes in the space frame chassis are quite similar. [In this context we allude to the later Mk.VI chassis as used mainly as sports car and for the 1172 Formula]
Perhaps as befitting a trials car the bodywork of the Gregory is simpler and avoids complex double curvature particularly in the nose cone, rearspats and cowl. The rear guards of the Gregory appear to be proprietary motor cycle type in light gauge steel.
The editors have evidence that a Lotus Mk.VI in the early / mid 1950’s might have cost £400-500 to buy and construct whereas the Gregory was probably considerably cheaper mainly due to the more simplified bodywork .
The Gregory was possibly designed for trials and hill climbs and general purpose [the example the editor has seen was fitted with a full width windscreen wipers and hood. Fitted with tuned engine and twin carburetors the power to weight ratio is excellent .like the Mk.VI acceleration and handling are excellent particularly on a smooth surface.
Various correspondence in the motoring press suggests that between six and eleven Gregory 1172 specials might have been constructed dating from 1952. [However this figure might include the V8’s]
The Gregory V8 in particular OXK 276 seems to date from 1951.It possible that a Ford V8 Pilot was the donor. This particular car is claimed to have heavy duty tubular main chassis and a more light weight tubular sub frame to support the body which is two seat trials type. This car is believed to have been fitted with allard engine tuning modifications. It’s very possible with changes in fashion and trials regulation this specification was no longer competitive and it might have descended into banger racing.
Ken Rawlings [Standard –Vanguard]
It’s believed that Ken Rawlings built a sports/ trial car from Standard Triumph parts, in 1949 [The editor believes the car registration JOX 7 was registered as a Standard Vanguard and christened “Buttercup”.Rawlings and Lacey are believed to have entered this car in the MCC Daily Express Rally of the 12th-15th November 1952
Cyril Crossby [Vauxhall Special] c 1947-1955
Built by Mr. Crosby EXW 513 started life as a Bedford HC 5 cwt. van with a 1203 cc 10hp engine onto which a singer Le Mans body was built. Modifications were made for practicality and trails work .These included;-
o Chassis side members to suit frame
o Cross members and engine relocation
o Support for two spare wheels
o Later replacement engine of larger capacity and Roots supercharger
It has been estimated the car weighed 1800lbs
The car was very successful winning a number of awards particularly after the engine change. Post 1955 it might have been less competativewith regulation changes etc.
It’s believed that Mike Cannon Was a Tasmanian who settled in post war Britain. He may have been involved in farming and this might have contributed to his involvement in trials. Sources suggest that he was based at Crooked Chimneys, West Peckham, and Kent.
The Cannon was a very successful trials car and it’s estimated between 100 and 120 were built starting in the early 1950’s.
His cars were renowned for their light weight, strength and agility. They were based around a space frame of 1.75 and 0.075” tube with an aluminum body. Ford components were used. The trials Cannon was available as a complete cars or as body/chassis kit.
The editors believe c 1963 these were retailing for £745
H.R.G., Singer, M.G. and Morgan
All of these cars were suitable for trials competition. Without expanding there was broad common denominator. They were sporting two seater cars, light with reliable engines and reasonably good power to weight ration. They were reasonably ruggedly built. Possibly they suffered from low ground clearance for trials.
There important role was perhaps during the 1930’s and just after the war as a compromise. As the nature of the sport and courses gained the machines were forced to evolve and adapt. However it’s important to recognize the role that they played.
The editors have some evidence that Arthur Mallock competed in trials but research has been unable to fully verify this. It would seem probable with his know involvement with Austin Seven Specials. It is interesting to note that like other special builders Arthur Mallock would enter racing with some success and build a considerable number of cars for sale under the marque name U2
More Recent Trials Car
As recently as 1995 the editors believe that Alanco Agricultural Ltd, of Tonbridge, Kent provided a Trials car chassis kit for £850 and there appears to be two options depending on class’s .Either under 850cc or over and they refer to the RAC “Blue Book”. Other components seem to be supplied at additional cost.
Other marques include :Kincraft and Facksimile
The Rocky Road
It is worth noting that many drivers who would reach the uppermost levels of Formula I also competed in the humble trial.
Those included are:
• Graham Hill
• Stirling Moss
• And of course Colin Chapman who was considered close to, if not FI standard
Trials driving was possible fun recreational and relaxing .It was also seasonal. The editor believes inconsistent as it might seem that trails driving skills were valuable to the FI driver. He possibly aquired skills of mechanical empathy, a sense of placement in the search for traction and discretion of when and how to apply power. Most owners are likely to be driver/ mechanics and the basics of undertaking improvised repairs and modifications; literally in the field would have been learnt.
The camaraderie and networking would also have been useful. Stirling Moss and his father competed .There were other overarching relationships. Mike Lawson built and competed in the M&L special that he built with Alfred Moss and later Mike would achieve further success in trials driving a Lotus he commissioned.
We ought not to overlook that trials was family sport and wife’s played an important role in completion. Hazel Chapman is seen in many period photographs accompanying Colin in trials and mike Lawson’s wife is equally prominent.
Colin Chapman, Lotus and Trials –an Overview
Dussek book is useful and he comments that:-
“Colin Chapman’s career also began by building specials immediately after the Second World War”
In fact Colin chapman became interested in trials at a relatively young age. As in all other aspects of his life he was extremely competitive and applied considerable thought to the project although his resources and facilities were meager. He won numerous awards competing in trials between 1948 and 1951.
Colin and Hazel competed in trials with their Austin Special and Lotus Mk.II until Colin became more interested in circuit racing which he believed to be more scientific and engineering orientated a sport.
Colin Chapman’s initial interest is significant and much that was learnt, both proven theory and practice went into the later sports/ sports racing cars .A frequent criticism that Lotus is that there are often fragile and unreliable. However this cannot be applied to the early trials cars and the Mk.VI these proved their merit in the most arduous of conditions and the available photographs prove the punishment they took. This is probably due to the inherent strength and the durable base donor components many from ford. These early cars survived and remained competitive for a considerable time after their completion and many have reentered competition today.
The Mk.VI possesses many of he features of the trials cars and the editors would venture much of their success both commercial and competition might be attributed to their robust construction, the essential reliability of the primary mechanical components and their service/reparability.
The unrestored examples are important vehicles to study forensically in terms of evidence relating to exact constructional details, materials , specification that along with compatibility of materials and quality construction contributing to such longevity.
In summary the participation in trials would have offered Colin Chapman most of the following:-
• An outlet for the “Make-do and men” necessity of post war Britain that sat so well with his instinct for innovation and improvisation
• The sport met his design criteria for light effective machinery
• It developed his driving skills , control, traction, foresight and possibly strategy
• It might have provided his earliest sense of feedback form his own designs
• It would offer networking , camaraderie and entry into the politics and administration of the sport and of course a preliminary induction to British motor racing culture
• It certainly provided familiarization with the Ford Side valve and Austin Seven
• From the earliest entry we see the hall-mark of chapman relating to his interpretation of the rules.Even at this most amateur level he was seeking advantage
• A reservoir of experience in skill , experience and perhaps impromptu roadside repairs and improvisations with limited equipment
• We cannot deny it acted as stepping stone or as we have noted a transition to racing
• Chapman like other participants might also early of have appreciated that success in the sport created demand for design components and cars. The earliest business activities of the fledgling Lotus Company was in trials cars and modifications to proprietary components.
Car and Marque Names
There has always been considerable speculation as to the origins of the name Lotus. The A&R does not have the definitive answer but the naming or christening cars may have some practical considerations. The editors speculate some of the following:-
• From the dawn of motoring owners might have equated their cars with romantic, legend or superstition
• Some may have seen or identified personal qualities and named cars like favorite pets
• When it came to building specials and entering competition names became more significant possibly for the following reasons:-
1. Practicality of identification- we have noted the popularity of constructing specials in Britain. There might have been too many Ford or Austin specials to differentiate
2. Surnames might have added further complications i.e. Mr. Ford’s Ford Special etc.
3. The requirement for taxation and insurance in some competition might have produced need for identification.
The editors therefore postulate that cars were christened to ease identification
Incentives or motives including:-
• Something relating to the bodywork colour[ eg.Buttercup,Bluebell]
• A corruption of or rhyme associated with the registration number Dixie [ DIX 1]
• Biblical or mythological e.g. Jezebel
• Should a market emerge a distinctive separate name was essential even if other proprietary components were being used.
A good example might be the Standard Vanguard “Buttercup” see above.
The First car constructed by Colin Chapman was an Austin Seven Special. Possibly for one of the reasons given he might have thought it appropriate to give his cars a distinctive and thought provoking name .One that was short but neither overtly traditional nor sentimental
Trials Cars Registration No’s
The following registration a selection of cars that are known to have competed in trials:-
Lotus Trials Cars
Austin Trials Special [Lotus Mk1] .1948 1st Registered as PK 3493 later as OX 9292
Like many other trials specials of the era the first car that Colin Chapman built was a trials special based on a 1930 [note already fourteen years old] Austin Seven.
This car was built along the principles outlined in the lockup owned by Hazel’s parents with the minimum of power tools. It’s believed that Colin Dare and Hazel helped in its construction. This was pragmatically developed from an inexpensive surplus vehicle that Colin owned when his car trading activities ended. The raw material of the project was a 1930’s Austin Seven saloon. The chassis was retained but the side members were strengthened [see bibliography for exact details of period modifications] by “boxing”. An early Chapman improvisation was to reverse the rear axle. By this method the suspension mounts were turned to the top with the effect of flattening the springs and reducing the tendency to oversteer.
The standard Austin 747 cc engine was tuned by the incorporation of higher compression ratio, double valve springs, a specially made inlet manifold and a Ford downdraft carburetor.
At his first effort Colin Chapman was able to innovate and the chassis was further improved with a stressed frame bodywork comprising three bulkheads. The design/ layout provided two compartments and permitted seating for four or ballast.
These were constructed of from sheet aluminum over plywood .Practical, effective and relatively easy to execute with limited tools .This technique was light strong and relatively inexpensive [the angular body shape limiting possibilities of this construction type]. Note that a recent kit car like the Locust adopted a similar arrangement…
Chapman’s The Austin Special was therefore relatively inexpensive, competitive yet easy to repair. Extremely practical were desirable qualities in a trial car Additional practicality was afforded by retaining the vulnerable mudguards by rawl plugs and wood screws. Repairs were easily effected without permanent damage to the vulnerable parts of the main body.
Perhaps it can be understood that a certain pride was vested in this car and there was a desire for aesthetic. The Austin special was given a prominent polished radiator cowl. Some might have considered this an inappropriate indulgence and even suggesting inconsistency of thinking in relation to purpose; however possibly constructed from polished sheet copper it might have been relatively easy to make.
This car was developed to incorporate Ford pressed steel wheels and semi-independent front suspension by modifying the Ford front beam axle.
Advertised as an Austin Seven Special the car was sold by Chapman in late 1950; and believed sold for £135
Lotus Mk.11 [Trials and Racing Car] 1949 Reg.No LJH 702
By 1949 Chapman had amassed his academic training and had joined the RAF;
Although still on a relatively low budget.
The Mk.II was more specialized and more competitive although it retained many features in common with the Austin Special.
The chassis was again Austin Seven fitted with Ford front beam axle and an Austin Seven rear axle… Briefly Chapman experimented with the “Jelly Joint” front suspension with the intention of gaining advantage in trials conditions. Engine size and power were increased by the adoption of the Ford 1172 cc side valve engine. Significantly this was mated to the Austin four speed gearbox overcoming the limitations of the Ford three speed box.
The body was similar to the Austin special but was more compact, sculptured with some tubular bracing and now effectively a two seater.The headlamps swiveled whilst being protected within the body of the car. The car is estimated to have weighed 8 cwt. which seems a little optimistic?
During 1950 Chapman used the Mk.II in a variety of motoring competitions including trials, sped trials, races, rallies and hill climbs. It is significant that in this car that Colin achieved race success and on one occasion beat a Bugatti. This psychological boost and the greater engineering content of racing might have convinced him to pursue this option. The Mk.II proved extremely versatile and competitive.
In October 1950 the Mk.II was sold to Mike Lawson who achieved considerable success in trials with this car. It was believed to have been advertised at £325.
Lotus Mk.1V. Trials / Road Car 1952. Reg.No. LMU 4
Mike Lawson enjoyed considerable success with the Mk.II and this probably gave him the confidence and inspiration to commission a new trials car from Chapman.
This is due course would be the Mk.IV of 1952.
The concept was traditional with the boxed Austin Seven chassis; it basically followed the Mk.II but the bodywork was attractive and the cockpit roomier.
Chapman provided a novel front suspension which was nicknamed the “Jelly-Joint”
The intention was to replicate a tractors front suspension which was thought to provide advantage in trails driving/ conditions. The car later reverted to a conventional Ford beam axle.
The well proven Ford 1172 cc engine was retained along with the models three speed gearbox.
As ever Chapman was willing to search for appropriate and practical design features suitable to the competition/ conditions. Therefore this car intended specifically for trials was given a hinged mudguard arrangement. This allowed the car to be effectively narrowed where necessary improving maneuverability whilst protecting the guards somewhat from damage.
Lawson adapted and evoloved the car to match the changing competition which included fitting twin carburetors/ or a twin choke.
It’s believed that the Allen brothers might have made significant contribution to the building of this car.
The Trials Mk.VI. Reg No.HEL 46
HEL 46 is a rather perhaps special and unique car. The evidence suggests that it was commissioned by Sinclair Sweeney [“Todd”] specifically as a trials car and later sold to Arthur Hay [see Smith, “Lotus” The First Ten Years”]
The editor believes there might be an early reference too in January “Motor Racing” 1955.
We tend to identify the Mk.VI with the efficient small space formed sports car that was remarkably successful in the early fifties normally fitted with the Ford 1172 cc side valve engine.
However HEL 46 may claim to be the forerunner of the successful Mk.VI model. It too is constructed with a space frame. Period photographs show a distinct chassis dedicated to trials [see editors illustration of Form and Function] it might be considered possibly the first departure from proprietary chassis and the first of the true Chapman designed space frame. It is perhaps important to consider many of the chassis photographs in period as I would seem that HEL 46 is overall lighter and the editor would suggest that this might be due to smaller gauge tube and perhaps the thought that the Ford side valve engine would not place too much stress on the chassis.
It is reputed that this particular car was fitted with a solid Ford front beam axle and coil spring dampers whilst he rear axle benefited from a Panhard rod arrangement. Period photographs suggest that a mixture of wire and pressed steel wheels wee fitted – possibly 17” at front and 18” at the back. This might be a further explanation for the twin spare wheel carrier and that road tyres were interchangeable, accepting that these cars were frequently driven to events. In period photographs the headlamps are conventionally mounted and a full width windscreen is fitted.
The external appearance of the body follows the pattern established by Lotus but it may be assumed that like the other Mk.VI this is partly stressed .HEL 46 also appears to have a very high ground clearance.
In many respects HEL 46 is a conservative and conventional logical development of the previous successful trials cars. The main mechanical parts are known and well proven. The editors feel that this car is likely to have benefited from a much lighter and stiffer chassis and this might have provided a significant weight advantage.
It is possible – extrapolating from period photographs] that this car’s chassis had tubes of between 1.5” to as small as 0.5” and perhaps of 18- 20 swg.and this would make it extremely light.
Racing: The Mk.111 and Mk.V1 and the 1172 Formula
It is generally thought that Colin made the conversion to circuit racing following his success at the Eight Clubs, Silverstone meeting of 1950. At this event Colin drove the Lotus Mk.II. Period photographs Colin beating a Bugatti.Colin was successful at other events too. The dates are important and ought to be cross referenced they help piece together jigsaw and the time table under which cars were completed.
It is evidence of perhaps:-
• The considerable capacity and versatility that Colin had built into the design
• His considerable driving skills
We ought to note that immediately post war the competition was not that strong partly for reasons noted and that the specials that did compete had limitations.
Circuit racing for Colin possibly offered greater rewards, intellectual demands, skills and higher levels of scientific design and engineering. Of course too we ought to acknowledge that he was able to see commercial opportunities. Despite the economic hardships we have noted Britain was increasing its wealth and welfare [see A&R articles Design Decades and the Festival of Britain]
Colin may have been astute enough to realize that a combination of his driving skill and design would enable him to generate publicity for his own marque and this would hopefully generate sales.
Colin was active in the 750 Motor Club which was the perfect launch pad from amateur club racing up the ladder to the ultimate in FI.It’s difficult to comprehend from trials driving to FI would be achieved within a decade. He also enjoyed considerable networks and not least of his skills was a sense of opportunism ad perhaps occasionally cynical exploitation. These qualities may seem hard but there were positive outcomes of driving forward and breaking out of limitations.
The purpose of this article is the examination of Chapman’s entrance into motor sport through trails and his conversion to circuit racing .Therefore will give only minimum technical details of the two cars that honed the racing agenda and concentrate on the possible motivation and consequence. [Both theMk.III and Mk.VI deserve deep and through analysis in their own right and this will follow]
This car was constructed and probably very successful due to the assistance of the Allen brothers and Colin’s access to Derek Jolly and his Austin Seven engine [see Lawrence]
Evidence would suggest that the Mk.III as conceived and built between June 1950 and its first race in May 1951.
What we don’t know is what formed the motive for moving towards circuit racing. Certainly it’s likely that it provided more excitement, Chapman might have projected a financial aspect linked to his Design and driving talents. But there is also the possibility that early correspondence with Jolly led him to believe he could steal a march on the opposition and launch as a motor racing organization/ manufacturer.
The Mk.III illustrates perhaps the contradictions facets of Colin Chapman’s character.
The raw donor was a second hand Austin seven bought for £15.
From which a car was built that dominated the 750 Motor Club events. The car was build up with the resources, skills, equipment and good will of the Allen brothers. On completion due to some obsessive weight shaving techniques it’s claimed the car weighed 815 lbs.
This machine with Colin’s driving; against perhaps and limited and inferior field would have a considerable impact on Chapman and the development of mototoracing. Competitors would have to catch up, become more scientific or purchase a Lotus to be in contention. Chapman would send shock waves through the essentially amateur sport.
Some controversy has surrounded the M.III and the AR will investigate this and provide a further dedicated article
The MK.VI deserves a separate article and this follow .Here it is sufficient to be brief.
The editors believe and interpret events that Colin Chapman’s participation within the 750 Motor Club allowed him insights into policy direction. The adoption of the 1172 Formula can be seen to perform a similar role to that of the 750 and Austin Seven and provide affordable club racing; which it did with some considerable success.
The editors deduct that the Mk.VI was designed primarily for club racing but also had an inbuilt capacity for international class racing. It was possible in this area that Chapman hoped for initial success leading to reputation and hence sales.
“The Mk.VI dominated the 750 Motor Club 1172 Formula for two years, and in 1956 John Lawry won the 1200cc class of Autosport Production sports Car Championship”
The Mk.VI was a phenomenal car and package. It might be summarized as:-
• Outstanding performance in totality
• Very reliable and serviceable
• Possessing an extraordinary aesthetic as result of Williams and Pritchard coachwork
• Reasonably affordable
• Relatively easily / quickly constructed
• It held its value
• It was a true dual use car
The sale of approximately one hundred cars and the domination of club motor racing are self-explanatory. The editors consider it was the Mk.VI that both commercial and competitively established much of the early Lotus reputation.
In addition or simultaneously with the Mk.VI Colin Chapman:-
• Further his driving reputation and designer credential by beating the best international competition on occasions
• Oversaw the introduction of Team Lotus
• Witnessed private owners dominate their class.Peter Gammon in UPE 9 was possible the most successful.
The significance of the Mk.VI was that it gave success to owners of varying abilities i.e. a prospective purchaser could have high expectation that the results would be his and not merely that of an exceptionally gifted individual.
With the Mk.VI Colin made the personal and organizational commitment to racing. He now had the skills, the experience much of the resources including those of the legion of helpers like the Allen brothers, a Team , a reputation , publicity through the motoring media ,evidence of success and demand for his products. With is encyclopedic knowledge of Ford parts in particular he had a near perfect platform to take momentum and degrees of continuity allied to his superior chassis design and handling to compete and subsequently dominate club racing until late in the decade. Neither should we overlook that even with the most modest of engines Chapman was able to drive and succeed at Le Mans; in a class.
Although Colin would remain close to the club enthusiast his future was now in circuit racing and he had made the transition from trails to track.
The Proposed CCM&EC
The proposed museum believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.
For these reasons our Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.
In particular the editors would argue that trials ought to be well represented at the proposed museum and the connections with Austin and Fords could be developed. Furthermore the use of mechanical components would permit great symbiosis and scope for interpretation.
Should the proposed museum be privileged to be located close to a track the inner area would be ideal for trials events but also demonstrations.
The A&R believes that it ought to support amateur motorsport and the proposed museum could provide practical assistance whilst exploiting retailing opportunities and aftermarket products.
Period demonstrations etc. also offer the opportunity for drama, film and documentary makers to have authentic backdrops and sets.
There is considerable evidence to argue in favour of low cost motoracing competition.
Having the value of:-
• Affordability to all sections of the community
• “Necessity is the mother of invention” and closely related to improvisation and innovation .These are important qualities to adopt not just in engineering. It’s something worthwhile and using the chapman methodology as a spring board and interpretation the proposed CCM&EC is very capable of developing.
• We have noted that trials was fun and family orientated again this as qualities to value and develop. The proposed CCM&EC is capable of providing for these needs underpinned with a learning mixture with entertainment.
Also noting that Chapman could be a complex character the editors feel that the proposed CCM&EC could perform an important role regarding objectivity and research. The editors with knowledge of Chapman’s shortcomings still believe on balance his contribution to British motor sport was colossal and that rather than totally demonize him with an alternative agenda it’s preferable to search out the facts which when presented can be both fair but more important multi-faceted learning opportunities.
When all is said and done Chapman and Lotus competed in a market place. Lotus success was won against reasonable competition, some established manufacturers and a highly developed British motor racing culture.
Special Side Valve Supplement. Practical Classics.1989
Car Care. Side Valve. Thoroughbred and Classic Cars. July 1981
The Construction of Ford Specials. John Mills.Batsford.1960
Performance Conversion Wquipment.PH Smith.Foulis.1960
Tuning Side-Valve Fords. Bill Cooper. Speed and Sport.1969
Ford Special Builders Manual.GB Wake. Haynes.
Motoring Specials. Ian Dussek.Shire.1991
Ford Specials.PJ Stephens.Foulis.1960
The Ford Ten Competition Engine.PH Smith.Foulis.1960
Tuning Manual. Cars and Car Conversion. [Speed and Sport] 1967
The Ford Tuning Manual.DHHarri
How to Build Ford Specials.JHHaynes.Modern Enterprises.1959
Building and Racing My 750.PJ Stephens.Foulis.1953
Building and Racing My 750 Special. John Haynes
Building a Ford 10 Special. John Haynes.
Lotus _The Early Years.Peter Ross
The Lotus Book. William Taylor
Colin Chapman. Mike Lawrence.
Ford Anglia, Prefect.P.Olyslager.Sunday Times.1961
Ford Cars.TBD Service.Aurthur Pearson
The Sport Trial Association and see wwwsportingtrials.com
The British Library
The editors wish to acknowledge that this article and most others are compiled following research at the British Library.
A debt of gratitude is owed to this magnificent institution.
The services and access to books are free. This means that quality research can be undertaken without regard to cost and availability issues.
The service and support are second to none and the staff at all levels exceeding helpful and cooperative
Typically the editors can order books in advance and potentially examine ten books on any occasion.
Should any of our subscribers wish to recommend a book review or indeed an article that can be extracted from the British library please ask?
Of course where possible personal visits are recommended .Details are:-
The British Library,
96 Euston Road,
The British Library was created to unite the Library of the British Museum with other natural archives.
It has approximately access to 150 million items and engineering is well represented.
• Music scores
• Sound recordings.
[Note recent article on Chapman and patents .The editor intends to discover if it’s possible to examine those submitted by Colin Chapman and if his is the case it will be reported through the A&R]
Within the Library there is space for 1,200 readers and over 16,000 people use the collection each day either in person or via the web.
There are additional reading rooms at Boston Spa and Colindale.