Newsletter October 2008 – Number 10
Mike Lawrence on Hornsey
The Progress Chassis Company
The Lotus register of South Africa
What’s happening on the museum front
1. Mike Lawrence on Hornsey
Renowned motor-sport author Dr Mike Lawrence recently entertained the Hornsey Historical Society with his account of the early days of Lotus at Tottenham Lane. Mike’s ebullient style and delivery easily held the interest of the largely non-technical audience while some details elicited smiles and nods from members who had lived in the area and had even worked for Colin Chapman in the 50s.
However, Mike’s lecture did not concentrate exclusively on Chapman and the names of colleagues such as Ron Hickman (Lotus Technical Director and inventor of the Black and Decker Workmate ) John Teychenne (Progress Chassis ), Peter Ross, Graham Hill and Jim Clark were given due prominence. He stressed how small engineering companies such as Williams and Pritchard, operating mainly in North London, had contributed to British achievements in international motor sport over the last 60 years and he pointed out that, for example, the technical and research arms of the nominally French, Italian and German racing operations are based in the UK because of the unrivalled expertise that we can offer.
Mike did not shrink from exploring certain flaws in Colin Chapman’s character but emphasised his role as a facilitator in the transformation of a three-man, part-time garagiste enterprise into the dominant player on the world motor-sport stage.
2. The Progress Chassis company
No More Progress
As is well-known, the Progress Chassis Company, represented by John Teychenne and Dave Kelsey, produced the chassis for the Lotus VI in a shed at the back of 19 Ribblesdale Road in Hornsey. Working with the most basic tools, they turned out something like 110 chassis frames between 1952 and 1955 and carried each one across the road to the Lotus works at 7 Tottenham Lane (sometimes carrying them back again if cash was not forthcoming).
The Teychenne house in Ribblesdale Road is currently being extensively remodelled and two further houses are to be built in the garden where the Progress shed (demolished in the 1970s) once stood. The builder is aware of the Lotus connection and hopes to erect a commemorative plaque at the entrance to the Mews.
Avid industrial archaeologists should be aware that, as far as can be ascertained, there are no mint-condition Lotus VI chassis lying about in the garden. A 24-inch try square and a workbench have been rescued but it is not certain that either was used by Teychenne and Kelsey.
Many thanks to John Douglas for the Mike Lawrence and Progress Chassis story and pictures.
3. The Lotus Register of South Africa
While Lotus enthusiasts are pretty much the same wherever one finds them, our situation here in South Africa regarding the cars is a bit different from elsewhere in the world.
Relatively few Lotus cars found their way here – certainly if one compares with other British sportscars such as MG or Triumph. Most of the earlier models such as Elans and Europas that we see on our roads were brought here by people emigrating from the UK, who then sold their cars on when they needed a change.
There were also a good few racing cars brought over to compete in the old Springbok Series that used to take place at the year end and teams and drivers alike looked forward to a time in the sun, combined with some good racing. When the teams returned to Europe, some of that year’s racing cars stayed behind and were snapped up by local drivers.
So the cars we all love have always been a bit thin on the ground here and this spawned a cottage industry for replicas. The scarcity was aggravated when the local currency slipped against the pound, meaning that a UK enthusiast can buy a good, right-hand drive Lotus for a relatively good price by UK standards, while the South African seller gets an equally good price by SA standards. Sadly, this has seen a steady drain of cars in containers heading to new homes across the seas.
So, when the founders of The Lotus Register of South Africa set up the club, they did not have the luxury of making it exclusive and coined the now-famous “20 foot rule”: if it looks like a Lotus from 20 feet away, it’s eligible for the club. In practice, this has worked well and club meetings feature a mix of models, both genuine and replica. Recently, a distributor was appointed to sell the latest Lotus models so that Elises, Exiges and the new Europa are appearing in small numbers at our gatherings.
The Lotus Register organises a racing series called The Lotus Challenge where Seven-type replicas compete in various classes, the Lotus Rally as part of the classic rallying calendar and various other events.
This year, we put together a tribute to Jim Clark on the 40th anniversary of his death. There was a gathering in one of the many parks in Johannesburg at which members of various marque car clubs get together each year. We piggy-backed on that seeing as it was the day before the actual anniversary.
We tried our best to display examples of the cars that Jimmy actually drove and display them with a bit of a write-up and pics of Jimmy driving each model. Thus we had some Elans, two Lotus Cortinas, and a Type 14 Elite (one of only two in the entire country). One of our members brought his 51 which looked enough like a 21 to make us happy. Beggars can’t be choosers – and our 23 and the 18 we’d lined up couldn’t make it on the day.
We also opened our display to owners of selected other makes that Jim Clark drove in the early days and had a TR3, a DKW 3=6 and a Porsche 356. One of the features of that event is the co-operation we received from everybody. As soon as we told people we were doing a tribute to Jim Clark, they couldn’t do enough for us, which in itself is a tribute to him.
Pictures kindly supplied by Dr Jeff Wolfson.
4. What’s happening on the museum front?
These are difficult times for anyone trying to establish a museum with Lottery money being taken over by Olympics funding and the overall credit crunch affecting so many.
The CCMEC trustees have been pursuing a number of avenues, and will continue to do so. Very generously many of the world wide friends of the museum have offered donations to help establish the museum. However it’s rather like the chicken and egg story and the trustees feel they cannot ask for donations until we have a possible building/site to raise money for. When this does happen then we can think again.
Thank you all for your continued support.
P.S. We have added a few more of Marc Hogenkamp’s amazing Dioramas onto the website.