LOTUS SEVEN REGISTER
the web site for the
Seven made by Lotus between 1957 and 1973
|David Phipps was Assistant Editor of “Sports Car and Lotus Owner” and “Motor Racing and Motor Rally” magazines in the late 1950’s. December 1957 issue of SCALO magazine features his road test of FVV877, the first production Ford side-valve Lotus Seven and the January 1958 issue of MRAMR magazine features this, his wife Priscilla Phipps’ version of the same road test. The reader should note that neither sidescreens nor wind deflectors had been fitted to Sevens at this time and that the Ford 100E engine fitted to FVV877, chassis #401 would have produced about 30 bhp at 4,500 rpm.
|Have you a husband who has only to hear the exhaust note of a sports car to forget you even exist? Or one of those technical men who disappear as often as possible under their own or anyone else’s car bonnets? Or even one of those steady motoring men who fly out to the garage before breakfast on Sunday mornings, bring the car round to the front door, and polish it for the benefit of the neighbours? Whatever form their mania takes, if you are attached in any way to a motoring enthusiast, read on – it’s always nice to know that others are suffering too. Every Friday evening we leave London and drive home to our cottage in Norfolk, and most weekends we leave our own Morris on some city bombed site and head for the country in some car my husband has to road- test. One Friday recently David ‘phoned just as it was getting dark. “We’re having the Lotus Seven this week. Be ready in half an hour and wear all the old clothes you’ve got. Don’t bring any luggage – well just a canvas bag if you must.” We rattled up to Hornsey in the Morris. “You’re not going too?” said Colin Chapman incredulously. “Where he goes, I go,” I said bravely indicating David. “You married the wrong man,” said Colin and went away laughing. I couldn’t think why. Funny though, he always uses a saloon car on the road. I took my first look at the Lotus. It had a ground clearence, I am told, of five inches, but it looked even less than this. It was painted primrose yellow and everything was shining and new. There was a narrow space behind the seats where the hood was stowed. David took one look at this and turned to me. “Go and throw out all the things you don’t really need, we’ll never get the case in here otherwise.” “But what about the two bucket bags? One’s got the food in and the other, the shoes. I am not going without my slippers!” “All right keep your slippers and leave the food. We’ll have to get some more.” I obeyed in anguished silence. After all it might not be so bad when the hood was up. The seats looked nice, too, upholstered in red; and David always says the air-stream is carried straight over one’s head by the windscreen. I began to feel excited. When I got back with the much impoverished luggage, David was busy taking out the seat-back and seat on his side. “What on earth are you doing?” “I can’t get in it unless I take the seat out.” David is six foot five, and the car, Colin insists, was made for the “average man”, of five foot nine or ten. “But you can’t drive a hundred and twenty miles with your back resting on those – those tubes.” “Space frame,” corrected David. Fortunately, however, he decided we could have the seat-back in after all. He stood feet wide apart on the place where the seat had been and then slid slowly down until, suddenly he was in. I followed suit much more dexterously, and, with a roar, which seemed to come out just under my elbow, we were off. After the first hundred yards my face was stiff and my eyes were streaming. I pulled my scarf over my head and turned up the collar of my duffle coat. Before we reached Enfield my clothes felt as though they were made of muslin. “Exhilarating, isn’t it?” shouted David. His head came well above the windscreen. “Cold!” I yelled. “What?” “I’m COLD!” “I’m not – where’s your spirit of adventure?” I glared at him through my goggles, and shrank down inside my rug as far as I could; but as David put his foot on the accelerator and our speed increased to seventy-five mile an hour, the rug was about as much use as Eve’s leaf would have been on the top of Everest. As I grew accustomed to being an ice block, I began to look around me. I could see the yellow bonnet stretching out ahead and watch the wheels turning under the cycle-type mudguards. The road seemed very close and rushed away past me like an endless grey ribbon. When we slowed for Ware I noticed that we caused a great deal of interest and speculation, especially among the young males of the population. I felt a small surge of pride in our vehicle; no one else in the world could be driving one of these, after all. In Newmarket we went into a very expensive hotel. There was a heavenly open fire, deep carpets and soft lighting. I had a scotch and gradually began to thaw out. We came in for some outraged stares from the other people in the bar, and no wonder. David was wearing an old pair of flannels streaked with grease and mud, a track suit windcheater, a pair of white plimsolls and a flat cap. “Going on the Broads?” asked the publican staring at David’s footgear. “No,” said David, “just driving home for the weekend.” “MG?” I think the publican imagined he was being rather smart. “No, Lotus Seven,” said David. “Oh,” said the man blankly, pushing our drinks across the counter. “Well, I suppose you can’t expect anything else in Newmarket,” whispered David fiercely as he came over to the fireplace. “They only believe in one-horse-power here.” However, there was quite a good crowd around the car when we got back. In awestruck silence the audience watched while we cocooned ourselves for the next sixty miles. David let in the clutch, something seemed to push me violently in the back, and we were out of the built-up area. The road from Newmarket to Thetford is virtually straight and we cruised for mile after mile at over 80 mph. As far as the Lotus was concerned there wasn’t any other traffic on the road. “Mind those bends by Snetterton.” I shouted after Thetford. “What bends?” queried David. “You know, near the circuit – S bends.” “We passed Snetterton two miles back.” I pondered. “Well they used to be there in the Morris.” Perhaps it’s just that in the Seven there’s absolutely no roll on the corners – the car just sits down and goes on as if the road is dead straight. Fifty minutes after leaving Newmarket we were in Norwich, and ten minutes later we were home. We usually take our time about getting up on Saturday mornings but not this time: “Come on leave that washing up,” said David after breakfast, “we must go and do some acceleration tests.” “What in this weather?” The frost had given way to a steady drizzle and the outlook was grey, cheerless and WET. “It’s almost stopped – the road will dry up in no time. Come on it might rain all day to-morrow.” I went to fetch my duffle coat; the sight of it should have warned me. The left side was delicately sprayed with dirt, fine gravel and sand. Oh well, there’s no point in making a second coat dirty. I put it on somewhat grimly. As we turned out of our lane and David accelerated, we went through a large puddle. Muddy water shot all over the windscreen, me, the back of the seat, the new hood lying in its luggage space, everything. On opening my eyes again I found I now had a smart two-coloured coat, dark brown on the left, yellow with brown spots on the right. I was so filthy it didn’t'’ matter any more, so I sat back against the rivulets running down the back of the seat and wallowed in it. There is a conveniently deserted wartime airfield near our cottage, just the thing for tests and learning to drive, or slow bicycle races. The runways are in a bad state but the perimeter track is reasonably smooth and uncluttered. But last Saturday morning it was terribly wet. 0-30 IN 3.8 SECONDS David handed me the stopwatch. “Usual stuff – the speedo’s just been corrected, so we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.” We shot off in a cloud of spray, wheels spinning madly in the puddles. The speedometer needle flew round and I almost took the skin off my finger in my anxiety to press the catch properly. “0-30 3.8 seconds, 0-50 9.8 seconds,” I announced. “Not good enough, we’ll do it again.” Half an hour and a great deal of water later, David decided we had had enough. The figures were just the same as the first ones. I handed back the stopwatch and wrang out my headscarf. “What’s that sloshing noise?” “I think we’ve acquired a built-in lake and I’m sitting in it,” said David happily. Our sitting room was looped with clothing like a stall in Berwick Market for the rest of the weekend. The Lotus came in for a great deal of attention from our friends and neighbours. A farmer in the village approached it cautiously and walked all round it, staring gloomily. “What speed does it do, d’ya say?” “Only about ninety,” David said – “this is a poor man’s car, you know, but it would probably do 120 with an ohv head on the engine.” “Oh ah.” This is a Norfolk expression which can be used to cover doubt, assent, interest, disinterest, or just plain disbelief. Our farmer friend managed to imply mournful disapproval of the follies of youth. “Good brakes?” He went on. “Marvellous,” we said in unison. “Need to be at that speed. What happens when you come up fast behing a lorry? Zip! Under you go, off comes your head.” He shook his head sadly, prodded a front wheel with his stick, and stomped back to his farm. The reaction of a sporting friend who turned up during the afternoon in his red Frazer Nash was very different. He drifted to a halt in our gravelly lane and practically fell out of the driving seat. “Now that’s a real car! Makes this look like a bus,” he said indicating his beautiful, gleaming Nash. The boys at school where David used to teach said, “Sir, sir, how do you get in it sir?” and “Please sir, is it a sewing machine?” and proceeded to hide it under a bush while we were talking Rugger in the Staff Room. We drove the Lotus back to London on Monday morning. The sky was heavily overcast and grey, but it was dry, and I had learned a thing or two by this time. I wore more clothes. I had turned out a woolly ski-hat which came over my ears; and I improvised an effective sidecurtain for my side from an ancient deflated Li-lo air bed. With no spraying mud or water, and far less wind, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. It was lovely to be in the open air, now it was milder, and in the daylight I could truly appreciate the terrific acceleration and incredibly good road holding of the little car. “What tremendous fun summer-time driving in a Lotus must be,” I thought. I began to sing. David looked at me curiously. “You’ve changed your tune haven’t you? I thought you hated the sight of the car, you’ve been moaning enough.” “Yes, well . . . one gets used to anything, I suppose.” I wasn’t going to tell him I liked it – he might have gone and bought one! Perhaps in the summer, perhaps . . . I might even buy one myself! JWW