SOLD for £26,747
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“Every Sports Car enthusiast should own a Lotus 7”. Road and Track, April 1968.
From a lockup at the back of his dad’s pub, genius designer and engineer Colin Chapman took his fledgling car company to the purpose built factory at Hethel that Lotus still occupy today via Delamare Road, Cheshunt. During the scant seven years spent in Hertforshire from 1959 to 1966 he also moved them from backstreet blacksmiths – or ‘Garagistas ’ as Mr Ferrari somewhat disgruntledly referred to them – to multiple World Champions selling road cars around the world and from fit for then purpose aluminium clad spaceframes to monocoque racers and backbone chassis equipped road cars; if there was a more exciting time in the company’s history, we can’t recall it.
Over this period of white-hot development for both the company and its road and race cars, the firecracker Lotus Seven was both the staple diet of the enthusiast market and, for the most part, the bread and butter winner that funded both the gestation of the Elan and Lotus’ racing endeavours.
By the early 1960s Lotus consisted of Lotus Cars Limited who were responsible for the production, marketing and sales of the road cars, (the Elite and Elan) and Lotus Components Limited who did the same for the customer competition machines – and notably if slightly illogically, the Seven. Perhaps Chapman’s vision of a more upmarket future for Lotus road cars resulted in the Seven being lumped in with the race cars but given it had far more in common with the spaceframe constructed competition machines from VI to 24 (Type 14 excepted) than the brave new Elan-shaped world of fibreglass and folded steel, it did make production and indeed marketing sense. Relatively quick to produce, by dint of getting the buyer to bolt much of the car together themselves (hence saving a bunch of tax into the bargain), it was logical for the guys producing competition Lotus’ to assemble the Seven too and output noticeably ramped up and down depending on the stage of the racing season and hence how busy Lotus Components were building track cars. For its performance (zero to sixty in just over 6 seconds for the 1500 Super Seven) it was an absolute bargain at under £500 when an MGB was £950 though consequently it can’t have made Lotus enormous profits but it kept the race car workers busy (and paid) in the off season and there can be little doubt that without it Lotus would not have survived.
Though initially somewhat underwhelmed by the Lotus Seven fitted with either the expensive/high maintenance Coventry Climax or archaic/mundane Ford side-valve engines, the US eventually took to it once the tried, tested and tuneable BMC A Series engine was installed. Sales across the pond gathered pace (no doubt aided by the fact that the majority of the running gear was familiar to the BMC service network) to such an extent that Lotus introduced a specific model for America, which they labelled the ‘Lotus Seven America’ (OK, they are good at cars not names). For the Series 2 it was plusher (everything is relative), better equipped and sported the flared front wings that the US legislation demanded; proactive dealers such as Bob Challman of Ecurie Shirlee manged to persuade a good number of buyers that bare bones basic sports cars with a ‘stick’ and the steering wheel on the wrong side were a rare and desirable thing and the Lotus Seven established itself as the road car and weekend racer of choice for a significant number of US enthusiasts.
1963 at Lotus’ Cheshunt factory, Jim Clark parks his Elan and pops in to check on his Lotus 25 Formula One car that would carry him to his and Lotus’ first World Championships, netting an unprecedented seven wins from the ten races. The 29 Indianapolis racer, cruelly robbed of a debut win, was being built along with a wealth of super successful customer machines from 27 Formula Juniors to 23B sports racers. Directly above the race shop, Lotus Seven “America” Chassis Number 1822 is being built, its DNA doubtless infused with all that is going on just a few feet below.
OK, so having got a bit emotional about what a 1963 Lotus Seven is all about, what makes this example special relative to any other ’63 Seven or indeed any proper Lotus built example? For us it is just that; what we have here is to all intents and purposes what left the factory fifty-six years ago. Lotus may on the face of it seem to have been run in a slightly chaotic fashion with perhaps little time for record keeping but for Lotus Components at least, where tracing competition machines’ specification could prove useful, extensive records were maintained and these still survive. Both the Factory Archive and Historic Lotus Register hold this information and the ever helpful custodians have been able to verify that this Seven has not only matching Chassis and Engine Numbers but vitally that of the frame too; a very full house indeed. Further to this, inspection of the car also reveals a plethora of original features all present and correct:
Early painted, not enamelled, nose badge
14” studded Springall wood-rim steering wheel with rare Lotus horn push
Early three piece screen supports and correct pattern long and short screen studs
A full correct set of AC instruments with Smiths chronometric tachometer specific to ‘A Series’ cars
Lotus fabricated radiator feed pipe with correct radiator
Bulkhead mounted starter solenoid
Perhaps less exciting (unless you are a fully paid up, card carrying Lotus Seven anorak – guilty as charged) but still important indicators of originality are the various brackets fitted to the chassis that often get left off during restoration such as those for the cycle wings, the mount for the brake light switch and the brackets for the original electric cooling fan.
‘1822’ was built at Cheshunt in 1963 and shipped from there on 22nd November to Lotus’ agent Bob Challman’s Eccurie Shirlee dealership in Manhattan Beach, California. To right hand drive specification (as, aside from one press car, were all Seven ‘Americas’), it was one of the very last batch of four ‘Americas’ finishing with ‘1825’ made and shipped together. It was fitted with a 948 cc MK 2 Austin-Healey Sprite specification ‘A Series’ engine which was, according to BMC historian Anders Ditlev Clausager, one of around twenty ‘Gold Seal’ units identified by their ‘8G19RS’ engine numbers that were supplied to Lotus. Selling new cars with rebuilt engines? That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing Lotus would do no matter how much of a bargain they were… To be fair they did splash out on the later, stronger ‘rib cased’ gearboxes.
Having arrived in California, that is apparently where it remained for the next fifty years. It is understood to have been owned by a respected IMSA racer and used sparingly with only 7,391 miles covered in the just sixteen years before it was taken off the road in 1980. It was then disassembled and resided at the back of an engineering workshop for the next couple of decades. Know to a leading US Caterham agent for all this time, he eventually bought it for himself in 2002 but the envisaged restoration never progressed further than the acquisition of a number of parts and in 2013 the Seven was bought by the current owner via a dealer. The car had been meticulously packed up in a large wooden crate as shown in the photo gallery and was on the high seas when the deal was done subject to its inspection on its arrival back in the UK. Having gained a degree of notoriety as ‘the Seven in a big box’, it was duly delivered direct from the port to Roach Manufacturing and the box opened somewhat sarcophagus-style; the contents did not disappoint and the deal was concluded.
Though disassembled the Seven was still highly original with for example what appeared to be its Factory fitted Firestone cross-ply tyres mounted on delicate 3 ½” wide Dunlop steel wheels and the discerning owner was determined to preserve as much of this as possible.
Roach Manufacturing Ltd were selected to undertake the restoration of the body and chassis not only due to their unarguable metalworking prowess (if you can build 1930s Mercedes and Auto Union Grand Prix cars from scratch you are considered ‘accomplished’) but their renowned sympathetic approach to restoration; as they say themselves, “We work hard to try to retain as much of the original car, be it panel work or framework, as possible.” Getting started in late 2013, by February 2014 the finished panelled chassis was back with the owner, indicative of how relatively little there was to do to this particular example; for instance just 15 hours were required to prepare the chassis for powder coating in correct light grey with the reinstatement of the spare wheel carrier the only tube-work required though the opportunity was taken to install mountings for seat belts should a future owner be minded to fit them. With the emphasis on preservation, the original scuttle, transmission tunnel and gearbox cover were retained however the sense in using a company such as Roach’s is revealed when one looks at the new bonnet adjacent to the original scuttle; a perfect match as is shown in the photo gallery.
The owner, well versed in such machines, then completed the restoration. Suspension components were powder coated in the correct chassis grey though the anti-roll bar was finished in black as the Factory did back in the day. Original parts were retained wherever possible including the wiring loom which was simply re-bound as required, the rear axle (in correct un-strengthened form), the steel wheels and the Lotus specific free-flow exhaust manifold. Of particular note is the original ‘Lamiplate’ dashboard which just required a good clean before being re-riveted to the chassis. The rare, correct for a Seven ‘America’ instruments also just required a good clean, though the water temperature gauge’s delicate capillary tube needed a repair. The engine, which in 948 cc form would have given a towering 43.5 bhp (don’t forget the .5), was bored +.060” to take it to 998 cc and fully rebuilt. Omega pistons, a mild Piper cam, Cooper cylinder head and duplex timing chain were installed - all very 1960s modifications pushing the Seven’s power up to around 60 BHP which compares well with the 1500 cc Ford engine in a contemporary Super Seven, especially when you factor in a weight advantage of around 50 KG in favour of the BMC engine and ‘box. A new clutch assembly was bolted to the balanced crank and flywheel and the rebuilt gearbox was reunited with the power unit.
Any new parts that were required were sourced from early Seven specialists such as Redline Components and Mike Brotherwood, while where parts were replaced, either for serviceability or safety reasons, care was taken to retain the originals and these are supplied with the car. For example, in period front disc brakes were fitted to some Sevens and the decision was taken to similarly upgrade this example and the original drums and associated components will accompany the car along with items such as shock absorbers, seat back, side screens, grill and exhaust silencer. The rare Wingard rear lights require new lenses and have been replaced with Lucas equivalents which are a close match but they and the original sidelights are with the car.
Once completed the Lotus was MOT tested in the summer of 2014, still showing the 7391 miles it had since at least 1980. Interestingly, as the few subsequent miles have ticked by the first two digits on the odometer (0 and 7) remain sun-yellowed while the next three are bright white (please see the photo gallery) though each time a 3, 9 or 1 respectively roll round, they too are yellowed (though to be fair the 3 has yet to make a reappearance). With just 284 miles covered since the completion of the restoration the Seven is as they say “Box Fresh” and with a picture painting 1,000 words, a look through the photo gallery is probably all you need to do to appreciate its current condition. In our opinion it is perfect throughout and a pure delight on its pimple-fresh 145 Michelins, bare aluminium bodywork not over polished and unmarked fibreglass wings and nose.
Ignition on, a tweak of the choke cable and a quick fumble under the dash to prod the push button starter solenoid and the breathed on engine jumps into life immediately, showing healthy oil pressure on the AC gauge. With no nasty noises (and a generous quantity of nice ones) the impression is of rude health and an eagerness that embodies the Seven’s character completely. Though social distancing prevented us from experiencing it for ourselves, we understand it drives as a new Seven would have in the 1960s with a perfect grip/balance/power ratio; it is the sort of car with which one could have huge fun at just 30 MPH or even admiring it parked outside country pub.
The healthy history file contains the Lotus’ California registration plates – 138 HWN – with its last licence sticker dated 1980, a receipt for its sale in 2013 and communications from Vic Thomas and John Watson of the Historic Lotus Register confirming the cars build date, chassis, engine and frame numbers and its ex-works specification. There are also notes regarding the car’s ownership history and photos of it in the USA along with a memory stick containing multiple further photos prior to and during its boxing up for shipping back to the UK. There are also detailed notes regarding the engine’s rebuild along with a rare and valuable original Factory Owners Manual.
There is something delightfully pure and delicate about a Seven on skinny wheels with narrow wings and for us this example epitomises that brilliantly. Coupled to that, as the saying goes, a car is only original once and with body/chassis units available ‘off the shelf’, the temptation, certainly from a financial perspective, is to chuck it away and start again. Parts cars left the factory with are lost for ever through ‘improvements’ repairs or restoration and a machine with such a full complement of original items is a rare find indeed. This Seven ‘America’ is as close as possible to how it came out of the factory and one for the serious enthusiast. Of course if 60 BHP is a little tame for you, drop in on the Caterham 620S we are also selling which boasts some five times as much!