1,098 cc SOHC Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
2 SU Carburetors
Approximately 75bhp at 6,250rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Disc Brakes
*Rare surviving wide-chassis Lotus Eleven
*Known, recognized and acknowledged by the Lotus Eleven fraternity
*Professionally restored in the U.K. for vintage racing
*Extensively documented with FIA papers
*Supplied with the old aluminum body shell
THE LOTUS ELEVEN
The Elevens absolutely shone at all levels of motor racing, dominating both the 1100 and 1500cc classes through 1956-57. At the 1956 Le Mans 24-Hours the 1100cc class was won by the works car co-driven by Reg Bicknell/Peter Jopp which finished seventh overall. Almost 148 significant race wins were recorded by Lotus Elevens during their first full season.
In 1957 Colin Chapman/Joe Sheppard won their class in the Sebring 12-Hours, and at the Le Mans 24-Hours the 1100cc class fell to the car shared by Jay Chamberlain/'Mac' Fraser and a super-lightweight 750cc Eleven won the Index of Performance for Cliff Allison/Keith Hall.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
Here Bonhams is delighted to offer one of the most original and largely 'unspoiled' Lotus Eleven sports-racing cars that we have ever had the privilege to handle. The car has been described by Victor Thomas of the Historic Lotus Register as featuring "an original wide chassis, one of the very rare group of cars built most notably for use at top international level, as at Le Mans and Sebring, and with many other surviving original panels, fixtures and fittings."
This particular car is especially interesting since amongst all Elevens perhaps the most sought-after individual variants are the 'wide-chassis' model tailor-made to meet International cockpit-width regulations and initially developed specifically for Sebring and Le Mans.
Colin Chapman apparently feared that the Le Mans scrutineers in particular – for they had a fearsome reputation – would use 'a plank' to verify cockpit width, but in fact it appears that their plank measure would have failed one of the few potential French class winners in the shape of an air-cooled Panhard. Therefore a pole was used instead which would fit handily between the encroaching structure on each side of the Panhard's cockpit, and would equally fit into the space between frame members in the Lotus Elevens entered.
According to Victor Thomas, respected and immensely experienced Lotus Eleven Registrar with the Historic Lotus Register: "...it does seem that during the autumn of 1956 two wide chassis cars were produced for the (London) Motor Show, one displayed sans aluminium panels or bodywork. The best theory...is that these cars were kept for Sebring 1957 and two wide cockpit cars were then built making up the foursome well-photographed before shipping to Florida".
Mr Thomas and the Register became aware of this particular, highly original wide-cockpit car's existence in the early 1990s when it was retrieved from many years of US ownership by London-based British classic car dealer Michael Lavers. The centre frame width is these cars was increased by no less than 4-inches on each side, cross-braced by an additional floor tube and with the rear suspension radius rods cranked to accommodate the width increase. For many years a maximum of seven of these wide-chassis Elevens were known to have been built, three works cars for Le Mans 1956, two for Sebring 1957 (backed by two normal-chassised Elevens with wide bodywork) but then two more palpably period-built wide-chassised cars came to light from long-term obscurity. The car now offered here is one of them, known to the Historic Lotus Register as 'the Lavers/Hart' car after its modern-era UK re-importer, and British specialist restorer Steve Hart who rebuilt the car for Historic racing to the order of British collector/racer Peter Hannan.
This car's proven American history is that it was owned during the late 1950s or early-1960s by enthusiast William Mitchell in Athens, Tennessee. The current vendor – who has owned the car for the past 9 years, campaigning it both frequently and successfully in Vintage events – made a trip to Baton Rouge to meet subsequent owner Jeff Cobb who was a relative of William Mitchell's and who had retrieved the long neglected and then-derelict car from a barn and trailered it back to Baton Rouge in 1972.
Photographs provided by Jeff Cobb confirm that the car had survived to that point in largely unmodified form, apart from possibly its scuttle panel which is considered today to be an original-series product though not perhaps the one originally mounted upon this chassis. Otherwise the 'clamshell' tail body section, the fuel tanks, cockpit interior etc have always impressed successive owners as being wonderfully original survivors. They are almost certainly those first hand-fashioned for fitting to this chassis frame back in 1956.
At that time the car was re-imported into the UK by Michael Lavers it still retained its 1962 'TAMPA' license plate serial '4D-18313' and from the photographs provided by Jeff Cobb it was evident that at some stage in its long career this car had been used on the public highway.
It is known that the works-entered wide-chassis Lotus Eleven co-driven at the 1956 Le Mans 24-Hour race by Reg Bicknell and Peter Jopp was sold post-race by Colin Chapman and his Lotus Engineering Company Limited to Joe Sheppard in Tampa, Florida. That car was chassis number '210' and its ultimate fate and current whereabouts have become an enduring Lotus Eleven mystery. At the time that Michael Lavers retrieved the undoubtedly highly-original wide-chassis car now offered here, its emergence created tremendous excitement within the Lotus Eleven world.
New owner Peter Hannan then entrusted it to Steve Hart for restoration and it was during this work that the car was examined in minute detail by Victor Thomas of the Historic Lotus Register and by FIA Historic Vehicle inspector Alan Putt. Despite genuine eagerness on their part to verify that this remarkable survivor is indeed the missing Le Mans 24-Hour class-winning car chassis '210', it became apparent that on balance its original panels lacked confirmatory features which have proved their case. For example where they would have expected to find the drillings necessary to accept Le Mans-regulation bonnet straps, and several other indelible features differed from the Le Mans car's photographic record.
Recalling his years of investigation into the car's identity – Registrar Victor Thomas admits his disappointment at such failure to verify this car as being the missing Le Mans works team car. Other Lotus specialists differ in this opinion and argue that this is indeed chassis '210' ex-Bicknell/Jopp, but we at BONHAMS can only describe this situation – not offer judgement upon it.
Mr Thomas advises us that: "The original Tampa registration plate indicates a car registered in Pinellas County which is in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, just to the west of Tampa. In those days we understand that Florida plates used a code based on the size of the County of issue. Numbers ranged from 1 for Dade County (Miami) to 67 for the smallest county. Pinellas was assigned number 4. The county for Tampa is Hillsborough and its number was 3. The letter – 'D' - indicates it was issued for a passenger vehicle weighing less than 2,500 lbs. The rest of the numbers have no significance other than the order the plate had been stamped in at the state prison. -- The records for these vehicle registrations were all on paper and were thrown out long ago so there is probably no way now to verify who registered this vehicle nor for how long...".
The ownership of the ex-Le Mans Eleven chassis 210 by Joe Sheppard is very well documented and surviving photos confirm that the car was exported to him with a 'single-seat' cockpit configuration with wrap-round driver-only windscreen and rigid aluminium tonneau panel closing the passenger side of the cockpit opening. Therefore the full-width broadly Le Mans-type configuration windscreen which has survived upon this car, was not present upon Joe Sheppard's. It should also be noted that the full-width screen present on the car now offered here (when re-imported to the UK by Michael Lavers) differed slightly in shape from the transparencies fitted to the three Le Mans works cars.
Any connection between Joe Shepard in Tampa and the Lavers/Hart Tampa plate is therefore speculative but interestingly this Eleven – already highly-specified with its wide-chassis Le Mans-type structure – was also fitted with a Series 2 rear end. This was not uncommon as the factory ceased to provide Eleven Series 1 spares around 1958. Overall, HLR records show that only nine different wide-chassis cars have been found to exist, while the surviving Lotus factory build records identify eight wide-chassis cars built.
Victor Thomas of the Historic Lotus Register says: "My considered opinion is that this very original and extremely interesting wide-chassis car was actually built prior to the three 1956 Le Mans entries, probably as a prototype to test out the theories involved, and from the windscreen differences I believe it was photographed for publicity purposes by the factory in 1956. There is also a logic leading to a particular chassis number prior to the Le Mans cars."
He adds: "We would have loved to have proved that this is the long-missing '210', the Le Mans class winner, but even without such prove it's still a great car, a really great survivor of which its owner can be rightly proud".
All this and a fine recent-years record of frequent Vintage racing success to boot, this race-ready 1956 Hornsey-built wide-chassis Lotus Eleven is an exciting prospect for any new owner, and above all it is undoubtedly one of the most original and unspoiled examples of this most elegant, gorgeously-proportioned and highly-successful type.
Please note that contrary to the catalog description, the front suspension on the Lotus 11 is a swing axle with coil spring/dampers. Furthermore, the rear suspension is a De Dion axle with twin radius rods and coil spring/dampers. Please note that the chassis number for this car is MK11210 and it is offered with a California title; which is titled with chassis number 210.