My Lotus 27 Barn Find

By Andrew Fellows.

An ex-works Lotus 27 missing for 37 years, a Formula Junior and along with the Lotus 25 the first of the monocoque cars. About 36 were constructed, some had tub replacements later… but allow me to introduce myself.

I was first involved with Historic Motorsport in 1970 as a gofer for my brother who retired that year from real racing. I then graduated, 10 years later, to restoring and driving my own car – correction the car belonged to Barclays Bank who after five fun-filled years decided they wanted their money back!

The cheapest car I could find to replace it with in 1984 was a Brabham BT23-1, and for £3,000 on the button ready to go. Pre-1970 had only just started in the UK and we were lucky if we had 7 cars on the grid. 30 years and 4 cars later I thought it time to quit. That is until Bryan Miller spotted an interesting post on 10:10ths. “Don’t know what I own, can you help me?” 

It was Kenny Gibbard from Sylmar in California who had what he was told was a Lotus 32 Formula B, but he had a feeling it might be a 27. He’d owned it since 1975, taken in part exchange for some work he’d completed on a Curtis sprint car. Destined to be an oval racer he never got around to restoring it. The tub number was the only identification, 63/12 which rightfully should be 27/JM/35 the 4th out of 5 Formula Junior team cars from 1963, those being 27/JM/32, 33, 34, 35 and at the end of the year 7. Kenny ummed and ahhed as to it’s future. I came clean and told him what I thought it was. $21,000 and three months later the car landed in Melbourne, derelict but having been dry stored in his house for 37 years. No engine, no gearbox or instruments and a bit dented and cut up in the engine bay. On arrival, two points to note, it is very unusual for a 27 to have a gear lever gate, and the engine bay has had a very amateur alteration for an SCA, cut out in the side wall, modified gear linkage change, and unequal length drive shafts. Was this car run in Formula C?

On examination, it looked every bit a Lotus 32 and this is where the fun starts. A Lotus 27 has rubber bush suspension whereas a Lotus 32 has rose joints, but the tub is identical save for a steel centre bulkhead on the Lotus 32 and different suspension pick up points. In period, it was a simple change to add external pick up points for the rear radius rods and convert to a 27/32 retaining the original Triumph Herald front uprights. However, this chassis had no evidence of any changes, it appeared to be a Lotus 32 from new, magnesium front uprights and F2 wheels all round.

There were two puzzles, why a Lotus 27 tub number and why a Lotus 27 aluminium centre bulkhead? I know only too well that just such anomalies can often happen but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. That is until we started to look inside the tub itself. There in the rear were traces of the Lotus 27 pickup points. The original bolt hole for the bottom radius rod was still there. The tub had been re-skinned and when the panels were all un-riveted it was possible to see it had been re-drilled for the new skin.

The front calipers are dated 16/8/62, and 21/8/65 and the rears 3/9/62. Front shocks 2/65, but I’m told it was commonplace to replace shocks on a regular basis.

As of today, I still don’t have the answer, possibly it’s the car Peter Warr advertised in November 1964 as an ex-works Lotus 27, used as prototype Lotus 32 with F2 wheels and suspension all round built in October 1963. That would also fit Alan Baillie’s view that it ran a Cosworth SCA at some stage but there is no proof, and sadly Peter Warr fell off his perch two years ago, and the family have no photos of his car.

Peter raced a Lotus 27 at Fuji in May 1964 and after a bit of searching I bought a Japanese book with some close-up body off shots. Pure Lotus 27 so a different car and for those interested I think it was 27/JM/7 the 5th team car that never raced in FJ and is now in Mexico.

As well as the restoration, at the same time I’ve been researching Lotus 27s and Lotus 32s that raced in the US in the 1960’s in the hope of hitting the jackpot. Research is addictive and highly rewarding sometimes, so here are some snippets found so far, (excluding those delivered new to the US).

Stew McMillan raced a blue Lotus 27 later called a Lotus 32. Lovely guy, sent me photos, pure Lotus 27 so dead duck again. I sent a Christmas season greetings to find he’d since died. Mimi, his wife, told me how much he’d enjoyed our correspondence – like minded souls, she said. How kind and what a painful reminder history slips away so quickly.

Bill Rutan from Connecticut had a Lotus 32. Phoned him and found he’d also raced a Tecno in 1969 and a homemade VW Bathtub with which he’d set numerous hillclimb records. Turned out he had bought two Lotus 32s from Fred Opert and two Lotus 35s, well, so he said. Still has two Tecnos, both for sale, one a chassis only. His Lotus 32 was not my Lotus 27 either. Bugger!

Competition Press and Autoweek is a good source of info. After days of reading I found an advert by Bob Keys for a green (Bob’s car wasn’t green when he got it so he repainted the car) ex-works Lotus 27 in 1965. Whoopee, this sounded good! He was from Studio City near Hollywood, next to Sherman Oaks where the car came from, so Kenny had told me. I found a Bob Keys in Los Angeles but turned out he was long since deceased. Thanks to another researcher I came across a Bob Keys, secretary for the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) in Hawaii. A phone call later and it turned out to be the owner of the advert but once again not my car (it has pure Lotus 27, parallel rear radius rods and 4 bolt front Triumph Herald front uprights. This is 27/JM/34).

The bonus was that I now know where that car is today, and it was a delighted owner that I was able to give the entire history of his car. After Team Lotus in 1963 the car went to Bruce Eglington from the US, and was looked after by Ian Raby for the European season in 1964. Bruce lives only 2 hours away from where his car now is and he had sold to Bob Keys who sold to an aptly named Digger Helm, who owned a cemetery, though driven also by Marion Whittington. Digger had great results, in his words, “I either won or blew up”! 

Dick Eisenmann drove a Lotus 27 and he sent me a photo of him winning a race, he sold the car to Tom Tufts who promptly rolled it and part exchanged it for a Chevron from Opert. The car was red from new, so no go there.

Boyd Groberg had a green one too, bit of a mystery car but certainly not mine either, as it is pure Lotus 27. I don’t think he liked it much!

Thanks to the legendary Frank Monise Jnr I got to talk to his pal, Art Brisbane. Now Art had bought his car from Charlie Hayes. Charlie was the ultimate playboy, racer and West Coast car dealer of the 1960’s. He now claims his memory is buggered, fried by too many drugs in the early 1970’s. Actually, he’s got quite a good memory but this Lotus 27 had twin rollover hoops, and is pure Lotus 27 as well.

Dave Ogilvy and Bob Parker both from the West Coast had Lotus 27s variously called Lotus 32s or even Lotus 35s. Dave did very well eventually cutting the engine bay off and substituting a space frame, sold the car to somebody in Eastern Canada and never heard of it again. Bob Parker got rear-ended at the 1967 Rose Cup in Oregon, so he sold the car to a guy from California. Not long after that, there is a Competition Press and Autoweek advert for a restored Lotus 27 in a small town called Weed in California. Being that it was green I thought I’d try and find the seller. I Googled ‘Weed California’ – doh! You get every article about marijuana known to mankind!

In 1972 Jim Gross advertised a Lotus 32 for sale, again in Studio City. Jim was a film editor having worked on James Garner’s 1970 film The Racing Scene all about a F5000 Surtees that Garner bought and was driven by Scooter Patrick. Gross is better known for things such as Cagney and Lacey but not even a private eye could find him for me. Well it might have helped if I’d said Gross and not Goss! One of the film crew, Earl Rath now runs a film school and it was very hard to accept that Jim had died in May 2013.

Still to find is Greg Hodges who had the only team car now still missing. This car had gone to Robs Lamplough and then to Bob Winkelman in LA who sold it on for Robs. Bob’s brother was the legendary Roy Winkelman who ran Jochen Rindt in F2 in 1967/8. I’m very enthusiastic on the histories.

Hugh Johnson from San Francisco is one I can’t find, together with Ron Chiniquy, another Hollywood film director.

I’ve been on the phone to a lovely old boy from Illinois, Jim Pathe aged 84, and he is posting some photos of his car. As usual it’s promising, was painted white (one of the colours on the old body) and when he had it broke a top left rocker arm, and full set of original Lotus wobblies, but then on American magnesium wheels. This all matches but … I hit it off with Jim straight away as he mentioned his F2 De Tomaso, “Not the very first one that raced at Sebring?” I said, (knowing full well the answer) “Yes” he said “0001”. It helps being a chassis anorak, though this was not a particularly successful car.

I’ve also got a lead on the prototype Lotus 32 that Peter Warr sold; the owner from 1965 now lives in Spain. Again, photos on the way.

I live in hope but at the moment the car is still a total mystery to which Clive Chapman can add nothing. It’s now rebuilt but like all cars that haven’t run for 40 years, is beset with problems. It handles well, but likes to share its oil. Possibly something to do with the weird Chapman designed oil pipes to the front cooler, a pipe within a pipe and the flow rate is, frankly, crap.

There are only about 12 of the original 36 known to exist and we have two here in Australia, the rest of the missing ones will be out there somewhere, indeed another turned up recently, cut and shut and a real mess. No ID at all but I am 99% sure I know the number, however the owner won’t reply, so his loss. 

My Lotus 27 records I think are now pretty good, but more bits of information will appear and the reward for each snippet will be just as exciting as the first on day one! If I get anything positive, I’ll let you know straight away!