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Number 6

General Chat about anything non-car related; Jokes, fun, of interest, lifestyle, in the news

Post Sat Oct 28, 2017 11:45 pm
stewartwillsher User avatar

Senior Member
Senior Member

Posts: 700
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Location: Western Spain
WAFFLE again; but this is the last (sigh of relief, eh?), because further episodes are not really car related.

I was a fully certified Member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and not yet twenty one years of age.
My motivation was two-fold; to prove to my father that I was not a lunatic behind the wheel; but more importantly, to enable me to get insured for a sports car.

OK, so now is the time to come clean, and admit to what I had been hankering for since my mid-teens.
With my pocket money, I had for some years spent it on two aspects of my motor sport fanatiscism - weekly mags, Motoring News and Autosport, which I read cover to cover several times before the next issue, and going to races, like Siverstone, Snetterton and Brands, for whatever was on; often using a combination of train, bus and hitching lifts.
The club events were where the real enthusiasts met and the atmosphere was fantastic.
It must have been 1959, at some time, that I fell in love; yes girls were OK, but inconsistent and difficult to satisfy (no, not like that!); I was fourteen years of age.

There in the motoring rags was the announcement, photos and loads of info on a sports car that you could build yourself, then if you felt like it, race it!
Colin Chapman, together with his mates Charlie Williams and Len Pritchard (if you don't know about them, Google; you might be amazed!), had designed and were selling the kit of parts of the Lotus Seven.
It was crude, cheap, but easy to assemble and due to a quirk in the law, not subject to purchase tax, the equivalent of vehicle tax and VAT, of the day.
It was the closest you could get to a club level racer and still drive it on the public highway.
Incidentally that can be said to be true to this day, with its many flattering replicas, one of which I have.
I still had a couple more years at grammar school to go, but mixed in with my spare time (sod homework!) activities of helping build rally and race motors, and navigating, and marshalling, was a constant drooling in the background over the Lotus.
There were other infatuations, many I realised were way out of my reach and in fantasy land, like the Astons and Ferraris, with their full race models I saw at events, but I knew somehow that the Seven was within my grasp.

Fast forward the years and here I was with the wherewithall, in terms of dosh and a certificate that could get me insurance, and owning a Lotus Seven became a reality.
Buying a new kit had become less easy as the years passed, primarily due to the aspirations of Lotus so they in effecct stopped production of the Seven.
Just as well maybe, as although the time quoted was short, it really needed power tools and light; neither of which could I manage for practical logistical reasons; I lived on the second floor of a block of council flats, and garages were like the proverbial rocking horse sh1t.
My father had a lock up in a load of garages behind some houses about half a mile away, but without power, but running water available.
I put myself on the queue and one became vacant quite quickly, so another item ticked of my list.
I scoured the classified ads in the mags but again rocking horses were more productive than vendors of Lotus Sevens.
However, a chap South of London claimed to have a range of second hand Sevens, when he could get his hands on them.
His name was Graham Nearn and he owned and ran a very scruffy car lot which was no more than a collection of sheds and a small glass fronted one that doubled up as a showroom (two or three cars max) and his office.
This shanty was in Caterham - yes, Caterham Car Sales.
As soon as he said he had a couple, I was off like a rocket to see what they were like.
Now, I thought because of my love of the car, I knew it, but I was in for a bit of a shock.
Mr. Chapman was a wizard at design, with an emphasis on keeping the weight down to maximise roadholding and performance.
The cars in front of me that day were so crude that only my infatuation kept my interest up as a buyer.
The list of things the Seven did not have will come as a surprise to many people.
To start with, it did not have seats.
No, seriously, you sat on a couple of vinyl covered foam blocks stapled to wooden strips.
Your back, and that of a passenger, was against a sheet of plywood, again covered in vinyl with a thin sandwich of foam.
There were no indicators, no, none.
The headlights were not headlights but Lucas matching spot and fog lamps, so main beam was the spot and dipped was the fog.
No fuel gauge, so a dipstick (mine was a gardener's thin bamboo vine support) was suggested.
A single wiper on the driver's side was sufficient.
The fibreglass nose cone was held on with four Dzus fasteners (a lightweight aviation industry fixing) which was easily undone with a halfpenny.
I chose the better of the two cars, which came with some extras; a full weather and tonneau set which, in my ignorance, I thought a good thing, and a spare wheel.
The toneau was OK, but the hood and sidescreens/doors were dreadfull and made of thin smelly canvas and the hood frame worse that the cheapest pram.
Paid a deposit and set off to get myself fixed up with insurance which I knew was do-able, but was prepared for a bumpy ride.
Fortunately, I knew a chap in the City who was an underwriter for a Motor syndicate.
A bit of tooth sucking initially, mainly because I was still under twenty one, but he cae up with a short list of things I had to do to show I was reducing the risk.
First, and there was only really one make available, I had to fit a tamper alarm because the vehicle was not in the least secure; next a known make of fire extinguisher had to be on board; and a notice had to be displayed clearly for passengers to know they travelled at their own risk.
But still no talk of seat belts; thankfully, because finding suitable ones and fitting them would have been very difficult.
So, Selmar alarm, Bradex extinguisher and dymo label on dash; job done.
The entire vehicle was engineered down to a minimum, and the first impression driving it was that it might fall apart at any moment, as it squeaked and rattled and was a little scary over bumps and rough road.
One quickly adapted one's expectations, and after the plush Riley it was a culture shock.
What was undoubtedly the big plus point and impressed not only a driver, but the white knuckled passenger, was the road holding and the crazy speed at which it could be thrown round right angle corners without slowing.
I remember taking one lad who worked for me to pick up a newspaper from the press in the City of London in the early hours.
He had pleaded to come and others had warned him!
From our computer centre in Moorgate to the FT at Bracken House must have only been a half a mile each way, but by the time we got back he was silent and ashen and disappeared off to the loo for a while.
Even my well-seasoned mates at the car club got wind of the experience and all but the bravest declined a spin.
What was in contrast to the race-like roadholding, was the performance.
My Seven had a "cooking" 105E Anglia lump, enhanced by a pair of inch and a quarter SU carbs and a four branch exhaust manifold and straight through exhaust.
So the nought to sixty was unlikely to be under ten seconds and top whack about ninety.
In a straight line it looked and sounded good, but there were many sporty motors that could leave it standing, but any bend or corner and they were gone in the mirror.
And whilst being negative, I must mention again, the depravity of the weather equipment.
First off was a chicken and egg situation with regard to stowing it.
It should never be taken off and put away wet; the canvas was cheap and disgusting and shrank something dreadful when wet.
So after succumbing to using the hood, it had to be kept in place for possibly a couple of hours or more until taught and dry.
Failing to do that meant it was nigh impossibe to stretch the bloody thing to get it up again.
The frame was a fairly flimsy affair and if a mate was available it was easier with the manhandling of the tubes.
The doors were canvas but braced somehow with a metal frame.
They fixed to the sides of the windscreen and sort of fitted the shape of the roof only letting in the occasional stream of spray from the front wheels.
The doors flapped like a demented bird, partly due to the bottom half being hinged to allow hand signals (remember, no indicators).
Visibility both to the rear and sideways, might have been acceptabe when the gear was new, but mine, like others, I found out, had weathered to be almost opaque and yellowish wavy plastic.
The final point, and it really is getting to sound a bit Les Dawson, was access.
Now I was not a chunky lad, about ten stone and five ten, but getting in and out with the hood up was a contortionists delight.
The body and limbs all had to be part folded at the moment of getting in or out, so perhaps somewhat like a praying mantis might be a close description.
But, to counter all that negativity, I assumed the philosophy, a bit difficult mid winter with frosts, snow or downpours, that here was a four wheeled motor cycle.
I equipped myself with the upper half of a biker's clobber, but instead of a helmet my mother donated a beret.
Flying jacket type coat (mine was not real leather; never mind) and gauntlets goggles and a large silk square folded and tied round lower part of face and tucked in down chest.
For fine weather attire, a jumper and sunglasses did just fine.
People were generally nice and asked questions, mostly sensible.
Kids wanted to sit in it, but I was very reluctant to give them even a gentle spin, because of the insurance restrictions clearly displayed on the dash.
Getting things done was excellent, even though there was nowhere specifically attributed as Lotus Seven workshops.
I had a blow on the exhaust where the manifold was joined to the silencer (a misnomer if there ever was one) so I found, through the car club, there was a fabricator in the East End.
I went, on the off chance of help, at the weekend, and they made up a length of flexi pipe to match, and fitted it, there and then, all for very little money.
The car seemed to bring out the best of car enthusiasm in anyone, which was very nice.
And guess what, the world of the Lotus Seven was about to change dramatically in two aspects.
Patrick McGoohan, previously the star of the spy series "Danger Man" was about to be "The Prisoner", "Number 6", and in the opening sequence would be belting round Central London in the latest model of the Seven.
That changed the entire ethos of the car, it then becoming a trendy poser wagon and lost much of the club enthusiasts emphasis that Chapman had intended.
Graham Nearn and Caterham were about to take over the production and sales of the Seven as Lotus started to go for the grander and more lucrative market for super cars.
With Lotus washing their hands of the Seven and Caterham growing on the back of orders for complete cars, and with more of a road car character, comfort, etc., the kit build option disappeared.
However it was not all bad, because my boneshaker increased in value dramatically, so I could cash in handsomely.
So, why would I want to move on.
Well I suppose it is a rather sad tale and one I had not foreseen when my enthusiasm and ambition did not take into consideration certain practicalities.
I was a young unattached lad in my early twenties and had been reasonably successful with the dollies in the Riley and even before that in the bangers.
But, the Seven was a big turn off.
They might be persuaded to a spin up the road and back for a giggle, but a date was rare, and word got about I am sure.
And of course, I could not help myself, throwing it around as you would, so I left a trail of ashen faced girls behind me.
My mates with their hot Minis, Anglias, Cortinas, Imps, etc. didn't get grief about destroyed hair do's or being shaken to pieces or scared witless.
Nor did they have the logistical problem I shared with one of my mates with a superb Healey 3000.
He flogged it after a very short time muttering about the huge central transmission tunnel being more effective than any chastity belt!
Crunch point came when one conquest I was hoping for a repeat outing with, said something to the effect of "haven't you got a normal car as well?".
So, there you have it, out of the mouths of babes ... the reason why it had to go; it was a total passion killer and terminator of ongoing relationships.
But I should have "stuck", to use a card playing analogy, because after flogging the Seven I bought a pristine Lotus Cortina MkI, which had been owned by Ford Europe Headquarters as a prestige demo and hospitality car.
It had a blue-printed engine by the competition departmeent and was stunning!
My mates at the ar club and at events drooled over it and I had a permanant grin.
What could go wrong?
Nothing with the car; it was perfect, in fact too perfect in the other dimension mentioned above; they were queueing up and I could be choosy.
I shall not chronical that x-rated era; suffice it to say it was a pleasurable disaster.
Old adages come to mind for the Lotus Cortina time, like - be careful what you wish for! All that glisters is not gold!
But about a year further on, emerging from that hiatus, I went backwards then dramatically forwards with a car that gave me the opportunity to race.
My experiences and excitement in Formula Ford and Clubman's Formula could fill a book alone, but I shall refrain from trying to condense it for a forum entry.
It had its ups and downs and I came away unscathed but minus a very large pile of dosh.
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