Lotus 15: The Origin Story
When people see my custom-built Lotus 15 replica, which according to many is the "coolest car they have ever seen". People are very curious, and it is a conversation starter. The most common questions are:
Who built these things?
What is it?!
When were they made
Where did you get it?,
Where were they made?
How much did it cost?
Or After they learn that I made it myself,
How did you ever do that?
This is the first time I can recall that someone asked me "Why a Lotus 15 replica?". There were a lot of influences and factors that drove me to build this one of a kind sports racer with license plates, but I think it all started with the television of my youth. In Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang really captured my imagination as a kid. Although GENII wasn't a race car, I was fascinated with the idea of going into the shed with a bunch of scraps and a vision, and coming out with something spectacular and functional.
Then there was Speed Racer. Lots of kids thought the Mach V was cool, but I was drawn to the curvy howling cars driven by the bad guys. It was only later that I learned that they were an homage to the Le Mans cars of the 50's and 60's.
I built Formula SAE cars in college, and after meeting a girl who owned a BRG MK1 Triumph GT6, was introduced into the world of little British cars. After dating for a few years, She and I built up a 1954 Lincoln Capri together, and raced it in La Carrera Panamericana.
All of the above got me thinking about building the ultimate street car. Something with curves like a GT6, but designed for a 6'9" guy. Something with the performance of the Lincoln, but with light weight and perfect balance.
I started looking at kit cars, with special attention to ones that handle. Cobras were too brutish and commonplace, Caterhams a little too angular. I was really interested in the Fisher Fury, and actually managed to visit the factory in England on an unrelated trip. I met with the designer, (who coincidentally is also named Mark Fisher). It too was just too small. And all of the kits were too expensive for my budget.
Then I came across two books that would chart my course. Side Glances by Peter Egan, and How to Build a Sports Car for £250 by Ron Champion. Peter had written an article in Road and Track about building a Westfield 11 kit car and driving it cross country. His was exactly the kind of experience I was looking for. Unfortunately, at the time, Westfield had stopped producing the 11 kits, and in any case, I didn't want to limit myself to the power of a 1275 BMC engine. Ron's book was more to the point. It explained how to build a Lotus 7 style car from basic materials and a donor car. He called them Locosts.
I bought an aluminum twin cam Ford Duratec engine which had design input from Cosworth. I then modified it with a dry sump system and electric water pump, making it look more like an old BDA engine, a suitable heart for a vintage sports racer.
Then I started researching who made body panels or parts which could be used to make a Locost 7 look like an 11 or 15. I came across a few derelict shell pieces from a defunct company in Alabama which had been trying to make a business of selling Locost kits. I bid on them and won.
The 15 was originally built in the late 50's by Colin Chapman at Lotus. It had gorgeous flowing bodywork by Williams and Pritchard (based on the earlier Lotus 11 designs by Frank Costin. Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (Cos/Worth) also had a hand in the Lotus 15. There were only 28 ever made.
The next 8 years were spent making a Locost style frame work with these 3 pieces of fiberglass. Since major modification was required to get anything to line up at all and to fit the suspension design and wheels, I took the opportunity to widen and stretch the chassis and body from the original 7 and 15 designs. This allowed me to fit in the car. It also changed the character a little from the original design, adding a little bit of Lola to it. I had lots of help from some really talented mentors, and this car has come closer to matching my vision than anything else I have ever made. By building it myself, I was able to control the costs. When I ran out of money, I would fabricate, fettle, and plan.
When it was done, I had the IL Secretary of State Police to inspect it and assign a VIN tag. The woman in Springfield told me that I was the first person she worked with to get through the process in one go with a Specially Constructed Vehicle (not a kit).
Unfortunately, I was a little overexuberant in initial testing, and crashed it with 7 miles on the odometer. This set me back two years repairing all the damage. Hence, the car is named Invincible II - It is a constant source of smiles, and is an unadulterated hoot to drive.
I'd like to think old Caractacus Potts
would be proud.