When I was a kid in Sydney, Australia, there were, for brief periods of time, very few grey areas. You were either a “widgie” or a “bodgie” – although thankfully I was well into my early teens when that choice became null and void. You either played football (rugby union) or else you played soccer and were forever cast as a reject. You were either a “surfie” or a “bikie” – no explanation needed there – and, yes, you liked either Holdens or Fords (although the Chrysler Valiant was in there for a while, causing confusion). Then the Jaguar E-type arrived and a whole new battle began. You could pick your opponent without fear of retribution. MGB? TR4? Sprite? Mini Cooper S? Healey 3000? Many of my mates, believe it or not, preferred any of these five to the super-snooty E-type, and many a beach barbie was spent with detailed analysis of how the mighty E-type would be slain by any of the smaller, more nimble, opposition. Me? I became an avowed Lotus Elan man overnight. For one thing, Jim Clark drove one. For another…I loved them. (I loved Honda S600s and S800s when they came out, too, plus Fiat 124 Coupes, but they comprise another story). I was pretty much alone amongst my mates, although Freddy Gibson and Niel Allen very quickly supported my claims with some brilliant drives at circuits like Warwick Farm and Catalina, where their lightweight Elans were every bit a match for Bob Jane’s lightweight E-type.
Anyway, in early 1967 I was lucky enough to join my parents on a three-month trip to Europe (“it will be good for his education,” my Mum said to my unamused Headmaster). Their itinerary included things like the Parthenon in Athens, the Louvre in Paris and Westminster Cathedral. Mine included Edington Mains farm in Scotland, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Motor Books and Accessories in St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross Road (sadly closed as recently as this month)…and the Lotus factory. I mentioned all this, on a sunny Australian Sunday in late February, to our local vicar in Manly, the Rev Bryan King.
“We’re going to the Lotus factory,” I said, after a particularly uplifting Matins. “Ah. In that case,” replied the Rev, “you’ll be wanting to meet my brother. He works there.”
It was one of those moments with which you will always live. I can still see the glint in his eye, the smile on his face as he saw my legs tremble in shock and surprise.
Indeed Warren King worked there. He welcomed us. The Rev’s brother was one of the key accountants at Lotus, working under Fred Bushell. Even then, before Bill Gates, the world was very small.
So here’s a picture of my Mum talking to Warren outside the still very new Lotus factory in Norfolk in March, 1967. That’s a very early, Renault-engined Lotus Europa in the foreground – I always thought it would be mine, given its registration – and below that is a shot I took of what for me just about constituted my idea of heaven – a line-up of yet-to-be-finished Elans. They were in S3 form then (soon to be S4) and had come a long way from the 1962 prototypes and then the big-production S2s of 1963-64. I also took (with my new Fujica Half-frame) a shot of the new building and of my Mum standing by the new headquarters. I was very impressed, of course, that Colin Chapman had built it in green and yellow. It made me treasure even more the green pullover with the yellow stripe down the middle that my Mum had knitted for me the previous winter. I never did get to buy a Europa – although I still might, because the attraction remains strong – but I did finally buy my Elan. It was 1974, shortly after Nigel Roebuck so kindly hired me to write for Competition Car magazine in England. I found it in the Classic Car classifieds and paid £750 for it. It was only when I opened the log book that I discovered that its first owner had been Jim Clark’s manager and mentor, Ian Scott-Watson – and that Jim had driven the car many times. I’m chatting here in my Williams days to another great Jim Clark man from the Borders, Bernard Buss.
So here’s to the Elan. Still beautiful after all these years. And here’s to St Matthew’s, Manly. Thanks for making it happen.
Yes, I did persuade my Mum and Dad to drive all the way to the Borders. Here’s one of the highland cattle I saw very near Edington Mains; below that is the view of the Clark farmhouse as we drove past; and finally I’m saying good-bye to God’s Own Country, with a tear in my eye, peering out the back of our rented Ford Cortina at the famous red barns. Note our “Australian Visitors” roundel – UK drivers beware! – and my Clark-esque “Esso put’s a tiger in your tank” sticker