Michael Oliver on the Lotus 49
Posted 08 March 2011 - 06:03 PM
We up in the wilds of Yorkshire are very fortunate to welcome Michael Oliver to give a presentation to NYLOC on Saturday 2nd April 2011. We would like to invite the massed ranks of the LDC to join us for this special evening.
Michael is one of the foremost experts on Lotus Grand Prix cars and has published several books, including one whose subject is the 49. He is well known for his Lotus Racing Film Festivals (report of the last one here - http://www.motorcard...es.co.uk/?p=256).
If you would like to attend, we will also be present at an open day from local Lotus specialists Pure Lotus, based near Wetherby earlier on during Saturday. The talk will take place at the Buckles Inn on the A64 near York and commences at 7.00pm. If you would like further details, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, Look forward to seeing some of you there.
Some gratuitious photo content to get you in the spirit.
Posted 08 March 2011 - 09:17 PM
Here is the text of that piece:
49 Very Special Days
Quite simply, it was inevitable I was always going to race - but there was absolutely no reasoned explanation for such blind faith. My dad was a huge Stirling Moss fan, and indeed in the late 50's built and raced his own karts. So Sundays spent on windy Yorkshire airfields became routine for the Farmer family - and the bug had firmly bitten.
But for me, there was only one driver - a certain Jim Clark. And if you were a Jim Clark fan, so it was almost a certainty that the name "Lotus" was similarly revered. All my school exercise books were adorned with front view sketches of Lotus 25's, and later (for me the best ever) the Lotus 33, just such a beautiful car.
My first ever Grand Prix was as a 16 year old with Dad & elder brother, Mike at Silverstone in '67. By then, Jimmy had already won first time out at Zandvoort in the new & revolutionary DFV powered 49; but to see and hear first hand my hero in the stunning green & yellow Team Lotus car was just beyond belief. During that GP weekend, I was only feet away from the cars in the paddock, saw Colin Chapman, and actually brushed against Jimmy as he squeezed though a gap in the crowds. And, of course, he won again! Only some nine months later, I remember vividly that Sunday of April 8th hearing the 6pm radio news of the accident that took my hero's life at Hockenheim. To this day, I've only twice experienced more painful personal loss.
So why did it take some 31 years for me to get to own a Lotus Formula 1 car? That's far too long a story to even scratch the surface of, but suffice to say here that after some 20 years of club racing in many varied categories, I hankered after racing Historic GP Cars and for ten years, acquired, rebuilt and raced two cars (an ex Guerrero Theodore 183 & ex Brundle/Bellof Tyrrell 012) with more than a little success. During this time, and through my very good friend Roger Swanton in whose Brabham BT18 I have enjoyed numerous wins, I was introduced to Cedric Selzer, and invited to drive his ex Jim Clark Lotus 25.....
So it was that the day I first sat in a car raced by my late hero was the Friday of the 1996 Coy's meeting. I have to admit to some very emotional moments as I was strapped in & began the first exploratory lap of the historic GP circuit. Some twenty four hours later, the car was set up to my liking & I knew why the drivers that didn't drive Lotus' wished they did. Just a wonderful experience to be "at one" with such a purposeful & great car. And the weekend was a success, with class wins both days and 3rd overall on the Sunday. Seeing myself rounding Copse on the giant StarScreen in Jimmy's car had to be one of the most surreal moments of my motor sport experiences. To cap a great year ( and I swear with absolutely no prior knowledge), I was presented with the Coy's Driver of the Festival at the Historic Motor Sports Awards later that season. So began a very privileged and successful few years driving for Cedric, and for which I am deeply indebted to him.
Fast forward to February1999. My love of the historic motor sport scene has continued and my horizons now somewhat broader. Adelaide had run a race for pre-68 GP cars earlier that year and are to run another in 2000. Also, the Goodwood Revival organisers were making noises about running a pre-68 race at that year's (‘99) meeting. I just had to get a car!
I had discussions with several people. And indeed nearly bought a BRM. But you can't buy a BRM if you're a Lotus fan, can you? As if by some divine intervention, I became aware of the well publicized sale of the ex Jo Siffert Rob Walker Lotus 49B (chassis R7) which was to be auctioned later that year. I gave the matter some thought, and then some. My brother Mike had actually been at Brands in 68 when Jo won his and R7's maiden Grand Prix, and I well remember watching from home on TV as the high rear-winged car held on to beat Chris Amon's Ferrari and win a famous (and of course, now historic) victory. How much would the car make at auction? Could I afford it? Should I afford it? I should mention that I may have seen the car at the Donington Collection in the late 80's, but my more recent memory was of a very forlorn former shadow of itself on display in the Silverstone Paddock at the 92 or 93 British GP. Definitely not a pretty sight! But, of course, it was a Lotus, and a very famous one at that. What I would only learn weeks later was the great wealth of good feeling, affection almost, which seemed to surround almost everything and everybody that became connected with the car, which I'm now convinced is testament to it's original owner - "Gentleman" Rob Walker.
And so, on July 28th, armed with the financial knowledge of how far I personally was prepared to go, I left work at midday (complete with pretty bad migraine headache) to arrive at the Buxton Pavilion, scene of the auction. The pavilion was hot, sticky, thronged with some hundreds of people, and in front of the stage on an elevated platform, a totally unloved, uncared for, horribly neglected and engineless Lotus 49. In less than a minute, I knew there and then I was certifiably insane. But I equally knew a Lotus 49 could win Adelaide & Goodwood......
I've attended many auctions connected with major plant purchases for my engineering company and have some Golden Rules. One of them is "never start the bidding". Another is if I really want something, "don't get beaten". Problem was, I wasn't sure how badly I wanted what I'd just seen. Lots 1 to 48 proceeded with an hour’s normal over hyping of some classic cars. Then Lot number 49. Literally by then I was nauseous and all my bodily instincts suggested the loo was a far more appropriate place to be. This time a lot more genuine preamble by the auctioneer of a truly wonderful car, its unquestioned originality and authenticity, its driver and great owner. In 2 to 3 minutes, the selling price was within 10% of my preplanned maximum, but the bidding had slowed, then stalled, and the auctioneer was going through his "any more bids, going for the second time", procedure when yours truly made his (what turned out to be 1 & only) bid, and upped the ante £25,000. The plan worked. Seeing a new and apparently committed bidder, no counter bid was made. I'd won. I vaguely remember Roger Cowman saying "well bought", and asking Simon Hadfield if he'd arrange collection of the car. But I needed to get outside and be ill! Julius Thurgood who'd been involved with the sale on behalf of the Walker Family, located me and introduced me to Rob's daughter Dauvanne. I think this may have been a worthiness test, but whatever, some 2 hours later & courtesy of Barclays, I became the present custodian of a car which was to dramatically affect many lives for a good few months.
As I had deliberately kept total silence about this project to literally everyone, the drive home was spent relating news of my new purchase to friends & family. But I have to admit to the biggest dose of "Buyer's Remorse" I've ever experienced. A good night's sleep helps however. Quite remarkably, the next day was coloured with many congratulatory phone calls, and not one attesting to my madness!
Then began 49 (honestly!) days of some of the most dedicated, applied and committed, team effort, and sheer goodwill I've been involved in. And all because Julius, on Goodwood's behalf, asked if there was any way we could get the car to Goodwood? During the first few rational hours of ownership, I'd quickly come to the conclusion that to re-build the car with my own team was going to take at least all the remaining four months of '99, so Adelaide 2000 was a possibility. But Goodwood, September 17/18/19th '99 - seven and a half weeks away........ definitely an impossibility!! But I always did like a challenge.
The following few days were spent at the Silverstone Coy's meeting in Cedrics's Lotus 25. I was genuinely staggered at the speed with which people had learnt of my new acquisition, but more particularly at the very obvious depth of good feeling that the car was to stay in the UK, and be driven by an enthusiastic racer. Gradually, it dawned on me that as well as now owning a Lotus Formula 1 car, it was clearly a very special one at that.
Over the Coy's weekend, Simon Hadfield and I had a quiet discussion in the scrutineering bay. He'd had the car collected for me the day before and was obviously very interested in the car's restoration. I mentioned Goodwood's request and we both agreed it was a ridiculously impossible target. But, like me, Simon loves a challenge, shares my determination, and loves to win. I'd also known him for several years and had huge respect for his firm's reputation as Lotus restorers. There and then we struck a deal whereby we would compromise absolutely nothing, commit every possible resource, keep our objective secret, but go for Goodwood in less than seven weeks!
Once again, there is too little space for all the detail that I'd have to give. But briefly I acquired an absolutely original & period DFV which Dick Langford made huge efforts to ready in time. Clive Chapman loaned a pair of front wheels (the car was bought with 49C spec 1970 wheels). Simon and his team literally moved heaven & earth with the chassis; new fuel tanks had to be made, and many, many obstacles had to be overcome. Remarkably, throughout the re-build, one thing stood out - the wonderful condition and total originality of a car that last graced a GP 29 years earlier.
Looking resplendent, the car was brought to life again at a damp, grey Mallory Park on Wednesday 15th September. Seven weeks to the day from the auction and I again had a raging headache (wonder what a psychiatrist would make of that). The conditions really were far from ideal and I have to admit to some trepidation as I contemplated testing a, by now, half million pound, untried, non-winged, "wooden tyred" and very important piece of motor racing history. We had just three hours available track time.
I was right to worry. I always get an immediate sense of a car's behaviour, and in less than a few yards I couldn't believe a car could be so bad. There was absolutely no front grip, the brakes grabbed, the pedal went long, the understeer was so bad a corner was out of the question, and the oil pressure light came on after less than a lap. And all this at hardly any speed at all.
Very aware of keeping people's morale high, I began going through a systematic problem solving with Simon. Clearly the brake problem had to be a workshop job. Ride heights, tyre pressures, springs, dampers and roll bar settings we could go through. And we did, but the oil problem persisted and running had to be restricted to only half lap runs. Clearly, the only front roll bar we had was too stiff, and the understeer was to remain. We came away after a few laps with only slight improvements, and a huge work list. With less than a day before we had to leave for Goodwood. I think we were all privately massively disappointed, and thoughts of a dream debut for the car were now I'm sure becoming slightly more realistic.
But like the professionals they are, Simon & his team did their bit and the car arrived at Goodwood the following day and to huge interest, and very apparent goodwill.
I'd driven Cedric's '25 at the inaugural Revival meeting in '98 and so knew the circuit somewhat, so Friday's first practice was going to be a little less daunting than Mallory. Or so I thought!
On track the oil pressure light came on again after less than a lap, and the huge understeer was still very apparent. There had to be an engine problem. The time sheets showed Geoff Farmer (car 22) 1 lap - 2 mins 50 odd seconds, and dead last. What a debut! And we almost certainly had a wrecked engine & wouldn't go any further that weekend.
Dick Langford arrived from Wellingborough some 4 hours later and began to strip the oil pumps and inspect for any damage. There was none evident. There had to be an installation problem. Simon had reasoned that oil was in fact getting dumped into the integral oil catch tank, and effectively emptying the main oil tank. The gearbox mounted tank was removed, drained, systematically blanked and pressure tested. Hissing of air from within revealed Simon had located the problem area. Out came hacksaws, and a 4"square (now another permanent part of this car's great history) was cut and flapped upwards - to reveal a long gaping crack in the internal 3/4" aluminium oil return pipe. The time was now 5.30 pm (on a Friday evening).
We located probably the only expert Tig welder in Chichester who worked stoically to repair the pipe and patch the tank. Simon and his team re-assembled everything and by 10pm reported success. The engine seemed OK and the oil pressure light was staying out.
Official qualifying the next day. Saturday morning. Simon is driving Bob Tabor's Lotus 48 F2 car in the same race and is clearly going to be pre-occupied. I'm going to work with Jon Spooner. A fairly gentle first few 100 yards, and I've a good feeling. The track's dry. The engine's revving freely. The oil pressure light is staying off. We do the car's first flying lap for 29 years, in official qualifying.There's just 20 minutes. The handling's far from good, but we're in business. Two laps - pit. Jon puts on more rear bar. I notice Dick Scamell talking to Keith Duckworth on our pit top counter. Three or four more laps. Still bad understeer, but it's beginning to come together. I ask Jon to soften the front dampers, stiffen the rears and put on all the rear bar possible. The last few minutes of the session. The car's beginning to feel part of me, I'm beginning to feel like a racing driver.... I know we're lapping well. The chequered flag. End of session. Jon's pleased. I'm critical. Still too much understeer. Absolutely no heat in the front tyres. I've no idea of the times, but Dick & Keith are smiling. Only 7 or 8 laps and we did it! We're on Pole!!
Simon and the whole team are delighted. Everyone's delighted. I'm ecstatic. But, I know we've got to make the car quicker. Roger Swanton (who'd also helped with the re-build) and I spent several hours fine tuning the chassis in the remaining time before Sunday's race for the Glover Trophy. But we knew we had to race the set up we had.
Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Car number 22, the last ever car to win a Grand Prix in private hands, was starting it's first race for 29 years ( last raced by Graham Hill) from pole position, against the likes of Jack Brabham, Jackie Oliver, Derek Bell and Dickie Atwood. Well, the private goals Simon and I set ourselves, but didn't dare to share, came true. I, or rather we, won a famous victory. Although marred by the race's premature finish when Jack collided with Jackie, the outright lap record (of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart jointly) was also broken and now stands at 1min 20.04 seconds. Even now, the whole experience rekindles tremendous emotions within me. We set such high standards, but with our combined experience and determination coupled with great and tireless efforts of many others, a great dream did come true!
Because of my passion for this great sport, and definitely due to this very special car, I have somehow come to rub shoulders with many famous names. It was a great pleasure to have met Rob & Betty Walker several times and to be able to share some of their many memories.
So, you'll understand that this car is now a very special part of my life. With it we've won at Adelaide, Goodwood, and there seems an endless stream of people who generously send me memorabilia. I have certainly benefited from my custodianship of "R7", and I hope in our way Simon & I have done our bit to rekindle a great car's past glory.
Geoff Farmer - September 2002
Posted 09 March 2011 - 07:12 AM
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