In the 1950’s, sports car racing was at the forefront of its popularity, giving rise to influential car manufacturers that would leave a lasting mark for decades to come. By the mid to late 1950’s, the landscape of sports car design began to shift towards smaller and lighter vehicles. This shift coincided with the emergence of several small English manufacturers who would play a crucial role in shaping the future of racing and sports cars.
Leading this revolution was the legendary Colin Chapman and his team at Lotus. After making a notable impact with the Lotus 6, Chapman set his sights on dominating the sports car racing scene. He began his journey with the appealing Mark 8, 9 and 10 models. However, it was the arrival of the iconic Lotus 11 in 1956 that truly made its mark on the racing world. Throughout its production from 1956 to 1958, the Lotus 11 emerged as one of the most dominant racing cars of its era, often completing the whole front row of the races they competed in, not only in the UK and Europe but on the global stage. Its success not only established Colin Chapman and Lotus Engineering Co. Ltd. as a significant manufacturer of competitive customer production cars, but it also paved the way for groundbreaking innovations in Formula 1 and sports car racing for decades to come.
The Lotus 15 stands as the ultimate front-engined sports car to emerge from Lotus’ influential workshops. More modern and refined than its predecessor Lotus 11, the Lotus 15 exhibited a sleek, aerodynamic design. While the two may seem similar at first glance, the Lotus 15 was distinct, being only 24 inches in height. The driver sat much closer to the ground, positioned just forward of the rear wheels. The aerodynamic body was a collaborative effort between Colin Chapman and Williams & Pritchard, rather than Frank Costin who worked on its predecessor and the full wrap-around Plexiglass windscreen matched the height of the rear decking.
The Lotus 15 incorporated the better technology from the successful Lotus 11, leveraging its proven capabilities and ironing out any teething problems they had incurred during its development. The space frame chassis shared a similar design, constructed from lightweight 1.75-inch square and round steel tubing with additional bracing in relevant places. The upper and lower wishbone front suspension resembled that of the Lotus 11 Series 2, while the rear suspension featured the Chapman Strut design, along with inboard disc brakes, akin to the Lotus 16 Formula 1 car of the period. Weighing in at around 600kg, the Lotus 15 was considerably lighter than the Ferrari’s, Jaguars, Aston Martin and Listers of its time.
Designed to accommodate a larger engine compared to its forerunner, while still keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, the Lotus 15 had the Climax engine tilted about 28 degrees from vertical in the Series 1, and 17 degrees in the Series 2 (due to initial lubrication issues). A larger bonnet bulge with a front air scoop was integrated into the body to allow clearance for the engine’s top. Powered by dry sump, DOHC, four cylinder Coventry Climax’s FPF engines, in 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5-litre configurations, which were currently being run in the majority of the front running Grand Prix racing cars at the time. They were initially paired with the ZF/Lotus-designed ‘Queer Box’ transmission. Following initial difficulties, Lotus entrusted the talented and young gearbox engineer, Keith Duckworth, with resolving this issue.
The first outing for a Lotus 15 was at the Sussex Trophy at Goodwood on 7th of April 1958 in the hands of Works Driver and Grand Prix winner, Graham Hill. Immediately setting a new class lap record of 1.35.6 with an average speed of 90.38mph on a high speed power circuit like Goodwood and despite starting from the pits, Team Lotus in the 2.0-litre Lotus 15 were off to a strong start and definitely unsettled the bigger capacity cars somewhat.
This Car 614
Chassis 614 was a Series 2 Lotus 15 delivered to its first owner Mr. May, a sea captain and motor racing enthusiast, on 12th of November 1958. Delivered with wire wheels and a 1500cc Coventry Climax FPF engine it is believed he never actually race the car himself.
From Mr. May 614 is believed to have made its way to Paul Nau, who fresh from competing in a Lotus 11, made his debut in 614 at an SCCA regional event at Shelton. This marked the start of a spirited rivalry with Pete Lovely, who had already made a name for himself driving Works Lotus cars in 1959 and had recently acquired a Lotus 15. In their first encounter, Nau in 614 clinched an impressive 2nd place, with Pete Lovely’s Lotus 15 taking the top spot. However, misfortune struck in the subsequent race when Nau’s car ran out of fuel, forcing an untimely retirement.
614’s journey then took an intriguing turn, falling into the capable hands of Lew Florence. A seasoned racer with roots in midget oval racing and car dealerships, Florence had emerged as a prominent figure in the northwest road racing scene. By the late 1950s, he had piloted a Kurtis Craft and a Lotus Eleven in 1958, followed by a Ferrari 860 Monza in 1959, achieving considerable success.
When Florence assumed control of the vibrant orange and white Lotus 15, a period of dominance ensued. From 1959 through 1961, Florence and 614 would go on to claim victory in an astonishing 17 races with 22 podiums, boasting a staggering 14-race winning streak.
Their triumphs weren’t handed to them easily, as they engaged in heated battles with formidable contenders like Jim Rattenbury in the Supercharged Jaguar D-Type, Jerry Grant in the Kurtis, Tom Carstens in the Lister Costin and Skip Hudson in his monstrous 335s Ferrari to name a few.
The winning streak commenced at Shelton on the 10th of April, and it carried on to Arlington on the 1st of May, where he again dulled with Rattenbury in the fast Supercharged Jaguar D-Type, a previously dominant force in Northwest racing. These first two wins were followed by a remarkable hat-trick at Westwood on the 8th of May, claiming victory in the Relay, Modified, and ‘Fast Le Mans’ races.
A return to Shelton on the 15th of May for the SCCA Regional Race showcased 614’s capacity to outperform higher-capacity rivals, securing yet another win against a field featuring Ferraris, a DB3S Aston Martin, a Lister Costin by Tom Carstens, and fellow Lotus 15 driver Ralph Ormsbee, among others.
As June drew to a close, Lew Florence and 614 returned to Westwood on June 26th, for the Castor Trophy Senior Le Mans, where Florence engaged in a riveting seven-way lead battle with Pete Lovely, thrilling a crowd of 7000 spectators, and 614 once again coming out victorious and setting the day’s fastest lap. An article in the Vancouver Sun the following day describes his ‘13 race winning Streek’.
However, the following week brought a setback for Florence and 614. At the Olympian North West SCCA race in Shelton on the 31st of July, amidst the familiar faces of competitors like Pete Lovely in his Lotus 17, Ralph Ormsbee in another Lotus 15, and Ron Lee in the Eleven, a gearbox issue forced Florence to retire.
For the next month or so, records of Lew Florence using 614 are sparse, as he was occupied with the Ed Purvis Ferrari 335S.
The final meeting of the 1960 season for 614 was at Westwood on the 30th of October where Florence and 614 secured yet another win, this time battling against Jim Rattenbury in his new Porsche Special and Bill Stephens’ 356. After a tense start, a push got both cars going, and Florence managed to overtake on Lap 5, maintaining the lead until the finish line. This marked the 15th consecutive win for Florence.
However, in a double-header weekend, Florence faced another challenge. Local hero Peter Ryan, in his Porsche 550 Spyder, had been pushing for the lap record. In his pursuit, he inadvertently made contact with 614. Despite a harrowing spin and some minor rear-end damage, Florence fought his way back through the field, ultimately finishing 1960 on the podium with an impressive 3rd place.
As the 1961 season rolled in, Lew Florence and 614 continued their partnership. A perfect start at Westwood on the 9th of April saw Florence clinching two more wins in front of an audience of 12,000, taking the count up to 24, according to local newspapers. Apparently it had been touch and go if Florence would make the races due to a suspension failure in practice, however, thankfully due to some effective welding, they made the grid. The competition was fierce, especially with Pete Lovely piloting a 2500cc Cooper Grand Prix car fitted with a Ferrari engine in the Senior Le Mans race, and in race two, after a heart-pounding 32-lap duel with Pat Piggot, Florence emerged victorious after swapping first and second place six times across the 45 minute race.
A week later on the 16th of April, at Shelton, the new owner of Rattenbury’s supercharged D-Type, Star Calvert, made his debut, along with Jerry Grant in the Ferrari 250TR. Facing bigger and more powerful opponents, 614 held its ground well, securing a commendable 2nd place behind Grant’s Ferrari. A similar story unfolded on the 30th of April at the Kent Pacific North West Regional SCCA weekend, where Florence came in 2nd, again behind Jerry Grant, but still managing to fend off challenges from Calvert’s supercharged Jaguar D-Type. The Lotus consistently demonstrated its efficiency and cost-effectiveness in comparison to the larger, more expensive competitors.
However, a differential failure at the SCCA Regional round at Shelton on the 21st of May marked a setback. The subsequent races at Kent ICNSCC and the Portland Rose Cup remained uncertain due to limited information. However, at the Seafair Trophy Sports Car races at the Pacific Raceway in Kent on the 30th of July, 11,000 spectators watched Lew Florence claim his last noted win in 614. The nimble two-litre Lotus clinched the lead from Jerry Grants 250TR on lap 15 and outpaced the more powerful Corvette Special of Burnett and Chuck Parsons in the Lotus Ferrari. Unfortunately, in the final race of the weekend, a gearbox issue prevented 614 from finishing.
After Lew Florence’s successful stint with 614, he reportedly traded the car into Pat Pigott’s foreign car dealership in Bellingham, Washington. Florence had previously raced a Lotus 18 at the start of 1962 in Westwood and Portland. While it’s unclear if this was part of the trade, what we do know is that 614 ended up with Pigott, and after overhauling the car, Pigott went on to test it, managing only three laps before an engine failure.
From Pat Pigott, 614 sold to Larry Albedi. He had the engine rebuilt, and 614 was back in action in Monterey at Laguna Seca, during the Pacific Grand Prix weekend across the 20th and 21st of October, 1962. While we don’t have a race result, we do have photo evidence of 614 on track at Laguna Seca, reportedly being driven by Chuck Tannlund in the distinctive orange and white colour scheme. Despite reported steering problems, 614 was back on track, racing with the number 18 as noted in the race entry for that weekend.
In January 1963, Tibor Bonyhadi purchased 614 without the Climax engine, with ownership in the name of Stephen Czuriga. They took a mortgaged against 614 with a local bank on the agreement to re-pay in small monthly instalments. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep up with the payments, and when given the chance to repurchase 614 on a deadline, they missed it, and the bank turned to previous owner Larry Albedi to re-sell the car.
Sometime in 1965, 614 found a new owner in Jerry Lewis, a known racer from the California area. He had previously raced an MG Special in the late 1950s and after moving up to an Austin-Healey Sprite, he eventually acquired 614. He raced 614 at Laguna Seca on the 16th and 17th of October 1965, coming home 5th overall and taking victory in the EM (modified) Class.
On the 6th and 7th of November he was back at Laguna Seca for the Monterey Grand Prix Weekend, where he took 4th overall, again winning the EM Class. The car was noted at having a Coventry Climax engine, though there’s no evidence of 614 running this engine at that time. It’s believed that Jerry Lewis may have been the one who had the car painted red.
By 1966, 614’s racing days were put on hold. Having raced extensively up and down the West Coast, the next owner, Keith Omata of Fresno, CA, registered 614 for the road. With some minor modifications such as a the temporary fitting of a windscreen, window wipers, from a Jaguar XK and extra lights on storks for indicators, the car was now equipped with MG running gear. Enjoyed the open roads of California for over 30 years in 1999, Omata agreed to sell 614 to the well-known historic car collector and racer, Don Orosoco who in turn sold it to the current owner the following year.
The current owner brought 614 to home soil in late 1999. Accompanying the car is an extensive photographic record of 614 at this point. Initially the restoration was started by a good friend of the owner, before being finished by the team at Retro Track & Air. Great effort was taken to maintain all of the car’s originality while bringing it back to the Coventry Climax specification with a ZF gearbox.
The original Chapman struts, brake discs and selection of other suspension components were put to one side for posterity and new set were manufactured to ensure 614 was safe for circuit racing again. A new Coventry Climax FPF engine was fitted along with removable roll hoop. Painted in British Racing Green 614 made its maiden return to the track at the Nurburgring Oldtimer GP meeting in August 2000.
After ironing out some initial teething problems from the first few outings, 614 was soon back on the podium with the BRDC 50s Sports car series in 2001, and by Zandvort in 2002, it was back on the top step. Competing at some of the most prestigious historic motorsport events both in the UK and Europe, 614 has been a Goodwood Revival and Le Mans Classic regular, and over the last 21 years, the partnership have been a regular fixture on top step of the podium.
Winning the popular BRDC 50’s Sports car championship in 2004, clinching the title by 4 points ahead of Julian Bronson’s powerful Chevrolet powered Lister Costin. 614 won the championship again 2005 beating Dodd in his very competitive Cooper Monaco. Victory at the 2005 British Grand Prix support race for 50’s Sports cars beating the Ferrari 246s Dino of Peter Hardman, in a very close battle was followed by victory in the Le Mans support race.
In 2016 the decision was taken to return 614 to it striking original livery of orange and white. Since then, sharing the driving duties with Miles Griffiths, 614 has gone on to win the Motor Racing Legends 2 hour 50’s Sports Car endurance race at Portimao 2016 and finish 3rd in both the 2022 and 2023 Goodwood Revival Sussex Trophy.
Not only is 614 an absolute and well proven front running feature in current historic racing it has also done so while remaining remarkably original. Still retaining its original chassis and bodywork right down to the original screen. Accompanied by an impressive history file and current FIA HTP papers through to 2025, 614 benefits from 22 years of preparation and development that has kept it consistently at the front of any gird it has entered. With well over 30 plus victories to its name to date this is your chance to carry on the impressive tally and find out for yourself why the Lotus 15 remains the car to beat in 50s sports car racing today.