The Ex – South African Grand Prix 1959 Lotus Eleven Le Mans Series 2
To many, the 1950s saw sports car racing at its most pure, establishing and creating some of the most influential car manufacturers for the decades to follow. By the mid to late 1950s, the tides of sports car design were starting to turn and pave the way for things to come. As with Formula 1, smaller and lighter was the new direction. This coincided with the arrival of a handful of small English manufacturers who would go on to shape and influence the design of racing and sports cars for years to come.
At the forefront of this revolution was the legendary Colin Chapman and Lotus. Having made his mark with the Lotus 6 he set his sights on dominating the sports car racing scene. He would go on to hone his craft with the attractive Mark 8,9 and 10; which were all derived in some way from the earlier Mark 6. It wasn’t until the arrival of the iconic Lotus Eleven in 1956 that he truly stamped his mark on the racing world.
During its production from 1956 through to early 1959 the Lotus Eleven became one of the most prolific racing cars of its time, dominating its class not only in the UK and Europe, but throughout the motor racing world. Such was its success that not only did it establish Colin Chapman and Lotus Engineering Co. Ltd. as a serious manufacturer of customer production competition cars, but it also allowed them to go on to repeatedly turn the Formula 1 and sports car racing world on their respective heads for the decades to come.
The Lotus 11 was a success from the start. With its lightweight multi-tubular space-frame chassis, stiffened by riveted stressed aluminium panels, it optimised all of Chapman’s ethos for design – a lightweight chassis coupled with the latest in aerodynamic theory, engine, suspension and brake technologies. The frame alone weighed just 70lbs. Mostly powered by either the Coventry Climax 1,098cc FWA or 1,500cc FWB, they had an impressive power to weight ratio.
The small sports racer was braked by the latest in Girling disc callipers on the front and clothed in a sleek aluminium streamline body designed by aerodynamic consultant Frank Costin. The Eleven was available in the three different guises. The base model was the ‘Sports’, which was had a drum braked live rear axle with a Ford 10 engine. Next up was the ‘Club’, with the same rear axle set up as the Sports but with Climax engine, and the top of the line was the ‘Le Mans’ featuring a De Dion disc braked rear end.
In 1957 after around 150 cars had been produced, Lotus revised some details on the Eleven in the Series 2 model. The main difference, which was usually only on the Le Mans versions, was the front suspension which became double wishbone, as on the new Lotus 12 Formula 2 car, versus the earlier Ford 93E derived swing axle layout. Other revised details on the Series 2 included chassis improvements, a stronger drivetrain and the ability to accept larger engines.
Chassis 543 was completed on the 25th March 1959 as an Eleven Series 2 Le Mans, with Climax FWA 8028 and De Dion 4.5 axle. 543 was registered RS 4719, and finished in Black. The works specification on order 59/21 was for wire wheels, twin SU carbs, and full width windscreen with SS screens. Consigned to Bob Bracewell in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, 543 was ordered by George Mennie and Dr. David Wright. Upon it’s completion at Lotus, it was shipped to Beira in Mozambique arriving in July 1959.
543 first raced in August 1959 with owner Dave Wright at the Belvedere circuit in the Rhodesia 100, which he proceeded to win! Wright then took another win in 543 in November ’59 at Belvedere before competing in the 6th South African Grand Prix at East London on 1st January 1960. Wright raced 543 through the first half of ’60 at events including the Rand Petit Prix, Border 100 which he won, and the South African Tourist Trophy.
In August ’60, it was Mennie’s turn to take the wheel at the 1st Rhodesian Grand Prix at Belvedere. Mennie then raced 543 through to September ’60, picking up a best result of 2nd at Grand Central circuit. In September ’60 Wright and Mennie entered the Eleven in the Rand Daily Mail 9 Hour at Kyalami, which they are reported to have retired from while in 3rd place when the De Dion tube broke.
In 1961, 543 competed in the Rand Winter Trophy at Grand Central before being bought by Roy Humphreys of Cape Town, S.A. In Humphreys’ ownership the registration was changed to CA 17169, and 543 was entered into the 4th South African 9 Hour race at Kyalami in November ’61 with Humphreys as the driver. He is also recorded as racing 543 in the Killarney 2 Hours in June ’62, sharing with Don Philp, a race which the pairing won.
In 1963, 543 was bought by Albert Wiegels and the apparently damaged Climax engine was replaced by a four cylinder Ford. 543 raced with Wiegels in September ’63 at Killarney in the ’24 Minute’ race, and finished 3rd. Wiegels then entered the 6th South African 9 Hours at Kyalami, along with Philps and Chris Swanepoel, although they withdrew from the race. Into 1964, and 543 was raced by Wiegels at Killarney in January finishing 4th and 1st in class, and in May at the Cape Town 3 Hours with Swanepoel where the pairing retired from the race.
In the latter part of ’64, 543 was bought by Brian Reed through Steve Botes with a 1200cc Ford engine. With 543 in red at this point, Reed installed an ex David Prophet 1100cc Ford Cosworth engine and 5 speed gearbox. Reed raced 543 from December ’64 through to ’66 with the 1100cc engine, taking many class wins and podiums at many races including the Kyalami Grand Prix and Rand Autumn Trophy. In mid ’66, 543 was damaged and a Ford Cosworth 997cc engine was fitted. At the end of ’66, Reed had finished 11th in the Sports & GT Championship.
When the sports car championship finished in around 1968, Reed set about converting 543 for road use along with racing it in the Clubman’s series there, and in doing so made 543 into an Eleven GT. Reed described the modification as “All I did at that stage was to fit the windscreen, doors and roof”. Reed completed the conversion in around 1970, and then took 543 to his local track. At that point, Reed went off in 543, and as part of the repairs made a new bonnet. Once completed, he raced the Eleven GT a few times but didn’t ever get it completely road worthy.
Around the point of 1971/1972, Reed decided that he wanted to go single seater racing in the form of Formula Ford, and he built a car which he called the Cheeta. In the style of a U2, it consisted of his own chassis with the Eleven running gear from 543, including the De Dion, front suspension, hubs and disc brakes. Reed obtained a 1600cc Ford engine and fitted 5 speed Hewland gears in the Ford gearbox.
Having completed the Cheeta, various parts remained, which were later sold on and finished to make the Lotus GT Ford. It consisted of the Eleven chassis with Ford engine, gearbox and axle, cloaked in the body made by Reed.
Meanwhile, Reed raced the Cheeta through 1972, with limited success. At the end of 1972, all forms of motor sport in South Africa were banned due to the fuel shortage, and Reed stopped his racing. After sitting with Reed for four years, the Cheeta was bought by Chris Hoal in July 1976, fitted with a standard gearbox. In April 1977, Hoal then bought a close ratio gearbox and fitted it in time for his next race on the 23rd April. Hoal lost control of the Cheeta, and was hurt.
After a stint in hospital, Hoal repaired the Cheeta and it sat in his garage until November 1981 when it was sold to SJ Rabe. John Reid then bought the Cheeta in 1982, and in 1989 sold the original Lotus Eleven components to Andy Bradshaw in England. The rest of the Cheeta was sold in disassembled form to Peter Du Toit and remained in South Africa. By 1992, the disassembled Cheeta minus Lotus parts was with Basil Chassoulas.
Meanwhile, the Lotus GT Ford ended up being found by R.E. Adcock who had moved to South Africa from England to avoid capital gains tax. Adcock and his friend Keith Morgan of Car World in Hull decided to import cars from South Africa to the UK. In February 1990, an export permit was granted to Adcock, and the Lotus GT Ford was shipped to England. Morgan kept the car, not knowing what it was or its origins.
Morgan eventually sold the Lotus GT Ford to David Ellison in 1995 for £3,500 and it was then sold on to Dennis Pugh of Regal Cars in Wigan, who advertised the car along with a TR3. In 1996, the Lotus GT Ford was bought by Paul Andrews of Oakenclough Car Sales in Lancaster. During Andrews’ ownership, he took the car to Charles Hunter in Buxton, who validated the chassis as being a Lotus Eleven Series 2 in February 1997. In September 1997, Andy Bradshaw overheard a conversation about a potential Lotus Eleven Series 2 at the Donington Park Lotus Festival, and made contact with Andrews. Bradshaw bought the Lotus GT Ford for £8000.
In 2000, Andy Bradshaw sold the complete sum of Lotus Eleven parts to Nick Matthews. Matthews then set about the process of researching the history of 543 and began the rebuild. Matthews commissioned Dave Abbott to undertake the work with no expense spared. Abbott made a new chassis as the original was deemed not fit for purpose and he started to assemble the car. In 2004, Matthews consigned the partially restored 543 to Coys for the Lotus auction.
From there it was bought by the current owner. With the intention to campaign 543 in the BRDC ’50s Sportscar Championship, he carried on the restoration leaving nothing to chance. A new, correct aluminium tail section, and several other smaller parts were bought from Mike Brotherwood in June 2005 and a roll hoop was constructed to sit underneath the tail head fairing.
The gearbox and the diffential were rebuilt by specialists Heathrow Transmissions, with racing specification internals fitted. The 1500cc Coventry Climax FWB engine which had been sourced by Matthews was sent to Greg Margetts of CES Engines for rebuild and after the work was completed produced 144hp at 7200 rpm with 117 lb/ft torque at 5600 rpm. The exhaust system was then made by Nick Paravani to the specifiations given by CES Engines.
Fuel Safe UK were tasked with making a pair of bag tanks to fit inside the Lotus aluminium tanks, and Monza caps were fitted with provision for a dip stick in the neck of each. In December 2005, the task of completing the bodywork was handed to Rod Jolley Coachbuilding, who made a correct aluminium nose, and then also went through all of the panelwork on 543 to ensure fit was the best possible.
The restoration was completed in early 2006 and the historic racing chapter of 543’s life began. The current owner raced 543 over many seasons, often sharing with Danny Wright, taking many race and class wins in BRDC ’50s Sportscar, Gentleman Drivers and more. 543 was road registered in the UK, and issued the number 63 ABK in September 2006. A FIVA passport was granted in January 2007, classing 543 as A/3. After a few seasons use, the Climax FWB engine was refreshed in March 2009, and again in September 2012.
A fresh set of FIA HTPs were granted for 543 in 2015, and the car was prepared for the Goodwood Revival in 2017. A pre-race test found porosity in the cylinder head, so the engine went to Chris Gilbert of Init Racing for rebuild. As such, 543 is presented today with a 0 hour engine fitted with new cylinder head, and all safety items in date. 543 is accompanied by current FIA HTPs, FIVA Passport, UK V5 road registration, history file and spares package including the original chassis and remains of the GT body.
Renowned for their finger tip handling and light weight, balanced with eminently drive-able power delivery from the Coventry Climax FWB, a Lotus Eleven is a joy to behold. 543 is a proven, front running, Lotus Eleven which has been very successful in its current ownership and is a great choice for the Stirling Moss Trophy, GTSCC, Gentleman Drivers, Sixties Endurance, Le Mans Classic, Goodwood and more, while being very enjoyable on the road.