The Ex – Works, Graham Hill, David Piper 1958 Lotus 15
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.
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.
However, it wasn’t until the arrival of the iconic Lotus 11 in 1956 that he truly stamped his mark on the racing world. During its production form 1956 through 1958 the Lotus 11 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 15 is undoubtably the ultimate front engined sports car to emerge from Lotus’ dominant workshops. More modern and refined than its predecessor, the all concurring Lotus 11. At first glance they may seem to have been cut from the same mould, but the Lotus 15 was only 24 inches high with the driver sitting much closer to the ground and just forward of the rear wheels. The sleek aerodynamic body was designed by Colin Chapman in collaboration with Williams & Pritchard rather than Frank Costin, as of its predecessor. The full wrap-around Plexiglass windscreen was the same height as the rear decking.
The Lotus 15 did borrow technology from the 11, which was appropriate given the 11’s racing success and proven capabilities. The space frame chassis shows similarity in design, made out of lightweight 1.75-inch square and round steel tubing. The upper and lower wishbone front suspension was similar to the Lotus 11, while the rear suspension was the Chapman Strut designed with inboard disc brakes similar to the Lotus 16 Formula 1 car of the time.
Designed to accommodate a larger engine than its predecessor. For the purpose of lowering the centre of gravity, the Climax engine was tilted about 28 degrees from vertical in the Series 1 and 17 degrees from vertical on the Series 2 (due to engine lubrication problems on the early cars). A larger bonnet bulge with front air scoop was incorporated on the body, to clear the top of the engine. Powered by Coventry Climax’s 1.5, 2 and 2.5-litre FPF engines, they were initially driven through ZF/Lotus designed ‘Queer Box’.
After initial problems, Lotus entrusted the young and talented gearbox engineer, Keith Duckworth, to solve this problem. By the time the Series 3 was born in 1959, the Lotus transaxle had become more reliable, thanks to the Duckworth redesign, on its own dry sump lubrication system. So the Series 3 was offered with the Lotus ‘Queer Box’ transaxle for 1.5L FPF only, and BMC 4-speed or ZF 4-speed gearbox with a conventional differential for cars with a larger FPF.
This car, chassis 603-1, was produced very early in the production of Lotus 15s, just the third car built, and was a works entry for Graham Hill and Cliff Allison. Initially starting with a 1.5-litre Coventry Climax FPF, it’s understood to have made its debut at Oulton Park in April 1958 for the British Empire Trophy Meeting. Driven by Graham Hill, sporting the works trade registration ‘007 MH’, 603 arrived too late for Friday practice and went straight into the races on Saturday.
Hill ran into trouble early on in the first heat with a loose spark plug and had to pit to rectify the issue. Fantastic pictures of the three ‘007 MH’ Lotus 15s of Hill, Allison and Salvadori lined up on the front row reveal interesting features of 603 in it’s first outing. Fitted with wire wheels, 603 also only had singular lights on the tail, lacking the indicators of the other cars. Also, Hill had a distinctive wind deflector mounted onto the top of the windscreen with two visible brackets.
It’s unclear whether 603 was one of the works entries present at Aintree on the 19th April, where Lotus fielded cars for Hill and Allison, although it’s likely as 602 was with Coombs and 604 along with 605 don’t appear to be completed at that time. Hill’s car suffered distributor failure on the warm up lap and Allison’s engine went sick on the start line, leaving him at a deficit to the rest of the pack. In a bid to get back on terms, Allison set a new 2-litre sports cars lap record in his works 15.
From Aintree, Team Lotus went to Silverstone for the Daily Express Trophy Meeting on the 4th May. The two works entries for Hill and Allison were joined by Salvadori in Coombs’ 15, 602, along with Bill Frost, 604, and the Hon. E. G. Greenall, 605, being entered but not recorded as taking part. Hill’s car carried number 5 with a 1.5-litre FPF again, and is visually identical in pictures as at Oulton Park on 603’s debut. The 1500 Sports Car race was held over 25 laps, equating to about 75 miles in distance.
Salvadori took pole, but it was the smaller Lotus 11s and Elvas which led the first lap with Salvadori slow off the line. Salvadori re took the lead only to be passed on lap six by Hill in 603 who was breaking records along the way. Despite being closed down on towards the end of the race by the 11s of Hall and Stacey, Hill carried on to take victory, the first for the new Lotus 15.
For the British Grand Prix meeting at Silverstone on the 19th July, Team Lotus took three works 15s for Hill, Allison and Lovely to compete in Daily Express International Sports Car Race. Also present were Salvadori in the next Coombs car, 609 and the Hon E.G. Greenhall’s 605. 603 was likely to have been present, driven by Hill and identifiable thanks to singular tail lights, lack of engine bulge and brake duct positioning.
Of the five 15s, Salvadori was the closest challenger to Moss’ Lister, taking second on the grid with Hill third. Allison lined up on the second row and Lovely was further down the order. Allison and Salvadori gave chase to Moss and Hansgen’s Listers, with Hill and Lovely in the second group. Within seven laps, Hill bridged the gap to the lead bunch only to spin at Stowe and rejoin down the order. Salvadori and Allison retained second and third behind Moss, while Hill and Lovely went on to suffer engine failure.
By the close of the ’58 season, Lotus placed adverts listing a selection of cars for sale. Along with an ex Cliff Allison formula car and another 15 was 603, described as having a ‘1.5-litre engine, all current mods, 5 speed box, and with 10 final drive ratios’. 603 was bought by David Piper as the ex-Hill and Allison works car and by the time Lotus’ next advert was printed in Autosport on the 27th February 1959, there was just one 15 left available.
Piper’s first outing with 603 was at Aintree on the 18th April 1959, entered under the Dorchester Service Station banner, and with 2.2-litre Climax engine. Piper then entered 603 for the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone on the 2nd May, with 1.5-litre Climax, but did not arrive. Next was to Spa for the Sports Car Grand Prix on the 3rd May, where Piper finished 3rd despite struggling with a misfire. Piper and 603 then competed at Helsinki, where with the Jaguar tow car and trailer staying on the Hamburg side of the ferry crossing, he drove 603 to and from the circuit with a lack of registration which caused some official displeasure! The team then drove to Chimay where they finished in 4th despite suffering the effects of a warped cylinder head following head gasket failure in practice the day before.
Team manager Bodie then transported 603 back, while Piper caught a flight with Michael Taylor, and got the midnight crossing before reaching Crystal Palace by 10am in time for practice. Having competed in six races within a four week period, the team returned to their Dorchester base and set about thoroughly preparing 603 ahead of the Nurburging 1000kms. Held on the 7th June, it was the third round of the 1959 FIA World Sports Car Championship. Piper shared the car with Keith Greene and with the race number 29, they qualified 20th before finishing 29th overall and 3rd in the 1.5-litre class.
At the end of June, now with the 2-litre reinstalled, 603 was taken to Mallory Park. Another overheating issue caused the head to warp and Piper did not finish the race. A week later, it was to the Evesham AC Sprint held at Long Marston that they went, and 603 set a time of 22.06 seconds for the standing start kilometre, a time under the racing car record at Brighton. The enlargement in capacity to 2-litres restricting the water ways, along with the high compression ratio of 12:1 which was being used in pursuit of maximum power, was then understood to be the root of the overheating issues.
Another trip to the continent followed, this time for the sports car race at Rouen. They were running well in 3rd position until the final drive gears stripped and Piper was forced to retire. Piper then raced 603 at Aintree for the British GP Meeting on the 18th July, entered agin under the Dorchester Service Station banner, finishing 7th.
Next was to Whitchurch in the Over 1.5-Litre Sports Car race on Saturday 1st August, which Piper duly won. Friend Daphne Barron was standing between the ramps of Piper’s ex RAF bus as 603 was being unloaded and the winch broke. Barron found herself being transported across the paddock on the bonnet of the Lotus! For the Sunday it was off to Snetterton they went, where he won again in the unlimited capacity sports car race. Then on Monday, the following day, Piper and 603 travelled to Brands Hatch for a 15 lap Sports Car race, which was well attended by Team Lotus and a selection of Coopers, Listers and Jaguars. 603 is recorded as again being entered under the Dorchester Filling Station banner and with a 2-litre Climax.
On the following Saturday, the 2-litre 603 set a new Silverstone Club circuit record before being rammed by Raby’s Formula Two Cooper at the end of the race. The car was due to be shipped to Denmark the next day, so Piper took 603 to Norman Burgess in London Colney who set about on an all night session to beat out the damage and make the car ready again.
With the freshly ironed out car making it to the docks in time, it was to the race at the Roskilde Ring in Denmark that they went. Again with the 2-litre Climax, Piper and 603 finished 2nd on aggregate ahead of Jack Brabham, and was beaten only by Stirling Moss in his 2.5-litre Cooper Monaco. When Moss fluffed the Le Mans style start in the second heat, Piper leapt ahead and took the victory, despite the gearbox retaining bolts working loose and the rear wheels having a considerable amount of sideways movement.
After returning from Denmark, Piper and 603 raced at Brands Hatch on the 29th August with the 2-litre Climax. As at the previous race contested at Brands Hatch, the entry was strong with several noteworthy drivers present. Piper qualified 4th and went on to finish 2nd behind Graham Hill in the 2.5-litre works entry. Behind Piper was Stacey in another works 15, Jim Clark in the Border Reiver’s Lister and John Whitmore in Ogier’s Tojeiro.
603 then went with Piper to Goodwood for the Tourist Trophy. As the last round in the FIA World Sports Car Championship, the works Lotus team were joined by works Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche outifts, each with three entries. For the 6 Hour long TT, Piper teamed up with fellow Lotus 16 racer Bruce Halford and the pair qualified 9th. 603 wore the knock on wire wheels for the TT, in the interest of being able to change wheels quickly and some difficulty was had in obtaining the correct front hubs. The pair’s race came to an end just after the first hour mark however, when Piper had a rear tyre burst at Madgwick and ended up in the banking, with Piper escaping with a badly cut eyebrow.
In the accident, the body and chassis are recalled by Piper as being virtually wrecked. A replacement Series 3 body and a new front 3/4 of Series 3 chassis were acquired from Lotus, which then underwent the modifications which Piper’s team had developed in running 603 through 1959. While Piper was over in New Zealand with his Lotus 16, Mike Walton, the team’s chief racing mechanic completed the work in rebuilding the 15.
It wasn’t until Easter Brands Hatch on the 18th April, 1960 when 603 next appeared on track. Now repaired from the misdemeanour at Goodwood, a larger 2.5-litre Climax FPF engine was fitted. Run in a two heat format, the competition proved no match for Piper and 603. The 2.5-litre was very effective and two heat wins were taken, and victory on aggregate.
At Aintree on the 30th April, Piper qualified 2nd to Salvadori in Coombs’ Cooper Monaco before retiring from the race. A picture of 603 with Piper’s Lotus 16 on his Dorchester Filling Station liveried trailer, show both cars to have battle scars from the weekend’s racing. At Oulton Park on the 6th June, Piper raced 603 with a result of 11th.
For the Brands Hatch International meeting on the 1st August, Piper had 603 entered under the R. Bodie Ltd. banner and qualified 10th before finishing 6th. The week after Brands, they made the journey to Sweden for the Kanonloppet at Karlskoga. Piper finished 4th, behind Stirling Moss’ Lotus 19, Jo Bonnier’s Maserati Tipo 61 and Curt Lincoln’s Cooper Monaco. His final recorded race with 603 was at Klagenfurt, Austria on the 25th September 1960 where he qualified 4th before not finishing the race.
In March 1961, 603 was spotted at the Dorchester Filling Station and bought from Piper without engine by Desmond ‘Dizzy’ Addicott, Vickers test pilot and the man behind the Mini based Dart. During the course of ’61, Addicott and his mechanic John Dabbs set about installing an aluminium 3.5-litre Buick V8 which had been brought over to England as luggage by Hugh Dibley. They utilised an XK140 gearbox and kept the early type Lotus/ZF ‘Queerbox’ transaxle as the drivetrain.
By December, the V8 powered 603 was ready to debut on track and went to Brands Hatch on Boxing Day for its first race. Addicott raced 603 through 1962 with success, including winning at Goodwood in June, and the car attracted the interest of John Blunsden who track tested it for ‘Motor Racing’ magazine at Brands Hatch in August. The power ouput of the Buick V8 proved to be too much for the drivetrain, and towards the end of 1962 a Rover gearbox was fitted along with a TVR cased MGA differential.
In 1963, 603 was sold by Addicott to John Turner of Ripley, Derbyshire. Turner kept 603 on track, racing through 1963 at events including the Lavant Cup at the Goodwood International. Turner doesn’t appear to have raced 603 in 1964, and in 1965 he sold 603 to Graham Capel through Tony Rudd. Capel raced 603 in ’65 at circuits including Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch. 603 was then bought by Barrie Smith for the sum of £500. Smith raced 603 for two seasons in various club events, gaining experience in a car with ‘some real power’.
Smith sold 603 to Tony Searson of CTG Racing in 1968, who then sold it on to Tony Kitchener in 1969. 603 then went to Bill Allen in 1970, with Allen keeping it until 1975 when ownership went to Graham Capel once more for the sum of £675. In 1976, Capel sold 603 to Stephen Langton who kept the car until 1977 when he sold it to Richard Drewett. After six years in Drewett’s ownership, 603 was bought by Tony Hildebrand of Straight Six cars in 1983.
Hildebrand raced the by then white 603 for a few seasons, having RAC HVIF and HSCC VIFs done in 1986 which still accompany the car today. When Hildebrand sold 603 to Ken Rogers towards the end of 1986, he removed the Buick V8 which had been fitted by Dabbs for Addicott. Rogers set about restoring 603 to its correct works Coventry Climax powered specification over a 24 year period. In 2010, the nearly completed 603 was bought from Rogers by Peter Horsman, an avid Lotus collector.
The Buick engine that was removed and the Williams & Pritchard modified nose section along with a few other removed parts were sold to Stuart Crouch via Graham Capel. Crouch then set about making a replica of Dizzy Addicott’s Lotus Buick.
Horsman tasked Andrew Tart Motor Engineers with the job of completing 603 to an immaculate standard which would be capable of taking race wins, and by 2013 the restoration was finished. When undertaking the work, it was found the the doors remained as original, and when the black interior surface paint was stripped back, the inscription “Car No 03” was found on the inside of the outer skin on the passenger side. The tail section was certainly not new and showed evidence of various repairs over the years. New arches were added to each side of the tail. A new Series 1 nose and scuttle were made, and repairs to the chassis were undertaken where necessary.
After racing 603 for a few seasons in the Stirling Moss Trophy run by Motor Racing Legends, Horsman sold the car to the current owners at the end of 2014. With 603 remaining in the care of Andrew Tart Motor Engineers, extensive engine work was undertaken to rectify a cylinder head issue. A new old stock head was sourced from Tony Mantle of Climax Engine Services, and the 2.0-litre FPF was completed with many other new parts, producing around 200hp. Since the extensive rebuild of circa £40,000, the Climax engine has proven to be reliable and successful.
During 2016 four events were completed; at Donington, Silverstone, Spa and Portimao. In 2017, 603 competed in the Stirling Moss Trophy at Spa with the father and son owners. In October, 603 went to Paul Ricard for Peter Auto’s Dix Mille Tours du Castellet meeting where our own Ben Mitchell shared the driving in Sixties Endurance. Competing against the likes of AC Cobras and Jaguar E-Types, free practice showed the potential of the 15 with the pair putting in a time good enough for 6th overall.
In qualifying for the 2 hour race, 603 posted a time for 20th overall in the 82 car grid, and 2nd in the GT2 class. The car ran exceptionally well for the duration of the race and the pair were able to chip away at taking position after position. At the conclusion when night fell, they finished in 7th overall, behind five Cobras and one E-Type, and were winners of the GT2 class.
With 2018 being the next edition of the world renowned Le Mans Classic, 603 is a fantastic choice to compete in Plateau 3 for cars from 1957-1961. Alongside Le Mans Classic and Peter Auto’s Sixties Endurance series, 603 is a potential race winner in Motor Racing Legends’ Stirling Moss Trophy, as well as being eligible for GTSCC and Master’s Gentleman Drivers series. Accompanied by 2015 FIA HTPs and an extensive spares package, chassis 603 is a historically significant, immaculately restored, highly versatile and very competitive ex-works Lotus 15 which offers a range of use for the new custodian.