Despite only being fitted with mock up engine and all new rear transaxle made of wood the Lotus 12 with a chassis made of Reynolds 531 tubing looked sensational to the select members of the press lucky enough to it in the stable block at the back of a hotel in Hornsey in October 1956.
The space frame chassis had independent wishbone suspension on the front and was to be powered by a 4 cylinder Coventry Climax motor built to meet the then second tier Formula 2 regulations. The gearbox mounted to the rear transaxle was to feature a sequential shift as used on motor cycles.
Typical of designer Colin Chapmans maxim to add lightness the magnesium ‘wobbly web’ wheels, inspired by a design Colin had seen on a US military aircraft, were fitted with six wheel nuts instead of the more common central knock off nut because Formula 2 races did not, as a general rule, require pit stops to change tyres and the six small wheel nuts weighed less than the one knock off nut.
Colin Chapmans first foray into open wheel racing under his own Lotus banner while innovative was not as successful in 1957 as had been the Vanwall for which Colin had designed the chassis, but this did not prevent him from fitting the 12 with an oversize version of the Formula 2 Coventry Climax engine and running two examples at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1958 for Graham Hill and a second F2 spec car for Cliff Allinson to mark Lotus first entry into the top Formula One tier of the sport.
The first two Lotus 12’s featured de Dion suspension but Chapman refined his design by fitting his own version of the Macpherson struts fitted with universal joints that became known as the Chapman strut, a system also used on the Lotus Elise. In Formula One races the Lotus 12 scored some promising sixth place finishies and a remarkable 4th place in Belgium but the most important Colin Chapman was now playing on the big stage where he would leave an indelible mark right up until his untimely demise im 1982.
Thanks for joining me on this Wobbly Web edition of ‘Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres’ I hope you will join me again tomorrow when we will be looking at a big cat. Don’t forget to come back now !