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Lot 249: Lotus Eleven Le Mans Sports-Racing Roadster

Goodwood Festival of Speed, Bonhams (29 June 2012)

Here we are delighted to offer not just one of the most beautifully restored and exquisitely well-presented Lotus Elevens that we have ever been able to present for auction, but also a distinctively important ex-works Team Lotus Le Mans car  the Cliff Allison/Keith Hall race number '35' as deployed in the 1956 Le Mans 24-Hour race.

The two sister works-entered Elevens  the car offered here co-driven by future Formula 1 factory Lotus and Ferrari driver Cliff Allison/Keith Hall, and that shared by Colin Chapman/Herbert Mackay Frazer, both retired from the gruelling race. This Allison/Hall car - running as race number '35'  completed 89 laps before being sidelined by a crash. "As Cliff Allison was hurtling down the Mulsanne Straight that night a huge german Shepherd dog suddenly appeared right in his path. He aimed right to avoid it, only for the unfortunate animal to change its mind and dodge back right into the path of the Lotus. Team Lotus mechanic Ernie Unger recalled: "It was quite misty and Cliff said the impact was so severe it threw the car into a high speed spin, thankfully straight down the road. Cliff told me he laid down across the seats so as not to get his head knocked off if he hit anything, and when he got down he noticed the headlights were still working and laughingly described the moment as lying down in a high-speed lighthouse watching the scenery going round and round..." (quoted by Graham Gauld in 'Cliff Allison: From the Fells to Ferrari', Veloce Publishing, 2008). The Chapman/Frazer entry, number '32'  survived 172 laps before its engine failed.

That 1956 Le Mans 24-Hours race was the first to be run after the catastrophic accident which had so defaced the 1955 edition at the Sarthe circuit. Not only had the entire pits area and start/finish section of the circuit been completely redesigned and rebuilt, the technical regulations governing the event's entry had undergone complete revision, driven by safety considerations.

The three works Lotus Elevens prepared for this Grand Prix d'Endurance are recalled today as having been part of a very select group of no more than perhaps eight Lotus Elevens that were built in period with widened chassis frames, providing space for Le Mans regulation-width seats and cockpit and footwell minimum dimensions. The frame itself was actually eight inches wider than standard, with an additional 4-inches extra offset on each side, while the enclosing bodywork was itself no wider overall.

This car was chassis serial '211' and in addition to race entry number '35' it also bore the UK road registration serial 'DEC 494'. The use of this registration number has caused controversy for many years, since back home Cliff Allison's own personal Lotus 11- chassis '176' - was the actual car that was registered 'DEC494', not this team car chassis '211' which we are now offering. The simple truth is that the works car required a road registration number to compete at Le Mans, and so Cliff Allison had just said "you can use the number of my car, nobody will know" that is precisely what they did, without actually UK road-registering '211' at all...

The car as now restored features many entirely distinctive works car features. Apart from the widened cockpit of the tailored chassis, these include the vee-shaped Le Mans windscreen moulding, the fared-in driving lamps beautifully formed into the nose body section, and the night-time race number illumination lights. The airbox around the Climax engine's twin carburettors also features a little sliding hatch which Eleven Registrar Victor Thomas of the Historic Lotus Register informs us was used to squirt ether into the carburettor throats to ensure easy starting  and restarting. Team Lotus chief mechanic of the time Willie Griffiths was also a great believer in squirting RedeX fuel additive into the carburetors "to clean everything out, and the hatch may have been for that purpose too".

After Le Mans we believe that this car was sold to a United States customer, and through an ownership provenance we have not yet thoroughly established, it ended up there with New York-based German collector Dieter Holterbosch who owned it for many years in a more or less derelict state. Herr Holterbosch was of course very well known and well respected as a collector of very significant competition cars, and this Le Mans Lotus's stablemates for many years included both a pre-war Le Mans 'tank' Bugatti sports-racing car and nothing less than a 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154 'Silver Arrow' single-seater.

The British specialist company of Crosthwaite & Gardiner restored and maintained these immensely valuable  and valued  machines for Dieter Holterbosch, and he eventually entrusted them with the ex-works wide-chassis Le Mans Lotus Eleven now offered here.

Olav Glasius eventually bought the car in April 2004 from prominent dealer Paul Osborn. FIA Papers were granted for it on August 31, 2006. It should be noted that the car has no legal right to use the UK registration 'DEC494'  as adopted by team Lotus in 1956 - on the public road. That letter/number combination rendered in British registration-plate style upon the car is consistent with its 1956 Le Mans livery only and has been applied for aesthetic accuracy.

Victor Thomas of the Historic Lotus Register has been involved with the car throughout its most recent rebuild for Mr. Glasius and he has expressed himself content that  despite much modification and restoration during its long life - it is the only viable claimant to being the Allison/Hall 1956 Le Mans factory team Lotus Eleven. Furthermore he has declared himself satisfied that some original frame members still survive within the rebuilt chassis today.

This is not a time-machine survivor of a car, locked away and preserved from the Monday following that 1956 Le Mans race, because it plainly endured some tough times during its later years in unverified American ownerships before Mr. Holterbosch succeeded in rescuing it for posterity. But it can certainly boast a highly acceptable continuous history, it has been several times restored and now emerged from its time with the Glasius Collection, exquisitely well presented and having benefited from an extremely well-advised last restoration.

The legendarily beautiful Lotus Eleven was developed as a logical improvement upon the 1955 Lotus-Climax Mark IX series. Colin Chapman elected to abandon the Mark designation system because new models were becoming an annual normality, and so his 1956 'Mark XI' emerged as the Lotus Eleven, or Type 11...establishing a new system for the Hornsey-based marque.

The new model was based upon a wonderfully logical, light and yet rigid multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, in which their aluminium sheet-panelled transmission tunnel contributed to structural strength. Swing-axle front suspension was specified once more, though this time with a lower-set centre pivot, while the latest wheel-enveloping aerodynamic body style by Frank Costin perhaps defined 'Lotus' elegance and balanced proportion at its absolute peak. While the scuttle height matched that of the preceding Mark IX, both bonnet and tail were reprofiled and the tail fins subtly minimized, while a headrest faring and cockpit passenger-side rigid tonneau panel could be specified, with wrap-around driver-only windscreen merging back into the headrest form.

The Eleven emerged in three variants; the top-of-the-range Le Mans with a choice of 1098cc Coventry Climax FWA or 1460cc FWB engines, de Dion rear suspension and disc brakes  the Club featuring a Ford live rear axle, and drum brakes  and a Sports model with 1172cc Ford side-valve engine primarily for touring use on the public road. In 1100cc sports-car racing, the Lotus Elevens primary rival was the rear-engined Cooper-Climax 'Bobtail' and success was shared between the two rival British marques. And then in the 1956 Le Mans 24Hour race three factory-entered Team Lotus Elevens were fielded, amongst which the 1100cc car co-driven by Peter Jopp and Reg Bicknell actually won its class and finished a fine seventh overall, headed only by three D-Type Jaguars, an Aston Martin DB3S, one works Ferrari 625LM and a factory Porsche 550A RS Coupe...

This was the company which Lotus-Climax Eleven '211' now offered here enjoyed, 56 long years ago, competing wheel-to-wheel at well over 130mph around the legendary Sarthe circuit at Le Mans.

To study this lovely Lotus in detail today, close up, is to relive that historic event in the footsteps of Colin Chapman, Cliff Allison, Keith Hall and the Team personnel who built, prepared and campaigned these wonderfully avantgarde machines in period. Here is an Eleven that oozes intrinsic value. It is a Le Mans car that would thoroughly enhance any serious collector's sports-racing car stable.

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Festival of Speed
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood,UK
Lot Number249
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£135000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£152700
Condition rating0
Registration number
Chassis number211
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors