1957 Lotus Eleven Climax Series 2 Le Mans

Extensively campaigned in period by Doug Graham & Tom Threlfall at major British circuits including Goodwood, Silverstone, Brands Hatch & Oulton Park,
1957 Lotus Eleven Climax Series 2 Le Mans Sports Racer
Chassis No. 316
Engine No.
Registration No. 418 SRE (UK)

In pursuit of ultimate performance, Lotus was one of the first companies to truly investigate the effect of aerodynamics on a car. Indeed there are some wonderful photographs of Lotus engineers strapped to the bonnet of a Lotus MK VIII, in full flight, holding threads of cotton wool to try and assess airflow! From the
MK VIII onwards, Lotus introduced all enveloping lightweight aluminium bodywork to their sports racers and as a result created some of the most beautiful and delicate designs of 1950s – the Lotus Eleven being one such design. The design of the bodies was by De Havilland aircraft aerodynamicist Frank Costin (brother of Mike Costin who went on to be technical director at Lotus before joining Keith Duckworth to form the ‘Cos’ of Cosworth) and was executed by Williams & Pritchard. The Lotus Eleven took various forms, from the most basic “home build” club cars through to the wide chassis works Le Mans competitors before being superseded by the Lotus 15, the last front-engined sports-racer produced by the firm.

The particular example offered for sale here, known by its registration number 418 SRE, is one of the more desirable Series 2 Le Mans models. It was purchased new by Doug Graham, owner of the Express & Star newspaper, and was prepared for racing by Innes Ireland Ltd, one of the first companies to offer a complete “arrive & drive” package for competitors. ‘418 SRE’ is pictured in the November 1958 issue of SPORTS CAR AND LOTUS OWNER magazine in an advertorial article entitle Lotus “Training” by Innes Ireland Ltd., a copy of which is included in the history file accompanying the car.

Finished at the time in bare aluminium, Doug Graham raced ‘418 SRE’ extensively at major British circuits during the 1957 and 1958 seasons as well as one overseas outing to the Copenhagen Cup meeting at Roskilde in Denmark in 1958. A full record of the known races in which Doug Graham competed are included in the history file and include numerous appearances at Goodwood for members meetings and The Chichester cup as well as appearances at:

• Crystal Palace
• Mallory Park
• Silverstone
• Brands Hatch
• Oulton Park
• Snettterton
• Aintree

At the end of the 1958 season ‘418 SRE’ was sold to purchase a more powerful Lotus 15 and passed into the ownership of Tom Threlfall, well known as a former president of the VSCC, but also a very capable and enthusiastic privateer racer in his day. Tom managed to squeeze in a race in 1958 at the Boxing Day meet at Brand Hatch, winning the Yuletide Trophy Sport 1100 event. He continued to race the car during the first half of the 1959 season at Snetterton, Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Mallory Park and Oulton park before retiring ‘418 SRE’ in favour of a more up to date Lotus Eleven, chassis no. 330, registered ORX 556.

By this stage the Lotus Eleven had become rather dated and the Lotus 17 and Lola Mk1 took over the mantel of frontline low capacity sports racers. To this end many Lotus Elevens were laid up during the 1960s, being in effect defunct racing cars of little use. ‘418 SRE’ was one such example and was purchased in dismantled and poor condition in 1978 by John Davis who had the remains verified by the UK’s leading Historic Lotus Eleven expert, Victor Thomas. The DVLA subsequently re-issued the original number plate ‘418 SRE’ to the chassis. John slowly began the lengthy process of rebuilding the car but finally decided to sell the project on in 2004 to the current custodian.

The current owner is himself a highly skilled and trained engineer having worked for Prodrive and Aston Martin Lagonda. During a break in his time working at the top levels of modern motorsport the owner worked with Dave Abbott, well known on the historic scene as a guru of the sports racing Lotus. Between 2004 and 2008 ‘418 SRE’ was carefully restored by the owner under the watchful eye of Dave Abbott. A 1460cc FWB Coventry-Climax engine was sourced and the rebuild entrusted to John Exley. The owner himself took care of the mechanical restoration with the best parts and advice supplied by Ron Welsh Tony Mantle (Climax Engine Services), Mark Lewis and Martin Greaves (Classic Performance Engineering.) The bodywork was restored by Clive Smart at Shapecraft Classic Motor Bodies of Northampton and incorporates various safety features including a discreet roll-hoop system.

The project was completed in 2008 and at its first outing since 1959 “418 SRE’ gained a 1st in Class and 15th overall at the Etretat Hillclimb in Normandy. The owner has since competed in numerous rounds of the Classic Hillclimb Championship organized by the Bugatti Owners Club, where the car has proved to be both reliable and competitive, even winning the sports car class of the championship in 2011. Some excellent onboard footage of the owner attacking Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb can be viewed by going to:

After a number of successful seasons campaigning the car in the Hillclimb championship it has been safely dry stored since 2012 while other projects were attended to. Following a period of inactivity, it will undoubtedly, as with any racing car, require some minor preparation before being run, but the vendor assures us of its mechanical integrity nonetheless. Reading the list of those who assisted with the restoration and preparation is hugely encouraging and should provide the new owner with a good degree of comfort knowing that it has been restored correctly by the best people.

‘418 SRE’ is offered for sale with a superb history file containing many period racing shots of ‘418 SRE’ with Doug Graham and Tom Threlfall, a series of original race programs from the races in which it competed in period, photographs of the car as purchased by John Davis as well as a photographic record of various stages of the restoration. Also included in the file is a copy of the SPORTS CAR AND LOTUS OWNER magazine from 1958 featuring the car, a full list of period race entries and the UK V5C registration document.

‘418 SRE’ is sold only to make way for a single-seater hillclimb car. As a result of being campaigned solely in historic hillclimb events no F.I.A. papers were required, but with some small alterations it should be possible to obtain these without difficulty. Once obtained the car will, of course, be eligible for a plethora of top-flight historic racing events including The Silverstone Classic, Le Mans Classic, and Monaco Historique. One would imagine that it would also be made most welcome at the Goodwood Members Meetings and Revival having competed at the famed circuit on numerous occasions in period. Offered for sale here is a well historied and sorted Lotus Eleven.

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