Sports Cars Illustrated june 1960

 

This article is reproduced from the June 1960 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated. Apparently the early Lotus Sevens might be considered a varient of the Austin Healy Sprite since the Seven borrowed its drive train from the Sprite. I thought about not including this, but in the end I posted it as a way of showing what the spridget drivetrain can do in a car that weighs about half as much as a stock spridget.

Most people think of a Lotus as a sleek, aerodynamic missile like the Eleven, the Fifteen or the Elite. But for two years Lotus has been building - in ever-increasing numbers - a small, in expensive, all-around sports car called the "Seven", which is just beginning to arrive in the States. Lotus has reverted to a one-number designation (at a time when the new rear-engined Formula car is called the Mark 18) to use the name that was saved for the successor to the square-cut Mark Six, the car that really put Lotus on the map as builders of competition machines. When written up by SCI in June, 1957, Lotus's Colin Chapman ascribed the omission of "Mark Seven" to the fact that this was already being used by Jaguar, a fairly transparent ruse.

The original Seven followed closely the basic layout of the Mark Six, having simple body panels wrapped around its sturdy space frame, cycle-type front fenders and negligible weather protection. Now a special variant has been produced for the U.S. market and dubbed the "Seven America". To adapt it to North American needs it has flared fiberglass front fenders that powerfully recall classic sports car lines. Less obvious are redesigned rear fenders, a thermostatically-controlled radiator fan, Elite-type windshield wipers, and the fitting of directional signals and big stop/ tail lights. Several engines are fitted to the Seven in England, but the America comes standard with the full Healey Sprite engine, for which parts and service are readily available here. In our test car its power was transmitted by a Sprite clutch and gearbox to a BMC axle having a 4.875:1 ratio; other cogs are available to choice.

Like all other open Lotuses, the Seven has a Chapman-designed space frame. The front suspension is the now-standard Lotus parallel-wish bone layout, with the anti-roll bar forming one leg of the upper wishbone, while the live back axle is guided by parallel radius rods and a diagonal member . Springing is by coaxial spring/damper units at all four corners, and steering is by rack and pinion. The two-leading-shoe brakes work in eight-inch drums, bathed in a plentiful supply of cool air. Seen overall, this collection of time-proven machinery resembles a hybrid of an MG TC, a K-2 Allard and a California dragster. It's a basic vehicle, purely sporting, with an epidermis of red-painted aluminum encasing a business-like mechanism. It makes no pretense to Detroit's-or, for that matter, Coventry's or Turin's creature comforts. It's as spartan and unadorned as a rowboat.

Even before the engine is started it's obvious that this is an enthusiast's car . Since th er e are no doors , you step over the low cockpit side and shoehorn yourself in to the non adjustable seats. These have only an inch or two of padding a top a very firm surface and are a mere 16 inches wide, so they'r e a very snug fit. You're so low that you can press a palm flat against the pavement from the cockpit, and you're braced firmly in place by the prop shaft tunnel and the side of the body. In spite of the lack of adjustment, the seat position seems to accommodate varying heights efficiently, and the sparse cushioning is surprisingly comfortable. There's a carpet on the floor with rubber mats under the driver's heels, but this is the only concession to comfort. Every thing else is intended for just one thing: driving.

Set at arm 's length, the steering wheel is pleasant to use but its ivory plastic design seems out of keeping with the rest of the Seven. Its diameter is good; in fact it couldn't be larger or even a skinny driver couldn't get in the car, except through a trap door in the bottom. Neatly grouped on the dash are the speedometer, oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge and ammeter, a tach being optional either in place of or in addition to the speedometer. The short shift lever is ideally placed with in a few inches of the wheel- though its shift pattern was felt to be too lengthy-and the hand brake is hard to get at, being away on the passenger side of the car.

The view out over the long hood is inspiring, even taking in the brightly twirling knock-off nuts that stand out from the Lotus's narrow fenders.

The pedals are less in spiring. We'd suggest following the ancient Chinese custom of binding your feet for a few years before tackling this particular car. With skill it 's possible to get a 9C shoe on the necessary controls, which feel about the size of a half-dollar. You find that your right foot just about covers both the brake and accelerator, so you control by rolling your foot to one side and the other instead of actually moving it sideways. This of course makes "heel-and-toe" work a cinch, but it can lead to application of the wrong pedal at the wrong time.

When the engine was fired up and the car put on the road, we found that the Seven cleverly combines a traditional sports car feel with the most modern techniques of frame design and suspension. It has amazing cornering power, thanks mainly to its extremely stiff space-framed chassis. In this day and age the use of a live rear axle causes raised eyebrows in some quarters, but in the Seven this heavy assembly is so well located that you're seldom if ever aware that it's there. When ever the tail can be broken loose - which is really only on wet roads - it does so very smoothly and controllably.

Light weight is as helpful for braking as it is for acceleration and handling, and on the Lotus Seven fantastic retardation is provided by very modest pedal pressures. The standard linings show no tendency to fade in normal road use, and even after a series of panic stops from speed they continued to halt the car squarely without any increase in pedal travel.

With it s 4.875 axle ratio, the test car was obviously set up for acceleration rather than maximum speed , and it certainly did deliver far more sparkling performance than the Sprite engine provides in its original resting place. In top gear the most this engine will pull in the Lotus is 5500 rpm, which corresponds to only 81 mph about what most Sprites will do, but the Lotus gets there a whole lot quicker.

For road use, however, extra speed is worth little unless you're keen to tangle with the police, and the Lotus provides all the exhilaration at 60 that some more lavishly equipped sports cars supply at 100. In fact, on a cold, dark, winter's night 70 mph can feel like 140! There's nothing like it for blowing away the cobwebs of a city office.

The weather protection of the Seven can be summed up by saying that it would impress a motor cyclist but not a Jaguar owner. The simple canvas top is held in place by tubular supports and is clipped down all around by Dot fasteners. When not in use it's stowed behind the seats, and it's fairly easy and quick to put up or down. When it 's up, the Seven looks much better than do most roadsters with their canvas flying. But getting in and out under these conditions requires considerable agility, practice and a slender frame as well. If you weigh much more than 180 pounds you might as well forget it; you couldn't get your thighs past the steering wheel. It 's like climbing into a frozen sleeping bag with a wooden leg. The best way to manage it is to leave the three right-hand windshield snaps unfasten ed, then reach up and hook them to the pegs after you get behind the wheel.

Despite all the shortcomings mentioned , the Lotus Seven has a remarkable attraction for enthusiastic drivers because it's far less of a com promise than are most sports cars today. Basically it's a racing car which can be used on the road without any of the snags normally associated with sports-racing machinery.

Yet roadholding, steering and braking are right up to racing car standards, and the instant steering and speedy gear shift all contribute to sheer driving pleasure. There are a lot of standard parts built into the Lotus Seven, but the chassis they're all attached to makes them seem a lot more desirable than they were in their parent vehicles. With the emphasis on competitive performance, it's hard to view this as a true all-purpose sports car unless you're a dedicated enthusiast - a small dedicated enthusiast. The Seven America is a genuine male automobile, tough, muscular and utilitarian.

-David Phipps and Mike Davis