Did Lotus accomplish this feat years before they officially stated that it couldn’t be done, or is there a reasonable explanation why it didn’t actually happen at this time?
A contributor to a Lotus Seven forum advised me of an entry in the Lotus Seven Register, whereby the Lotus Factory had provided the following information:
‘The first official twin-cam engined Seven left the Lotus Delamare Road factory in March 1965 and was bound for Leo Geoghegan in Liverpool, NSW, Australia to be used for racing’
I thought about this as it had taken until 1969 for Lotus to produce 13 or so SS Sevens – at least 12 of which were fitted with twin-cam engines (one – a left hand drive SS – was fitted with a Crossflow engine due to exhaust pipe clearance problems. My thanks to John Watson for this information). It appears that it took a factory trip in 1967/68 by Graham Nearn of Caterham Cars, driving a customer’s car fitted with a twin-cam, for Lotus to be convinced that it could be accomplished.
Also, I recalled articles in the various Lotus Seven books and magazines regarding structural problems with the Series 2 and 3 tubular frames. These occurred when fitted with larger, more powerful engines due to Colin Chapman revising the frames from the Series 1 by removing metal tubes to cut costs, thus making them weaker. I had experience of this with my Series 3 frame, structurally identical with the Series 2 from which it was derived.
My assessment was that if a twin-cam engine was installed in a standard production Series 2 chassis frame, fitted with a Standard Triumph rear axle and ‘A’ bracket arrangement, it may have lead to further structural weaknesses already causing problems to some owners of road-going Sevens.
It should be noted that the Lotus in-house produced twin-cam engine was cheaper than the Crossflow, and if it was possible to fit this engine, why only one?
A telephone call helped shed some light on this story
In early 2014, I was in contact with a couple of Lotus historians in Australia seeking general information about Lotus cars. I also inquired with one of them regarding the information on the Lotus Seven Register, namely Leo Geoghegan’s role in importing a Seven fitted with a twin-cam engine direct from the Lotus factory in March 1965. I was provided with Leo’s telephone number and advised to call him. With a huge time difference (from Western Canada to South-East Australia), I managed to connect with him at a decent hour for both of us. Leo was a great character, and had a few Lotus stories to tell. He confirmed that he never received a Lotus Seven at his dealership in Liverpool, New South Wales, fitted with a twin-cam engine. He did remember the approximate date when Lotus decided to install the twin-cam and produce the 13 or so ‘SS’ models, but by then Geoghegan Motors were finding it very expensive to import Lotus cars due to high import taxes, shipping costs etc., so they discontinued doing so after 1968/69.
He did not recall ever seeing a Seven fitted with a twin-cam in Australia at the time (1965), or being used for racing with one fitted thereafter. Although the information detailed on the Lotus Seven Register may have come in good faith from the Lotus factory, another Lotus historian in Australia, Marc Schagen, advised me that every Lotus Seven shipped to Australia was noted as sold to Geoghegan Motors as they were the official Lotus importer. If such a car was ordered by an individual direct from Lotus, Geoghegan Motors may never have known about the transaction, although for such an unusual request, surely they would have heard about it? Marc was confident that no twin-cam Sevens came through the Geoghegan dealership (as confirmed by Leo), and that there were no factory installed twin-cam engines in Lotus Sevens anywhere in Australia in the 1960s. (Note: The Lotus factory-produced Seven Series 4 Twin-Cam, did not appear until the beginning of the 1970s, and was also manufactured under licence in New Zealand by Steel Brothers starting in 1973).
Leo told me about a customer in 1965 who asked Geoghegan Motors to turn his car into the fastest Seven ever. They bored the 1500 c.c. Ford 5 bearing engine out to 1650 c.c. by fitting 85 m.m. Cosworth pistons, installed a Cosworth camshaft, a 105E Anglia gearbox fitted with Mike Hewland close ratio internals, added special wheels, and completed a few other modifications to make the car go as fast as possible. When it was finished, and after they had personally poured quite a bit of money into the project, the customer advised that he didn’t have the cash to pay for it, and walked away. So Leo and his brother decided to use the car for racing at Warwick Farm Raceway (N.S.W.). He told me that at the time, Warwick Farm was more suited to smaller cars such as Lotus, Coopers etc. At the conclusion of their race, a Cooper Monaco came in first, followed by Leo’s brother – Ian (also known as ‘Pete’) second, in a Lotus 23 (bored out to 1475 c.c. with a 3 bearing crankshaft), with Leo third in his ‘tuned’ Lotus Seven. After the race and in the paddock, he was surrounded by Lotus fans and received multiple offers for the Seven in a sort of bidding war. Consequently, he and his brother recovered all their costs (plus a bit more), and thoroughly enjoyed the racing as a bonus.
He recalled a couple of customers in the mid 1960s wanting a Lotus Seven so much that one gentleman traded in a TR3 getting a very low price for it compared to the cost of the Seven, with another customer trading in an Austin Healey 100S. I knew nothing of Austin Healey, but Leo advised that in the U.K. (2013 possibly?), an A.H. 100S, very rare when first produced, sold for 1 Million Pounds Sterling. He didn’t think that any Seven would ever fetch that amount. With many thanks from me for his time and information, we ended our call.
Postscript. Leo Geoghegan died in March 2015 after a long illness.
Although the Lotus Seven Register may have received what appears to be conclusive proof of a Seven fitted with a twin-cam engine, no one with knowledge of Lotus Sevens in Australia has ever heard about one being imported in 1965 fitted with this particular engine. Is it possible that a Seven was shipped with a twin-cam included inside the crate for use in another car? Leo advised that the twin-cam was very expensive compared to the regular Ford engines, so who knows? Another mystery that may never be solved.
As a follow up to this story, Mr. Ed Holly of New South Wales, Australia who is the current owner of Lotus Seven SB1938 (the car alleged to have been fitted with the twin-cam engine), provided further explanation on Simple Sevens. His research showed that the car was shipped without a radiator, and the twin-cam was almost immediately fitted into a Lotus 27, and the engine from that car went into a Lotus 15. He further advised that the engine later fitted to the Seven was unknown, but it was entered and raced as a Lotus Super Seven, so it would have been to Cosworth 1500 specifications.