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Typifying the maxim that a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, the Lotus Seven was introduced at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show. Based around a multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, the aluminium-panelled newcomer was powered by a choice of Ford 100E, Coventry Climax FWA or BMC A-series engines. Popular with sporting motorists and club racers alike, the Lotus Seven evolved through Series 2, 3 and 4 guises before the design rights were sold to Caterham in 1973.
Sevens dominated club racing in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and with Team Lotus starting to give the established ‘Scuderia' cause for concern internationally, the fever to go racing was rife for Lotus’ in-house store's man, Jay 'J J' Hall. Astonishingly, our research into this car led us in early 2020 to catch up with Jay, who is now in his 80s, and discover the story of this Lotus direct from the source.
Jay started working for Lotus in 1958 and, like all new recruits, was told upon his induction not to have any wild fantasies about ‘staff discounts’. So when the itch to race needed scratching, Jay and some like-minded and highly talented colleagues sought to build their own cars instead. Led by renowned car designer Len Terry, the group’s resulting sports car specials were known as the Terriers and they proved very effective. Too effective, in fact. Several wins and podiums not only upset Lotus owners, who disliked being beaten by something built by the factory workers, but Colin Chapman himself was furious. Len Terry was fired over the fiasco and, on the advice of Mike Costin, Jay sold his Terrier back to Len so that he could “build a demon Seven instead.”
Jay ordered this Seven as a complete set of un-assembled parts from Lotus Components, which was an option many Seven owners took as it saved the new car purchase tax that was applied to a car completed by the manufacturer, and was released from Lotus’s new Cheshunt factory on 20th November 1959 – Jay’s birthday. Lotus had moved its operations from Hornsey earlier in the year and Jay had found accommodation at the nearby White Horse Inn, negotiating the use of its garage in the process, and it was here that Lotus Seven chassis No.787 was delivered after Jay had pulled a favour from Lotus’s van driver.
Jay also persuaded Hertfordshire’s registration office to allocate him the very appropriate registration number ‘787 JJH’ – the car’s chassis number, followed by his initials!
All that was left to do was build it. The build was gradual, using spare weekends and evenings, and completed with the help of Lotus colleagues who all helped each other build their various projects. Jay would later ease the financial burden by selling a share in the car to colleagues Peter Hutcheon in 1960 and Mark Roberts in 1961.
A ‘Series F’ car this Seven was fitted with the ubiquitous and reliable Ford 100E engine and 3-speed gearbox, and its 40bhp was more than enough to make this sub-500kg Lotus a real giant-killer. Once built, all that the Lotus needed was a livery and Jay commissioned sign-writer Roy Elmore to replicate the scheme adorning his traditional pudding bowl crash helmet: pale blue with a central white stripe.
Jay and his ‘shareholder’ Peter Hutcheon spent their first three race meetings finding their feet at Silverstone over May & June 1960 and, in this evocatively innocent era, taught themselves to drive quickly using a book called ‘How to Drive a Racing Car.” This culminated in a 5th place for Jay in the 10-lap scratch race on 18th June. Jay and Peter continued entering as many events as possible throughout the summer and into September and even entered the hotly contested 1172cc Chapman Trophy series. Their exploits were captured in a number of stunning images, a film recording and a few column inches in Autosport. By the end of 1960, 787 JJH’s scorecard read: one win at Silverstone, a third at Snetterton and 12 further top-ten finishes.
Having campaigned no fewer than 26 races, 787 JJH required some attention in preparation for 1961. Mark Roberts, Jay’s best friend at Lotus, took over Peter Hutcheon’s share and as an extraordinary engineer helped Jay improve the Seven by canting over and boring its engine. Mark Roberts went on to found his eponymous film and TV camera company, which was awarded an Oscar for its innovation before being acquired by Nikon.
The time spent working on the Seven left little time to race it in 1961, but Jay and Mark crammed in no fewer than 10 race meetings between August and October. The highlight was Jay taking his first win at Mallory Park. Jay sold the Seven after 1961, a consequence he says of getting married, but a chance encounter saw him reunited with it a few years later in Brighton, where he’d gone to see the finishers arrive from the Veteran Car Run and recognised ‘his’ Lotus parked on the seafront. From that point in the mid-1960s, the Seven relocated to Scandinavia and was the property of Mr Per Roxlin by 1985. Recognising it as a rare and very special Series One, Roxlin undertook a full restoration of the Lotus and upgraded it to ‘Series A’ specification with the celebrated BMC ‘A’ series 1098cc engine and 4-speed gearbox. The bodywork was carried out by Williams & Pritchard no less, who were the original coachbuilders for Lotus.
Repatriated in 1995 by the classic car dealer and AC Cobra specialist Rod Leach, the Seven was in a private collection for around 20 years before being acquired by our vendor.
Eligible for and positively welcomed in historic motorsport today, the Series One is the purest, prettiest and most coveted of the breed. Still immense fun on the road, and nicely restored with great history, this is a charming example of the embryonic Lotus Seven.