The 1950s was a fantastic era for sports car racing, it was pure competition. As the years passed it was becoming more and more obvious the route with which development of these fantastic cars would take; smaller and lighter was the future. At the same time a handful of small English manufacturers appeared and would go on to influence and shape the design of racing and sports cars for years to come.
The legendary Colin Chapman had made his mark with the Lotus 6 and immediately set his sights on dominating the sports car racing scene. Chapman developed the Mark 8, 9 and 10 before arriving at the iconic Lotus 11, this was to be the car with which he would firmly stamp his name on the sports car racing scene.
The Lotus 15 was a direct development of the Lotus 11 and would become undoubtedly the ultimate front engines sports car to leave Lotus’ dominant factory. It was more competitive, more powerful and a much rarer car than its predecessor.
Only 27 Lotus 15s were produced, compared to 270 Lotus 11s. The low, sleek, aerodynamic body was designed by Colin Chapman and Williams and Pritchard with the driver sitting much lower than previously.
The Lotus 15 did retain some fundamental design success from the 11. The design of the space-frame chassis shows similarities in design, along with the front suspension. However, the rear suspension was the Chapman Strut with inboard disc brakes similar to the Lotus 16 Formula 1 car of the period.
In 1959 the Series 3 Lotus 15 was born. The series 3 boasted a reinforced frame in the areas found to be weak on the earlier series cars, the front suspension was also upgraded from the previous configuration which had come directly from the Lotus 11 Series 2. The easiest way to identify a Series 3 Lotus 15 is that it has a one piece front bonnet which extends all the way from the grille to the dashboard. The earlier Series 1 and 2 cars have a shorter bonnet and a separate fixed cowl, similar to the Lotus 11s.
The car we are offering, chassis 627-3, was built in 1959 and delivered new to the USA through Lotus distributor Sy Kaback of Grand Prix Imported Cars in Rutherford, New Jersey. Interestingly, the car was ordered new by another Lotus distributor, Suburban Foreign Car Service Inc in Pensylvania for their landlord, Mr Tom Fleming. In 1957 he raced a Ferrari 250 GT LWB ‘TDF’, chassis 0513 GT’, at the Nassau Trophy Road Races, and would even go on to own and race a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis 3767 GT. The Lotus 15 was fitted new with a two-litre Coventry Climax engine, supplied by Racing Engines Limited, a Lotus subsidiary, and a MG Magnette four-speed gearbox with Elite-pattern FDU.
Flemings first race with 627-3 was at the 1959 Nassau Trophy Road Races where he entered and finished three races across two days in December. The SCCA Nationals meeting held over the 14th and 15th May 1960 at the Cumberland Municipal Airport was the pairs next outing. The race was 45 minutes duration and eighteen cars found their way to the starting grid. Fleming brought 627-3 home in 3rd place in his class, and sixth overall! A fantastic result when we learn that the two drivers who beat him in his class were Roger Penske and Bob Holbert! And then, only when we look at the Ferrari 500 TRC and Ferrari 250 GT SWB which finished behind Fleming can we begin to appreciate the effectiveness of the little Lotus 15!
Fleming continued his success story with 627-3 by again finishing on the class podium in 3rd at the SCCA National meeting held at Bridgehampton in May. Then in July at Lime Rock, Fleming and 627-3 finished 4th in class, quickly followed by a fantastic class win in August at the Montgomery Airport Circuit. This class win assured Fleming of third place in the SCCA National Drivers Championship with 627-3, however there was one more event for the pair in 1960, the SCCA Nationals at the Kentucky Derby Festival Regional Road Races. The event was held on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds and comprised of 30 laps around what was effectively the perimeter roads. Fleming again drove well and finished 4th in class, 12th overall.
The next event for 627-3 was the SCCA Nationals, this time at Watkins Glen in September 1960. At this event the car was lent to John Holmes, another amateur racer whose previous race cars included a Porsche 356, Austin-Healey 100 and Lotus 11. Holmes was assigned race number 236 in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix and finished 6th in class, 13th overall.
At the end of 1960, 627-3 and Fleming had secured third place in the SCCA Drivers Championship, class EM. The two drivers in front of them, Roger Penske, who went on to race in Formula One, and Bob Holbert, a class winner at Le Mans, only further emphasizes how successful 627-3 and Fleming were in 1960.
Fleming raced 627-3 one final time at the SCCA Nationals at Bridgehampton in May 1961, again finishing 3rd in class and 10th overall. Later in 1961 Fleming sold the car to Mr John Willock, a resident of Long Island, New York. The car returned to the track with Willock again at the SCCA Nationals at Bridgehampton, for its third appearance at this event. Willock continued the success and finished 4th in class, 14th overall. It is believed at around this time in Willocks ownership the gearbox failed and was changed to an American Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed unit.
Willock competed at one final event in 1962, the SCCA Nationals at Lime Rock in June where he finished 3rd in class, 13th overall. Willock retained 627-3 for a further eight years before selling it to an Englishman, Mr Murray Smith who was then residing in the USA. Mr Smith was well known and active in the historic racing scene and would retain ownership for 5 years before selling 627-3 to Mr Stephen Griswold in California, USA. Griswold competed with the car at least once in 1979 at the Riverside Historic Races.
The car then passed through Peter Kaus in 1981 who then displayed it at the famous Rosso-Bianco Museum in Germany before passing to the UK-based collector Mr Hugh Taylor in 1997. Mr Taylor then retained the car for 18 years, also participating in events such as the Gentleman Drivers Trophy at Donington Park in April 2004 where it finished 1st.
Under its current ownership, chassis 627-3 has received a full restoration by experts Twyman Racing in the UK and had been campaigned at the 2016 Goodwood Revival, 2016 Le Mans Classic and 2016 Silverstone International Trophy. As a result of its limited use, the engine has completed only four hours of its 24-hour life cycle, offering the next owner plenty of competitive outings.
Once belted snugly into the cozy cockpit of this Lotus 15, the driver simply turns they key, gives the throttle two quick jabs and presses the starter button to the left of the steering wheel. The Coventry Climax engine immediately bursts into life. The pedals feel great offering near perfect spacing. The steering wheel is low, but well placed with the column passing between the clutch and brake pedals.
The curved gear lever has a small, yet pin point precise throw, and once first has been selected, the heavy, but not difficult, clutch can be released. At low rpm, the engine is unhappy, it pops and bangs, but this is a race car, it’s not in its natural habitat on the Hertfordshire B-roads we are using. Once warm and a few more revs are used the car comes into its own. The steering is super precise and requires only a hint of lock to change direction.
This Lotus is all about precision; it's accurate, it's calculated, and it's massively efficient. Don't be deceived by the car's physically small size, as it offers a huge reward for its next owner and is a true testament to Colin Chapman, who famously said, "simplify, then add lightness".
- LayoutFront Engined
- Size2,000 cc
- AspirationNormally Aspirated
- Top speed-
- Driven WheelsRear Wheel Drive
- Body typeOther
- Vehicle height-
- Vehicle width-
Previous Owners -
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- 1,200 miles
- 690 bhp
- 1 miles
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