So tied to its present-day home is Lotus that the village of Hethel is almost as synonymous with the marque as the name of its founder, Colin Chapman. But while Norfolk is to Lotus what Maranello is to Ferrari, the British brand’s defining years – those in which it rose to global prominence as a World Championship-winning Formula 1 constructor – actually commenced when it called a collection of red brick buildings beside Delamare Road in Cheshunt home. From 1959 to 1966, this Hertfordshire site birthed Chapman’s creations from racing to road, including PH’s very own Elan S3 SE – which just so happened to be one of its very last.
When CVL 41D left Cheshunt as an unlikely surviving prototype and was registered for road use in May ’66, Delamere Road’s days were numbered. Lotus was already in the process of moving over its parts and team to the new Hethel facility (and no doubt losing records in the process, including that of our car), leaving the three main buildings, plus the road-side offices and a showroom, to be bought and converted for use by other businesses in subsequent years. Most recently, a gym has been using part of the premises, its patrons likely unaware of the irony of using the home of adding lightness to bulk up. Remarkably, however, much of the original Lotus architecture remains, including the exterior ramp that freshly built Cortinas used to roll down and the metal framework that was used to winch shells directly up to the first floor.
What’s more, you can easily identify the buildings from pictures of the site in its heyday – such as one hosted on a very helpful Lotus Elan forum. That satisfying pastime is set to be short-lived, however, with the site and its neighbours due to be demolished to turn much of Delamare Road’s land into a residential area. Britain needs more homes, there’s no denying that, but we’re still allowed to feel a tad sad that the brick and mortar remnants of a proud era of British motoring will be wiped from the face of the Earth forever. Before its flattening (and thankfully long before the UK went into lockdown), a visit in the Elan felt wholly necessary to say goodbye.
As the maps suggest, it’s all still there and largely accessible. My old man’s Series 3 would have been constructed in the building on the right, if you’re looking at the facility from the road, while the ramp it’s pictured with here is from the building just behind, where Cortinas were made. It’s amusing to see how narrow it is, emphasising just how small Lotus’s take on a Ford saloon remained. Even a car of just 1.64 metres in width must have required some skill to navigate down this twirling, concrete-sided decline (original pics of which can be seen with other Cortina images here). Chapman himself was said to have bent a car on it, so let’s assume they used gravity, rather than firing up the yet-to-be-run-in Lotus Twin-Cam four-cylinder that powered each of these Delamare Road-tuned Cortinas.
Those engines were certainly happier going fast than slow, having been upgraded from their humble Ford Anglia 1.5-litre origins to go into the Elan first. Capacity was held at 1,558cc to give Mike Costin – the Cosworth co-founder who formerly worked at Lotus – and his engine development team space to bore the Ford blocks out while remaining under the FIA’s 1.6-litre class limit. Racing really did pump through the veins of everything at Lotus – and you can see just how close the road car operation was to the motorsport one in the old pic on the Elan forum. Those transporters are the F1 team’s, parked in the spot immediately beside the one where, more than half a century later, we take the pictures you see here. The oil stains on the ground may well have come from a gym member’s diesel 5 Series, but to two Lotus fans and the red S3 sitting beside that ramp, it’s got to be surviving evidence of Castrol mineral overspill, surely.
So close is Lotus’s former Delamare Road home to destruction that it’s already covered in the dust from the buildings to have been demolished beside it. Covid-19 lockdown has spared the site for a few extra weeks, but by the close of 2020 it’s set to be completely eradicated, with new buildings laid down on top. Lotus has gone on to do plenty more terrific things from its Hethel base, which has the luxury of its own high-speed race track to ensure Chapman’s original ethos remains. But that won’t stop us shedding a tear when the bulldozer does finally tear its way through the floors that once saw bezel headlights bolted to the nose of ingenious, world-influencing British cars and F1 racers that Jim Clark used so brilliantly brought to life. Machines that would put a little strip of tarmac a stone’s throw from the A10 on maps of motoring history for good.
Car: 1966 Lotus Elan S3 SE (prototype)
Run by: Sam's dad
Bought: May 2018
Mileage at purchase: 62,578
Mileage now: 63,440
Last month at a glance: We give the Elan's birthplace a proper send-off before it's flattened
[Thanks to Lotus for the black and white heyday photos!]
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