|HISTORIC LOTUS REGISTER
Mark Nine Registrar Mike Marsden
Orchard House, Wotton Road, Rangeworthy, Bristol BS37 7NA, UK
Tel. 01454 228266
Fax 01454 22803
1955 SEBRING LOTUS MARK NINE
Two Lotus Mark Nines competed at the Sebring 12 Hour Sports Car race in 1955 – the first Lotus entry in a major international race outside UK. Race number 79 was driven by Frank Miller and George Rabe, and race number 78 by Norman Scott and “Sam” Samuelson. Because no relevant Lotus factory records survive from this time, the chassis numbers of the two Sebring cars are not known, and currently Historic Lotus Register refers to them as “Sebring 1” and “Sebring 2”. This note is primarily concerned with “Sebring 2”, the Scott/Samuelson car. The first owner of “Sebring 1” was Frank Miller of New York. The first owner of “Sebring 2” was Bobby Burns of Wichita Falls, Texas.
Following the success of the cycle-winged Lotus Mark Six in the early 1950’s, Lotus produced a derivative in 1954 with streamlined bodywork designed by de Havilland aerodynamicist Frank Costin. The car was designated Mark Eight. In 1954 Coventry Climax announced the availability of an 1100cc sports car engine, the FWA, based on their lightweight fire pump engine. One of the earliest of the FWA engines was fitted to a Lotus Mark Eight owned by Dick Steed, which first raced in September 1954. It was the first of many Coventry Climax engines to be fitted in a Lotus, but the installation in Dick Steed’s car was just a one-off. For the 1955 season Lotus designed a new car specifically to accept the new Coventry Climax engine, and this was the Lotus Mark Nine.
The production Lotus Mark Nines had a multi-tubular chassis frame very similar to that of the 1954 Mark Eight, which was itself derived from the Mark Six chassis. The all-enveloping body, again designed by Frank Costin, was about 2 feet (610 mm) shorter than the Mark Eight’s. Front suspension was typical of Lotus at that time, with swing axles produced by cutting a Ford E93 beam axle in half and pivoting it in the middle. Rear suspension was de Dion, as on the Mark Eight, but this time using two long radius arms per side and a Panhard rod for location. Although a few cars had MG or Ford 10 engines, most of the 30 or so Mark Nines built had Coventry Climax FWA engines. Production Lotus Mark Nines had very large drum brakes, 11 inches (279 mm) diameter and 2.25 inches (57 mm) wide – enormous for a light 1100cc car. The brake drums were magnesium with cast-in steel liners. However it appears that there were early production problems with the brake drums (apparently with the bonding in of the steel liners), and the first two Mark Nines to be built – the two 1955 Sebring cars – had to be delivered with smaller Alfin brakes. The two Sebring cars were the only Mark Nines to have the smaller brakes, which were 9 inches (229 mm) diameter and 1.75 inches (44 mm) wide. There were also some chassis and bodywork differences from the later Mark Nines, which is not surprising since these two cars were effectively prototypes for the later cars. The differences make the two Sebring cars unique and easy to identify. It is interesting to note that when Autocar magazine described the Lotus Mark Nine (1st April 1955) the photographs which were used were of the Sebring cars.
The two Sebring cars were delivered to their American owners, Frank Miller and Bobby Burns, in March 1955 (Autosport 18th March 1955, and Motor Racing April 1955). They seem to have had virtually no testing by Lotus before they were driven down to Southampton to be shipped to America.
(The writer is extremely grateful to Clark Lance, who owned “Sebring 2” for many years, for the history of the car whilst it was in America).
The two Lotus Mark Nines at Sebring in 1955 were both vying for the lead in their class for the first part of the race. Then “Sebring 2”, whilst being driven by Samuelson, went off the track and cracked the sump on an obstruction in the grass. It seems that the driver had been blinded by the low evening sun. The result was that the car had to retire. (See Autosport, 25th March 1955 and Sports Car Illustrated, July 1955). There was a feature article about “Sebring 2” in Road & Track for June 1955, but it is thought that the photograph in the article of the car by the aircraft cargo door actually shows “Sebring 1”. After the Sebring race the car was raced in South West America by Norman Scott and owner Bobby Burns. Norman Scott was placed 1st in the Fairfax National races, Fairfax, Kansas on 5th September 1955. Bobby Burns was advertising the car for sale in Road & Track in November 1955 for $4,500.
Ownership during 1956 is not known.
“Sebring 2” was owned by Hamilton Presterbridge of Baton Rouge, Louisiana from late 1956 to late 1957. He competed with it at the Mansfield Louisiana National Races, 25th November 1956 and March 1957 (SCCA Sports Car Magazine January, May and July 1957). He advertised the car for sale in Road & Track, October 1957.
Ownership from 1958 to 1960 is not known.
Next recorded owner was Wendell Green of New Mexico. He and his son raced “Sebring 2” in Texas and California in 1961 and 1962. The current owner (Pierre Pinelli) has the 1962 New Mexico title to the car in the name of Wendell Green, and this quotes engine number 6258 which would be correct for an early 1955 Coventry Climax FWA. Wendell Green traded the car for an engineless Lotus Eleven from Chicago, Illinois in 1962.
Between 1962 and about 1969 “Sebring 2” was reportedly owned by Tito Nappi of Rockford, Illinois. During this time it appears that a start was made on installing a Chevrolet V8.
Don Kruzan of Rock Island, Illinois acquired the car (with V8) around 1969 in exchange for some Alfa Romeo parts.
Clark Lance bought “Sebring 2” from Don Kruzan in 1971, and retained it in its largely original state until selling it to Pierre Pinelli of Nice in November 2002.
“Sebring 2” was sent to Mike Brotherwood of Chippenham, England for restoration, arriving on 10th January 2003. The writer saw the car shortly afterwards at Mike Brotherwood’s premises, and it was clear that, thanks to the stewardship of Clark Lance, it had remained in remarkably original condition – a real “time warp” in fact – and the unique features shown in the 1st April 1955 Autocar photographs were there to be seen. Almost all of the original chassis and bodywork were used in the restoration; the chassis footwell cross tube had to be replaced after it had been cut about for the V8 installation and the undertray was replaced for the same reason. A new rear access hatch was also made. Otherwise the original parts were all re-used. A Coventry Climax FWA engine has been fitted once more. “Sebring 2”, one of the most original Lotus Mark Nines, is now ready to race again.
M.H.Marsden, November 2003