Formula Ford was introduced in Great Britain in 1967 as a new form of poor mans motor racing. Written into its regulations was the requirement for commercially built FFs to be priced at no more than £1,000 Sterling. In fact the category simply took off after a slowish start - to become the racing worlds dominant single-seater schoolroom class. In general Formula Ford cars have come to be regarded as the most humble of Historic racing open-wheelers, but what we have on offer here is arguably the most famous early FF of them all, and not because of any specific competition history.
Mention Flower Power to any motor racing enthusiast from the 1960s and he or she will recall many things. We would guarantee that one of them would be the Flower Power Lotus 51 Formula Ford single-seater which the late Nick Brittan one of the British motoring presss most entertaining and engaging writers described in depth in a 1968 copy of Car magazine.
In fact the road-legal Flower Power Lotus 51R (R for road) had been Nick Brittans own brainchild in combination with Graham Arnold, then Sales Manager of the Lotus manufacturing company. The car was prepared originally for the major London Motor Show at Earls Court exhibition centre, but was refused entry there appearing subsequently at the 1968 BRSCC London Racing Car Show. In early publicity it was often pictured with Graham Arnold himself behind the wheel, but as Nick told the story in Car magazine he was in the British capital citys Hyde Park with the car at first light one morning for a clandestine blast around its internal roadways and photography. He was, inevitably, stopped by a posse of patrolling policemen, and questioned on this remarkable conveyance. He described it, graphically, as a kind of cross between a Grand Prix car and some sort of invalid carriage, and then explained to The Fuzz: I tell em how Lotus are building these Formula Ford cars and they arent selling as fast as they should and how they dolled this one up with wings and things and flowers and announce it on the eve of the Motor Show in a bid to raise some publicity. It gets thrown off the forecourt at Earls Court and the SMMT the strait-laced British Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders refuse to give it floor space in the show, which is just about what Lotus PR man Graham Arnold wants since this makes a better story than having it there anyway.
I tell em how it was all Graham Arnolds idea in the first place. Then I tell em how Blyne Car Editor Doug Blain (an Orstrylian, you see) and I put the idea up to Arnold about six months before and he said it couldnt be done. But thats showbiz, I guess.
Then I tell em how Arnold gets it registered as an invalid carriage on account of its easier and cheaper. Like its only got one seat. And how with that big 12 volt battery jolting around under your fly buttons you may not be an invalid when you get in it it but theres a fair chance of being that way when you get out . Its got a handbrake, mudguards, lights, winking indicators; the lot tax and insurance make it legal and possibly the fastest invalid carriage in captivity. In racing trim without all the smells and bells it sells for £999. One that will actually win a race will cost more like £1,300 by the time some witty engine tuner with a rule book in one hand has had a go .
Although ostensibly offered for sale at a price of £1,085, only two examples of the Type 51R were built by Lotus. It was sold to an enthusiastic American friend of Henry Fords, who following an introduction by Ford to Lotus, purchased and transported the car to the Bahamas so that he could race it at the annual pro-am Speedweek, and also drive it around Nassau town day to day. He was regularly seen by locals driving the car in his white sports gear, on his way to tennis games (with the racquet tucked in next to the gear-shift). Over the years the owners various houseguests, including Henry Ford, Graham Hill and Prince George of Hanover all drove the car while in Nassau.
The 1600cc Ford engine was fitted new sometime in the mid-1990s. The 'Nick Brittan' 51R's original UK road registration number was 'NVF 1F'. It was returned to the UK from the Bahamas in 1990 and was fully restored to road-going form in 1998. An extensive archive of documentation from the time is available for inspection, including copies and original articles, invoices and related correspondence with Lotus. As offered here the car is not currently registered (but has been roadworthy with MOTs issued in recent years
Back in 1968, Nick Brittan drove the car around what had been proposed as being Londons 1947 Hyde Park Grand Prix circuit. He continued First gear is good for about 30mph using six-five 50 just about comes up in second and 75 in third. Im not telling you where but I got 103mph flat out in top gear I spun it in the middle of Hyde Park Underpass flat in third gear. We pull in to the garage in Park Lane and ask for two gallons please. The whole place is staffed by birds and they all leap out in their mini things and rush around with oil, water and petrol (then) its about time we drove back to Arnolds hotel and made him buy us breakfast.
So here we offer arguably the most famous early Formula Ford single-seater of them all. Flower power legal on the public road, and still a show-stopper today the unique Lotus 51R. It is the progenitor and inspiration for the now much-admired Gordon Murray/Chris Craft Rocket tandem two-seater, and it is a road going icon of the late 1960s and Swinging London at its most extrovert. You know it makes sense.