'The White Lotus' ex-Tip Cunane
1955 Lotus-MG Mk VIII Aerodynamic Sports-Racing Two-Seater
Chassis no. MK6/2-1
Colin Chapman's emergent Lotus series of ever-more sophisticated competition cars featured cycle mudguard or open-wheeled trials special-type design until what proved to be his landmark design for the Lotus Mark VIII series.
These sports-racing cars were the first to feature fully wheel-enveloping aerodynamic bodywork conceived and designed by De Havilland Aircraft aerodynamicist Frank Costin. His brother Michael was one of Colin Chapman's closest and most influential collaborators, and would become technical director of the growing Lotus Engineering Company before joining engineer Keith Duckworth in partnership as the 'Cos' of Cosworth.
It was during the winter of 1953 that Colin Chapman began design study for such a car, for which detail chassis design and stress calculation was completed by Peter Ross and Gilbert 'Mac' Mackintosh. The fully triangulated multi-tubular spaceframe chassis was closely based upon the design of the preceding Lotus Mark 6, to the extent that it was identified original as the Mark VI Series 2.
Manufactured by Dave Kelsey and John Teychenne's Progress Chassis Company in Edmonton, North London, the chassis frame was welded together from 1¼-inch 20-gauge tubing.
Once fitted with the Frank Costin-designed aerodynamic body, fashioned in 20-gauge aluminium sheet by specialist Williams & Pritchard, also of Edmonton, the completed chassis/body unit for the Mark VIII weighed less than a set of five wheels and tyres. The frame alone scaled barely 35lbs. But the original chassis design proved a nightmare in practical terms, for its complex triangulation prevented engine removal in less than 12 hours, and replacement a further 24! Even then the engine had to be largely dismantled in the process.
This particular Glasius Collection car is chassis No 1 but it was actually the last Mark VIII to be delivered, as late as April 1955, when it was first UK road registered 'TYC 700', dated the 4th of that month. As such it benefited from Lotus Engineering's experience with its sisters, including the famous works car 'SAR 5', and the forepart of 'TYC's chassis is square-cut like the Mark VI to facilitate engine removal and replacement. At the customer's request, Williams & Pritchard also provided a door on the passenger side, unlike earlier Mark VIIIs. At the time of its delivery to Mr Cunane the prototype Lotus Mark IX had already raced three weeks previously, in the Sebring 12-Hours...
It appears that Thomas George 'Tip' Cunane general manager and head of the still-famous and very old-established St Cuthbert's Paper Mill at Wells in Somerset, England - had paid Colin Chapman a large deposit which was then used by Lotus Engineering to build the other Mark VIIIs, most significantly their own works car, plus those for better-known competition customers, before making delivery to Mr Cunane.
Local Wells-based haulier Eric Willmott was Mr Cunane's mechanic at the time and he recalls both late delivery of the car and that its chassis serial as today is 'MK6/2-1 - indicating that the Mark VIII was regarded upon the project's initiation as being the Lotus Mark VI Series 2 design. But when they started to take the car through Customs for Tip Cunane to drive it in Europe it was difficult to locate the chassis number on the car itself, so Mr Willmott stamped it into the bracket at the front supporting the centre of the divided front axle suspension.
Early in his ownership Mr Cunane had a steering arm break which Lotus quickly replaced by providing forged arms that proved completely reliable. Eric Willmott recalled that Mr Cunane's Jaguar XK140 "couldn't live with the Mark VIII on the open road". They evidently had a tremendous amount of fun running the car. Mr Cunane planned to compete with it in the 1957 Alpine Rally so had Lotus fit a tall windscreen and provide a hood, only for the Suez Crisis to see the Rally cancelled. He also specified installation of a 16-gallon long-range fuel tank but when filled it proved so heavy that it broke tubes at the tail of the chassis. The frame was repaired and repainted and the fuel tank reduced to a less optimistic 8 gallon capacity. He drove the car with some success at minor level, setting class FTD at hill-climbs such as Trengwainton in the West Country and at Great Auclum, near Reading, Berkshire, and winning at club level at Silverstone during 1955-56. His car was painted overall white and it became known within club racing and sprint circles as simply 'The White Lotus'.
Tip Cunane had acquired a very special racing engine from friends working at MG, Abingdon, including their famous contemporary Chief Engineer Syd Enever. This power unit still installed within the car today - is known as the XPEG design, as distinct from the standard production XPAG used in the MG TC/TD/TF series sports cars. This XPEG engine was an experimental unit as used in MG's illustrious series of World speed record-breaking cars. The unit has a dry-deck cylinder-block/head configuration with cooling water transfer from block to head and back via external pipes rather than internal drillings or cast waterways, obviating any need for a vulnerable head gasket. Engine serial number '3617J3' (1486cc) is noted in the original-style UK log book accompanying the car.
Tip Cunane was a perfectly capable amateur racing driver, and he accumulated some 30 awards in 'The White Lotus' through the mid-1950s. He also used it remarkably on touring holidays in Europe, intrepidly driving it to the French Riviera and around the Alps, into Italy.
The car went through various subsequent UK ownerships the first ex-Cunane being Performance Cars, the well-known British sporting car dealership, in 1958, followed by Malcolm Brian Dimmick of Orsett Grange, Essex, who is listed in the car's old-style UK log book from May 4, 1959. It is noted that by August 26, 1960, the car had been repainted in British Racing Green. Subsequent ownership changes include one to Anthony Charles Simond of Banstead, Surrey, on August 17, 1961, then to Mrs Dorothy Kathleen Whittington of St Leonard's-on-Sea, Sussex. The car is also accompanied by a V5 registration document in the name of David George Whittington, of St Leonard's, who had adopted formal ownership from his mother in 1963, and marked "No other keepers since March 1984".
We understand that Mr Whittington of DW Autos in St Leonard's totally dismantled the Lotus Mark VIII, including its rare XPEG engine, with the intention of restoring it from the ground up over an extended period.
However, as is so often the case, the owner never found sufficient time to do the job and 30 years later, in 1993 Olav Glasius was able to negotiate purchase of the dismantled car from Mr Whittington,"...as a total but, crucially, absolutely complete - kit of parts".
Nothing was missing and the total car was restored and reassembled for Olav over a four-year restoration carried out by noted specialist Fred Fairman in Cornwall. This restoration involved some 3,000 hours work, of which 1,000 hours was devoted to restoration of the original bodywork alone.
The XPEG engine was entrusted to the Oudejans brothers, Dutch MG specialists in Badhoevedrop, two ex-Fokker aeronautical engineers, and rebuilt with new pistons, cylinder liners, everything either carefully tested and verified or replaced by new.
In recent years the car has competed in the Goodwood Revival Meeting, it runs very well and the special MG XPEG engine is as brisk today as it plainly was in period. Only nine Lotus Mark VIIIs were ever built by Colin Chapman's youthful company in the 1950s, of which only six now survive. Amongst them 'The White Lotus' offered here has survived in highly original form, immaculately restored to its discerning connoisseur owner's taste. It is a road-useable 1950s sports-racing car of enormous presence. As one of the earliest of Lotus aerodynes built around a supremely sophisticated, lightweight spaceframe chassis which must represent a near pinnacle of that particular technology it is in itself another Lotus landmark design...
So much more than just another small-capacity Historic sports-racing proposition, 'TYC' offered here is an all-British sporting icon of historical significance.