This fantastic Lotus 72 was last seen in public in 1975. Octane captures it on camera – as Michael Oliver uncovers its secrets. Photography James Lipman.
‘It is an incredible time capsule – exactly as when driver Guy Tunmer stepped out of it for the final time’ the ‘lost’ Lotus 72
THE ‘LOST’ LOTUS 72 World’s most original historic F1 car revealed BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Once in a while, a long-lost racer that has been stashed away like buried treasure comes to light. This Formula 1 Lotus 72, chassis 72-3, is just such a car: until it appeared on Octane’s stand at the Autosport International Show in January, it had not been seen in public since October 1975.
It is an incredible time capsule – exactly as it was when South African driver Guy Tunmer stepped out of it for the final time at the Donnybrook circuit in Rhodesia, four decades ago. I have more than a passing interest in this car, having researched it in detail in 2003 for my book Lotus 72: Formula One Icon. Being able to reveal its story and confirm its identity is the culmination of more than 15 years of research, which at one stage bordered on obsession.
The Type 72 was the Team Lotus Formula 1 challenger for 1970 and there was a lot riding on its success. Colin Chapman’s previous design, the four-wheel-drive Type 63, had been an unmitigated failure when introduced in mid- 1969, forcing the team to revert to its ageing Type 49s for the rest of that season. Despite the pair enduring a somewhat fractious relationship during 1969, it was Chapman’s promise of a car that would deliver him a World Championship title that persuaded the mercurial Austrian Jochen Rindt to stay with the team for 1970, with Briton John Miles as his team-mate.
The 72 endured a painful birth. It featured a radical wedge shape derived from the Lotus 56 turbine Indy car, side radiators, inboard front brakes and torsion-bar suspension. In its original form, it was very difficult to drive and definitely not a frontrunner. Hardly the stuff Championships are made of.
After two uncompetitive showings in the Spanish Grand Prix and the non-Championship International Trophy, the brave decision was made to undertake a comprehensive redesign, substantially reducing the levels of anti-squat and anti-dive geometry in the suspension, which was felt to have removed much of the ‘feel’ for the drivers of when the car was going to lose grip.
The result was a miraculous transformation. In testing before the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, Rindt was 4.2 seconds under the Formula 1 lap record and proceeded to win the race at a canter. He also won the next three races, in France, Britain and Germany, which was virtually enough to assure himself of the Championship title.
In July 1970, the car shown here, chassis 72-3, was introduced for John Miles at the German Grand Prix. The first to be built from scratch to the revised specification, it made an inauspicious debut, its engine blowing spectacularly during the race. Things didn’t improve at the Austrian Grand Prix, where Miles had a front brake-shaft failure but miraculously managed to keep the car on track. The next race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, should have seen Rindt crowned World Champion. Instead, it was a tragedy. Rindt crashed fatally in practice, most likely after another brake-shaft failure, and Miles fell out with Chapman over whether to run wings. He quit the team after the race.
A new driver, the Swede Reine Wisell, was brought in to drive 72-3 at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Making his Formula 1 debut, Wisell drove a well-measured race to finish third, with team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi taking the win, ensuring a posthumous World Championship title for Rindt.
Wisell continued to drive 72-3 in 1971, until it was sold from under him by Chapman just before the British Grand Prix in July. The buyer was the South African driver, Dave Charlton. At the time, South Africa had its own domestic series for F1 and F5000 cars and Charlton was the reigning champion, having taken the 1970 title aboard an ex-works Lotus 49.
The series offered the two big South African tobacco companies, Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation and United Tobacco Company, great exposure for their brands, the former with Gunston and Lexington and the latter with Lucky Strike and Embassy.
Charlton was backed by Lucky Strike. United Tobacco came up with the money to buy the car, which, at around a year old, was still a state-of- the-art Formula 1 design. As part of the deal, Charlton was entered by Gold Leaf Team Lotus for the British race, but luck was not on his side and his car broke a piston on the opening tour. On his return to South Africa in 1971 he was immediately competitive, scoring three wins to seal the South African title for the second year running. Charlton’s 1972 season was one of complete domination, with nine wins from 11 races. If he didn’t win, he retired.
That July, Charlton made a flying visit to Europe to take in the French, British and German GPs. Unfortunately, it was ruined by a middle-ear infection that affected his balance and made him feel car sick. Consequently, he did not qualify in France and retired in Britain and Germany, each time because of sickness. It was an ignominious trip and probably put paid to any dreams Charlton had of making a fulltime switch to the World Championship.
If his 1972 South African season with 72-3 had been good, 1973 was even better. It was a case of more of the same, the Lucky Strike driver cruising to ten wins from 12 races on his way to the Championship. Frustratingly, Charlton was never able to reproduce this form in his home Grand Prix – retiring in both the 1972 and 1973 editions at his favourite track, Kyalami.
For 1974, Charlton bought another state-of-the- art F1 car, a McLaren M23, so 72-3 was loaned to a team run by the organiser of the South African GP, Alex Blignaut, and sponsored by United’s Embassy brand, to be entered for the up-and-coming star, Eddie Keizan.
Keizan started strongly with a trio of seconds and then a third, but the rest of the season was marred by a run of retirements. However, he had shown a good enough turn of speed to catch the eye of rivals Team Gunston and would drive one of its 72s (chassis 72-6) in the 1975 South African Championship, alongside Guy Tunmer in 72-7.
And so 72-3 sat unused through much of 1975. However, it was called back into service in July when Tunmer had a monumental testing crash in 72-7, requiring it to be sent back to the UK for repairs. A deal for Team Gunston to buy 72-3 was quickly agreed. Chief mechanic Eddie Pinto and his colleagues built-up the car overnight, transferring as many components as possible from the crashed one, which was to a more up-to-date specification. It was too much to expect the car to be reliable straight out of the box, and it duly retired the next day with multiple problems.
In the Championships’s two remaining races, Tunmer finished ninth at Roy Hesketh and third in the Rand Spring Trophy at Kyalami, and he capped off a spectacular racing career for 72-3 by finishing second at Donnybrook in October. Fittingly for a car that first raced in 1970, this was the last time a Lotus 72 competed in a contemporary international F1 race. In early 1976, a collector (who still owns the car today but wishes to remain anonymous) decided he would like to buy a Lotus 72.
‘I had never met Peter Warr [Team Lotus competitions manager] and thought that if I rang up asking for an appointment, he would probably think I was some day-dreaming nutter. So, I went up there without one and, very fortunately, everyone was in.’
Unfortunately, he was out of luck. ‘The works had three 72s: the Chapman family wished to retain one, they wished the second one to go into the Donington Collection and the third one they were going to give to Ronnie Peterson when he won the World Championship in a Lotus. So they weren’t prepared to sell me one.’
He then approached Rembrandt in South Africa. ‘I wrote to their financial director and I remember him writing back and saying yes, they would sell me a car and he would have a word with Peter Warr at the forthcoming South African Grand Prix to see what price they would ask. Afterwards, he wrote and said “We are prepared to sell you a car for x pounds”, and I agreed straight away. I mean, there are times to negotiate and times not to…’
Without ever running, the 72 was stored in the garage of a mews house in London, where it remained hidden – until now. I tried my utmost to see the car in 2003 when writing my book but was rebuffed. However, our collector did agree to count some rivets for me on the front footbox, and this was when alarm bells started ringing, for they did not match up with those for 72-7, which at the time it was thought to be. I did not feel I could cast doubt on the car’s identity without more concrete evidence, particularly without having seen the car in person, so reluctantly left this information out of the book, identifying his car as 72/7. I have spent the intervening years interviewing mechanics and studying hundreds of photos but never managed to obtain the ‘killer’ shot that gave me proof.
Then, out of the blue, last February I received a phone call from Clive Chapman of Classic Team Lotus, asking me to come up to Norfolk to look at the car, which had been due to be exhibited at the 2016 Autosport Show but pulled from display at the last minute, as they had reason to question its identity.
As soon as we took the nosecone off, examination of the front footbox and a count of its rivet patterns confirmed that the car was not 72-7. The other key difference was that it had a horizontal cockpit bulkhead – later cars had curved ones. It also wore a chassis plate saying ‘72-7’ but with the ‘7’ scratched out and a ‘3’ alongside, a legacy perhaps of the hurried transfer of parts from 72/7 back in 1975.
Finally, the original aluminium section of the tub under the later deformable structure body panels was still painted in the white of Lucky Strike Racing – and so the evidence was finally laid bare to prove that this car was indeed chassis 72-3.
And there you have it. Like most treasure, this car couldn’t remain buried forever and it was fantastic finally to have the opportunity to view it ‘in the flesh’. Let’s hope it won’t be another 40 years before we see it again and that, at some point in the future, it will be returned to running order, for fans to enjoy at historic events the world over.
WORLD’S MOST ORIGINAL LOTUS 72
Above and right. Revealed after 42 years hidden away, the ‘lost’ Lotus 72 was finally recognised in spite of its misleading chassis plate. Right Gunston livery was applied for 72-3’s final season of racing in South Africa, during which it achieved success in the hands of Guy Tunmer. Left and below left Reine Wisell in 72-3 at the Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, in 1971; sadly, Dave Charlton had to retire from the ’1973 South African GP at Kyalami. Above and right Dave Charlton in the 1972 British GP at Brands Hatch; primitive cockpit is as it was when Guy Tunmer last drove the car in 1975.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE 1970 Lotus 72-3
Engine 2993cc Ford Cosworth DFV 90º V8, gear-driven DOHC per bank, 32-valve, fuel injection
Power c440bhp @ 10,000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: double wishbones with upper and lower radius arms, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Discs, inboard
Weight 530kg in 1970 (575kg after introduction of deformable structure regulations in 1973)
Performance Top speed 190-205mph, depending on gearing and wings
‘IT IS AN INCREDIBLE TIME CAPSULE – EXACTLY AS WHEN DRIVER GUY TUNMER STEPPED OUT OF IT FOR THE FINAL TIME’
‘CHARLTON WAS IMMEDIATELY COMPETITIVE, SCORING THREE WINS TO SEAL THE SOUTH AFRICAN TITLE FOR THE SECOND YEAR RUNNING’
‘THE 72 WAS STORED IN THE GARAGE OF A MEWS HOUSE IN LONDON, WHERE IT REMAINED HIDDEN – UNTIL NOW’