Jim Clark's future mechanic had to design and build a suitable frame and scavenge everything else he needed. That appears to be what he did

Having created his first special while training as a mechanic with the RAF, it was perhaps inevitable that David Lazenby would embark upon a similar project once he began working for Lotus in 1961.

Although he was destined to become Jim Clark's F1/Indy 500 mechanic and later the manager of Lotus Components, Lazenby's initial salary of about $32 per week would not even stretch to a Lotus 7 kit. Determined to build an exciting road car, he convinced Works Manager "Nobby" Clark to part with a surplus Lotus 17 bodyshell, and he then set about fabricating a suitable spaceframe chassis to underpin it. Although influenced by the Lotus 17's overall dimensions, the resultant design was notably stronger.

Taking full advantage of his Cheshunt surroundings, Lazenby fitted a Lotus 23-style swaged bulkhead, Lotus 23-style front suspension, Lotus 22 FJ-style rear suspension, and the differential from a crashed Elite. Fitted with a pre-crossflow Ford Cosworth engine allied to an MG A gearbox, the special was painted bright red and road registered as 9584 UR in spring 1962.

Some two years later, Lazenby sold the two-seater to Bob Sparshott, who was then part of the Lotus Cortina program. The Special passed through several hands before ending up with Lotus aficionado Alan Brownlee. Rechristened the "Brownlee 17," the Special became a familiar sight during the 1971, '72, and '73 JCB Sports Car Series.

Advertised for sale in 1975, it caught the attention of Belgian doctor Pierre Haverland. As well as the Lazenby Lotus 17 Special, Haverland reputedly persuaded Brownlee to part with the Coventry-Climax FEW engine and gearbox from its then-stablemate, the famous racing Elite DAD 10. The subsequent transplant was performed by Willy Widar. The Special underwent further development at the hands of German Dieter Berg, who raced it for eight years at numerous European historic sports car events.

In 2001, the vendor determined to bring things full circle and set about making the car street legal again. Describing the Coventry Climax engine and MG A 4-speed gearbox as "raced but OK," he feels that the rest of the car is in good overall condition. Repainted so as to evoke the "bright red noisy sports car" that Lazenby created, this historic special is offered for sale with two large files of paperwork and MoT certificate.

{analysis} This Lazenby Lotus 17 Special sold for $51,145 at the H&H Auctions sale at Cheltenham Racecourse in England, on February 27, 2008.

This is a very cool car, but it's a bit tough figuring out how to approach it. It's not really a Lotus or a 17, though it looks like one and is configured like one. It's not really a vintage racer in the classic sense, though it has been vintage raced and certainly could be again. It was built as a one-off street special, but though it's street legal (in the U.K.), you'd need to be a certified masochist to drive it more than 50 miles on the highway. It sold, however, for roughly a third of what a real Lotus 17 would bring, and assuming it was as well built as it appears to have been, it's a lot better car. Let's start by talking about the inspiration, the Lotus 17.

Colin Chapman wasn't always right

Though very pretty, the Lotus 17 was working proof that Colin Chapman's ideas about race car design weren't always right. The car was conceived as the successor to the Lotus 11 and as an answer to Lola's suddenly dominant Mk I racer. It was smaller, lighter, and more aerodynamic than the 11, and was the first racing Lotus to utilize a fiberglass body (the Type 14 Elite was fiberglass, of course).

Chapman and his then-lead designer Len Terry fashioned a tidy little package that was conventional in its layout-a Climax FW engine driving an MG A transmission and a chassis-mounted differential with inboard disc brakes. Rear suspension was independent and utilized the "Chapman strut" arrangement, in use since the Lotus 12 and well proven. So far so good. The problem with the Lotus 17 was at the front.

Colin Chapman was brilliant, creative, innovative, and (legend has it) just a little stubborn. When he decided to do something in a certain way, that was it, there was no arguing the point. For the 17, Chapman's bright idea was to adapt the "Chapman strut" to the front. Len Terry emphatically did not think it was a good idea, to the extent that this appears to have been the probable cause of his parting with Lotus and becoming an independent designer. Chapman prevailed, but the resulting suspension proved completely inadequate to the purpose, with the struts both flexing and binding up under racing loads.

The Lotus 17 was an immediate failure, with only 23 cars produced and really no period racing success. Ironically, Len Terry started his post-Lotus career by designing a proper double A-arm front suspension that was in turn offered to all owners. The new arrangement "worked a treat" and made the car handle very well, but it was too late, as the competition had moved on to mid-engined designs. The Lotus 17 was quickly forgotten as a failed experiment and has languished until recently, when a few vintage racers figured out how good they really are and have made them a rare but formidable competitor against the Lola Mk Is.

A street toy that morphed into a racer

By the time Lazenby joined Lotus, close to two years had passed after abandonment of the 17 and Lotus was fully involved with the development of the second generation of mid-engined racers, the Lotus 22 and 23. For a talented fabricator looking to build a street special with no money but with access to the Lotus junk piles and spares room, the 17 would have been a natural place to start. As a front-engined car in a newly mid-engined Lotus world, parts would have been easily available and cheap. They'd have been happy to get a dead Lotus 17 body shell out of the rafters; the engine and MG A transmission would be junkyard items. Differential, hubs, and wheels were old Elite parts, as were at least the rear brakes. Front and rear suspension bits were contemporary production 22/23 pieces, off the shelf and far better than anything the original ever knew. Basically, Lazenby had to design and build a suitably dimensioned frame and scavenge everything else he needed. That appears to be what he did.

The Lazenby Lotus 17 Special was built as a street toy but quickly morphed into a racer. I can understand this. I've driven Lotus 17s and they're fun, but the fit and comfort level aren't something I could survive long without racing adrenaline to mask the pain. The market seems split on whether this car is street or racer, valuing it a bit high for a street special but at a fraction of what an equivalent sports racer would bring. Part of the problem is its 1962 build date, which by FIA rules makes it race against Lotus 23s, where it wouldn't even be in the hunt.

This is a problem for European racing, which is mostly to FIA rules. In the U.S., however, configuration (front engined, skinny tires) tends to trump build date as long as it's a legitimate car, so it could be a fun and effective competitor over here. I'll admit that (though I didn't follow through) I did seriously consider taking a run at this car personally. Brought to the U.S. and with some money spent getting it back into racing condition, I think this Lazenby Lotus 17 Special could be a serious contender in what has become a very desirable run group. At half to a third of what an equivalent Lotus or Lola is worth, I would suggest that this car was an undiscovered gem and was very fairly bought.{/analysis}

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