1968 Lotus 51R

Even if another road racer comes along claiming to be the Flower Power car, this one wears the right chassis and registration numbers

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Formula Ford was introduced in Great Britain in 1967 as a new form of poor man’s motor racing. Written into its regulations was the requirement for commercially built FFs to be priced at no more than £1,000 ($2,400).

The category took off-after a slowish start-to become the racing world’s dominant single-seater “schoolroom” class. FF cars have come to be regarded as the most humble of historic racing open-wheelers, but this is arguably the most famous early FF of them all, and not because of any specific competition history.

The road-legal “Flower Power” Lotus 51R (R for road) was the brainchild of motoring writer Nick Brittan, in combination with Graham Arnold, then Sales Manager of the Lotus manufacturing company. The car was prepared for the 1968 London Motor Show at Earls Court but was refused entry, appearing subsequently at the BRSCC London Racing Car Show.

In early publicity, it was often pictured with Arnold himself behind the wheel, but as Brittan told the story in Car magazine, he was in the British capital city’s Hyde Park with the car at first light one morning for a clandestine blast. He was, inevitably, stopped by a posse of patrolling policemen and graphically described this remarkable conveyance as a “cross between a Grand Prix car and some sort of invalid carriage,” adding: “I’m not telling you where, but I got 103 mph flat out in top gear. I spun it in the middle of Hyde Park underpass flat in third.”

Although ostensibly offered for sale at a price of £1,085, only two 51Rs were built by Lotus. This one was sold to an enthusiastic American friend of Henry Ford, 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 Speedweek, and also drive it around Nassau town day to day. The car, the progenitor and inspiration for the now much-admired Gordon Murray/Chris Craft Rocket tandem two-seater, has been roadworthy with MoT issued in recent years. It is an icon of the late 1960s and Swinging London at its most extroverted.

Paul Hardiman

Paul Hardiman - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Paul is descended from engineers and horse thieves, so he naturally gravitated toward the old-car marketplace and still finds fascination in the simpler things in life: looking for spot-weld dimples under an E-type tail, or counting the head-studs on a supposed Mini-Cooper engine. His motoring heroes are Roger Clark, Burt Levy, Henry Royce and Smokey Yunick — and all he wants for next Christmas is an Alvis Stalwart complete with picnic table in the back and a lake big enough to play in.

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