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


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.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1968 Lotus 51R
Years Produced:1968
Number Produced:1 (perhaps 2)
SCM Valuation:$30,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$12
Engine Number Location:Block type number cast in left side, low down at rear
Club Info:Club Lotus 58 Malthouse Court Dereham, Norfolk, NR20 4UA, UK
Investment Grade:B

This 1968 Lotus 51R sold for $35,018, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Royal Air Force Museum sale in Hendon, England, on April 20, 2009.

It couldn’t be done now, of course. In fact, it’s not quite clear how it was done then, given this was a racing car however you disguised it with lights and fenders-the clamshell fronts and gawky headlamps are from a Seven, their necessary height giving it the air of a Praying Mantis.

Maybe that’s why they parked it next to the helicopters at the RAF Museum.

The current theory is that Graham Arnold may have used a spare Elan chassis number for convenience to register the car. You couldn’t get away with that now, as the current system of Single Vehicle Approval involves a rigorous inspection, and it would fail on a lack of speedometer, though you don’t need one to get an MoT.

It appears just about as it did in the press of the time, except for the flower logo on the nose, which was present by the time it appeared at the Racing Car Show. The engine is not original, but it is the correct 1600-cc Ford crossflow type. Items such as the rear fenders, with ’60s motorcycle tail/stop lamps, are either original or perfect replicas, and the steering wheel, with a slightly cracked Lotus badge to its center, looks as if it has been there since 1968, too.

Curiously, though it wears 165-section tires all round, the rear rims are 5½ or 6Js, while the fronts looks like 4½s. And it wears Austin and Ford Consul hubcaps, rather than the conical Anglia/Escort type I seem to remember seeing in pictures of it when it carried this registration number.

No chassis number visible.

It’s in basically good order all round following its 1998 restoration-no cracks in the fiberglass and the seat is retrimmed, though the right-hand mirror is broken off. All plating to the wishbones, etc. remains good, and there are newish Spax adjustable shocks and braided hoses. The original, large 12-volt battery under the driver’s legs has been replaced by a red, unspillable Varley battery.

There’s no chassis number visible on the Lotus 51R though, and it’s usually in the cockpit. The V5C registration document declares it as a Lotus 51R single-seater roadster, along with that six-digit chassis number and the registration NVF 1F the “Flower Power” car wore in 1968.

The copy of the original bill of sale states “supply of one roadgoing 51R, number 51AFF129,” the same number that appears on MoT certificates dating from 2005 and 2006, the last time it was on the road. It was acquired by the seller in 2004, having returned from the Bahamas in 1990-possibly not as a roadgoing car-and there are no import documents.

.but it’s got the supporting paperwork

It sold on the phone just over its high estimate, for around the price of a good raceworthy 51. It would need a few thousand more spent to get it on the track, so it’s priced out of that market. Lotus built 218 51s in all and most survive, so there are plenty of others to go around. There was some speculation as to which one of the two cars (if there really were two) it might be, but I doubt it’s a fake.

Theoretically, it might once have been possible to build up a car and adopt a dormant registration number, but how would this one then have supporting paperwork? Even if another comes along claiming to be the “Flower Power” car, this 51R wears the right chassis and registration numbers. Once thought to have been absorbed into the FF racing community, now it seems destined to remain a period piece. Groovy, baby.

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