Arches span history

| 11 May 2011

I get a real kick out of our rich and diverse hobby’s ceaseless ability to throw up hidden gems. Especially when the pop up in the most unlikely looking surroundings. Such as my local under-the-arches MoT outfit. Laming and Grant in Clapham North was in the business of wielding spanners long before Whitehall had even dreamt up the concept of giving cars the garage equivalent of an NHS health check on an annual basis. The Flower Street-based company is owned by Ronnie Grant (aka the guv’nor, pictured above) who spent most of his working years plying the streets of London as a cabbie. Only that wasn’t Ronnie’s only time behind the wheel, as I discovered when I recently took my 1952 Citroën Light 15 for an MoT test. Hanging on a back wall of the guv’nor’s office was a shot of an old Motor Sport article on his exploits in a race car he had built by John Barnard. With an engine by Patrick Head. Yes, you read that right. THE John Barnard and THE Patrick Head of Formula One fame. What’s more the car was screwed together in the very arches my Traction Avant was parked up in while getting a fresh ticket. Grant’s tracks exploits began in Formula Vee in the late 1960s when the South London cabbie was already a heady (by racing standards) 42 years of age. After winning the final round of the championship in 1970, he quickly moved on to Super Vee and, shortly afterward, heard about a spare chassis sans engine lying around at Lola. And that’s where things get interesting: he rang Lola boss Eric Broadley’s factory manager and did a deal that led to two of Lola’s aspiring race car designers, messers Head and Barnard, mating Grant’s engine with the Lola chassis.

The pair later developed a bespoke monocoque chassis for Grant’s car, which was christened Taurus after Grant’s girlfriend’s Zodiac sign. And Head did a lot of the work on the car in these same arches; in fact this is where he revved the arse out of Grant’s engine on a dyno, much to the annoyance of Grant’s neighbours. Today that same spot is a gallery for Grant’s racing ephemera while the floor space is home to odds and ends, such as the part-dismantled remains of a Routemaster bus engine that one of Grant’s MoT testers is rebuilding on the sideline. Another gem, then.

The arch next door is even more interesting: nestling among decades of tools and old parts is another MoT tester’s passion: a Lotus Elan S4. Roger Price has owned it for 42 years and done 90,000 miles included a sting round the Nürburgring. It’s had the usual chassis replacement but is otherwise remarkably original, apart from having to be re-wired after rats wintered in the engine bay. Price now stores it in the arches with the bonnet open to discourage the car’s furry enthusiasts from getting too comfortable while allowing customers to admire the heart of the animal: Hethel’s own gem, the gorgeous twin cam lump. Now that’s a practical solution to a problem.