Remembering a recently departed forgotten Lotus hero

| 29 Jan 2013

It must have been a long time ago because C&SC was in Somerset House in Teddington, a horrible outpost only out-horribled by the constantly twilit Waldegrave Road office, which we also occupied for a bit before moving to our current, lovely Teddington Studios location.

I was visited by a man who was writing a book on Lotus. He didn't seem at all convinced of its appeal and even seemed surprised that I had heard of him.

That man was Peter Ross (pictured above in his Lotus Eleven at Le Mans in 1958 with his sister, plus Colin and Hazel Chapman).

There was no doubt that Peter knew his own mind and that he didn't suffer fools gladly, but there was also a deep-rooted humility and modesty that was thoroughly engaging.

As a result, we had a fantastic chat about his days working (gratis) with Colin Chapman, racing his way around Europe surviving on start money and his then-booming involvement in the Historic Lotus Register.

We co-operated on using some of the material from his masterwork in C&SC and helping to promote it in the process.

And Lotus - The Early Years is a remarkable book. Published by Coterie (who else?) and reviewed in the October 2004 issue of C&SC, it is the definitive inside line on the marque from its inception to 1954.

A behind the scenes peak that Ross was uniquely qualified to offer having been immersed in the marque most of his life. Even later, as President of the Historic Lotus Register, he could look back at the 1950s with clarity, being one of Colin Chapman's unpaid 'band of helpers', owning and competing in his own Lotus Eleven.

Peter had Lotus written through him like a stick of rock.

Perhaps the biggest bee in his bonnet, then and ever since, was the Clairmonte Special. As part owner, he may have had a vested interest in promoting the car's importance, but there was more to it than that.

Peter, who was in the position to know, touted it as the forgotten Lotus, a sort of pioneering Seven prototype that appeared in 1953 fitted with a  1.5-litre Lea-Francis engine (later upgraded to a 2-litre Connaught unit).

Ordered by Clive Clairemonte and based on the MkVI, it was actually dubbed VII (note the Roman numerals) and boasted a raft of advanced features – spaceframe chassis, wishbone front and De Dion rear suspension, plus rack and pinion steering.

Clairemonte and Chapman inevitably fell out, the former reclaimed the project from Lotus and finished it off himself, with a body by Williams & Pritchard (quelle surprise).

Restoring this car and making the public aware of it became Peter's obsession and he dedicated himself to it with the same verve and meticulous determination as he approached everything.

I stayed in touch a bit and saw Peter a few times after that initial meeting and, though we still got on well, I couldn't help feeling that he had felt let down by something. Of course, he was far too much of a gentleman to say what it might have been.

And now I will never know because Peter Travers Ross died just before Christmas.