A 60-year-old racing car once driven by one of the greatest Formula One drivers was a star attraction at the weekend’s Southern Classic meeting at Levels Raceway near Timaru.
More than 120 vehicles were on the grid and while some came from as far away as England and Australia, it was a now Auckland-owned car that created much interest.
The 1959 Lotus 18 Formula Junior chassis #703, co-owned by Aucklanders Chris Atkinson and John Kohuri, was driven by Jim Clark in a Formula Junior series in 1960, where it won the British and European championships, finishing first and second in most races. Clarke would go on to win world Formula One titles in 1963 and 1965, and the Indianapolis 500, also in 1965, before his death, aged 32, in 1968.
Atkinson managed to pick up the vehicle about five years ago. He said it was a real piece of nostalgia.
“We became aware of it about a few years ago, and it had been sitting unused for several years. We had to do a lot with the engines. We had to buy a lot of our parts from England. If you don’t do that, you just don’t get the reliability,” Atkinson said.
“I used to remember the Tasman series days, when all the Formula 1 drivers came out to race in New Zealand and have a summer holiday. As a young man watching those vehicles race it was really inspiring.
“They’re quite highly strung, so they move around a lot, you’ve got to be comfortable with it drifting. You’ve got to get your head around that it will stop, but it’s actually not that difficult to drive.
“It takes a while to sort the car. The engine took a lot of money and effort to get right. Then you’ve got to get the handling right.
“It’s the fact it’s an older model. It’s not quite as pencil-shaped as the new vehicles, while the gearbox is not as good, so you have to be very sympathetic when changing gear. But it’s a wee gem really, it’s a jewel to drive.
“But it was built during an era when technology was changing rapidly (in racing cars). You weren’t talking about differences in years, but in months. And this car was at the start of that development.”
Atkinson said several people came up to him during the weekend to talk about the car.
“We met a guy who had quite a lot to do with it in the late 1960s. That’s been typical, people take a real interest in the car.”