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Jimmy Clark's Number 82
Lotus-Ford (Ford Motor Company)
Lotus-Ford (Ford Motor Company)
April 13th 2010 - 1960s Lotus-Ford Indy 500 champ reignites
Melissa Preddy / Special to the Detroit News
It was back in 1968 when 12-year-old Walt Goodwin edged up to the 1965 Lotus-Ford racing machine on display at the newly opened Michigan International Speedway. One of Goodwin's idols, Jimmy Clark, had piloted the innovative car to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, and the son of an Indy racing mechanic just had to get closer for a good look.

After its victorious maiden race, No. 82 -- the first rear-powered machine to win the 500 -- had been whisked onto the show circuit by engine developer Ford Motor Co., and the special "Ford 4-cam" never turned over again.

Until a few months ago, that is, when a now grown-up Goodwin finished a painstaking rehab of the power plant, hooked it to a dynamometer and fired it up.

"And it sounded great!" said Goodwin, who earned his chief mechanic's license by age 21 and crewed for a number of teams.

Igniting the Ford engine was half the battle won in the process of restoring the yellow-nosed green racer -- a car that experts consider the keystone in open-wheel racing's shift from front-engine roadsters to the rear-powered machines of the past 45 years. The Lotus 38 model chassis, meanwhile, has been receiving a face lift in Great Britain, at the shop of Clive Chapman, whose father, Colin, delivered the new-style Indy car in the early 1960s.

"This car is one of the seminal cars in the history of the Indianapolis 500," said Bob Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford, which has owned No. 82 since the late 1970s. "It was absolutely pivotal."

Growing power
Starting with the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, the endurance race had featured mostly front-engine roadsters with solid axles and boxy upright chassis.

As the decades rolled on, the cars grew more powerful, but the basic setup didn't change. Then, heading into the 1960s, owners and drivers concluded that at Indianapolis, a more flexible and aerodynamic chassis design propelled by a powerful rear engine could easily defeat the old-style cars.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. was "getting into racing in a big way," said Casey. "They had decided that racing could sell cars. And they wanted to go for the Indianapolis 500."

Founder Henry Ford actually had dabbled in racing before the company's official birth, but pretty much abandoned it well before World War II.

Lotus Cars founder Chapman, a well-known engineer whose aeronautical know-how was reflected in his car body designs, connected with Ford's racing unit.

Eventually it all came together in 1965, when Ford's new methanol-powered engines captured nine of the top 10 starting positions in the May 31 race, with A.J. Foyt on the pole.

Clark's car reigned
But in the No. 82 Ford-powered Lotus, it was Scotsman Jimmy Clark who led the Indianapolis 500 for 190 of 200 laps, finishing with an unprecedented average speed of more than 150 mph. A front-engine car has never since won the Indianapolis 500, and the Ford dual overhead cam V-8 reigned over the mighty Offenhauser power plants that had dominated open-wheel racing for decades.

"Clark just ran away with it," said Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee-based racing historian. "It pretty much put the Offenhauser out of business."

Zautke noted that other factors aided the Clark victory -- a "perfect storm" of the right chassis, engine, driver, improved Dunlop tires and even a faster pit crew imported from NASCAR.

"It changed championship racing in the United States," said Gordon White, auto racing adviser to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution and author of several race history books.

"Keep in mind that a lot of people didn't like it at the time. It didn't look right and it didn't sound right.

"And the immense amounts of money involved altered the whole financing of racing. It was no longer an arena for wealthy sportsmen or mom-and-pops. It was business."

Soon, the newly functional engine will be remarried with the Lotus 38 chassis in England.

"It had been carted around a lot and kind of got beat up," Casey said. The Henry Ford has done touch-ups and partial restoration to the car body since the early 1990s, but never the kind of historical renovation it's getting now.

The remarkable thing about this overhaul, Goodwin and Casey agree, is how intact the vehicle is. "It's not one of those things where you have to take the car apart and come up with a lot of replacement parts," said Casey, who won't put a price tag on the restoration. "It's pretty much all there."

Goodwin said his team replaced only really fragile things, like O-rings, and that curators from The Henry Ford prohibited show-car flourishes like chrome plating of the water pipes in favor of historical integrity.

"Moisture got in, and it was kind of a bear to get the engine apart," Goodwin said. "But we soaked it with lubricant and carefully beat on the pistons with wood -- it worked and we were able to use the original pistons, the original pins, gears, main bearing, pump. All of that stuff was good and it's all back in there."

Heading to England
The Lotus-Ford will make the traditional uphill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July in West Sussex, England. Then, after an August appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, it will return to Dearborn for display and eventual stardom in the racing exhibit the museum hopes to develop.

Showing the car at fancy festivals is gratifying, but sharing the vehicle with real-life race enthusiasts is paramount, Casey said. He recalls an incident several years ago when Indianapolis champion Dario Franchitti attended a local event where the Lotus-Ford was displayed.

"Nice replica," Franchitti said.

"It's not a replica," Casey replied. Franchitti's eyes widened -- his racing hero happened to be fellow Scotsman Clark, who died in a crash five years before Franchitti was born.

Feeling the magic
"He reached out and touched the steering wheel," Casey recalled. Normally, handling museum exhibits is a major faux pas -- but it was nevertheless a spine-tingling moment for the history expert.

"It was his connection to his idol," Casey said. "It's the kind of moment anyone who works in a museum wants to witness.

"Now, near as we can make it, everyone will be able to see the Lotus-Ford as it looked that May morning in 1965."

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her at

From The Detroit News:

EDITOR NOTE: This has always been one of my favorite cars. Brings back memories of the first rear engine cars that I saw at the Milwaukee Mile as a small child. - BRONCO