In 1965 Sir John Whitmore enjoyed an extraordinary string of racing successes in a Lotus-Cortina. Graham Robson recalls an astonishing track record.
'Ford Heritage', June/July 1996
It was as near to a walkover as motor racing had seen for years. In a nine-event European Touring Car Championship season, with eight races and hill-climbs concentrated into a three-month period, the red and gold Lotus Cortinas, which were prepared by Alan Mann Racing, were always the class of the field.
Those were the days when Ford enthusiasts had come to expect an Alan Mann-prepared car to win most of its races: they were rarely disappointed.
The best way to sum up Sir John's amazing season is to quote Patrick McNally's end-of-season comment in Autosport: "In the European Touring Car Challenge Sir John Whitmore was outstandingly successful, his Alan Mann Lotus Ford Cortina proving to be both fast and reliable. The popular racing baronet often won his races outright as well as the class, and shattered course and circuit records everywhere he went."
Sir John Whitmore won not only because he had a well-prepared car and good team management but because he simply out-drove the opposition. When the Alfa Giulia GTA was homologated in the latter part of the season there was a car which might have walked all over the Lotus Cortinas - it was only Whitmore's driving that kept the Lotus ahead, and assured Ford of the European title.
The details are equally impressive. Although Sir John was not the only team member - other well-known personalities included Jack Sears and Peter Proctor - he won three races and one hill-climb outright, won his class in two other hill-climbs, and was only beaten twice. Even the defeats didn't matter all that much, for he still won his class on both occasions, while the winning car was a Ford Mustang driven by Bo Ljungfeldt.
Ford was so proud this achievement that it used the championship-winning car as a display vehicle for some time, but it was eventually acquired by Sir John in 1967, who eventually loaned it to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu where it stayed for some years. In the meantime, the other famous red-and-gold cars were sold off, reliveried, raced into the ground and seem to have been scrapped. Last year Sir John decided to sell the sole survivor (KPU 392C) at auction, and it has now gone to North America.
By 1965, when that legendary European Championship season began, the Lotus Cortina was already a well-proven racing car. Even though it was somewhat fragile, especially in and around the rear suspension A-frame area, meticulous preparation and regular rebuilds usually kept the works-backed cars going.
The 1963/1964 cars were so much more specialised than their rivals that if they held together they were almost bound to be race winners at the end of an event. Cars like the 7-litre Ford Galaxies (vast and powerful, but heavy and unwieldy) were usually beaten on twisty circuits, while the 3.8 litre Jaguar MkIIs were too old-fashioned and outclassed.
That was the period when Lotus was still trying to make its new-fangled twin cam engines reliable, but with Cosworth's help a reliable 140 bhp/1.6-litre version of the unit was eventually produced, this being matched to a set of ultra-close gear ratios, and a choice of rear axle ratios - 3.9, 4.1, 4.44 and 4.7:1. By 1965, a limited-slip differential (various makes were tried) was also being used.
Even at that time, Lotus claimed that the use of 'long' (3.9:1) gearing would give a top speed of 135-140 mph, with 0-60 mph acceleration in 6.9 seconds. By 1964 standards, this was astonishing.
For 1965, Ford sent Alan Mann Racing out to win the European Touring Car Championship that had been snatched from them in 1964 - if only because of the strange points marking system. At the very start of the season Mann used the last of his 1964 cars, but this was only a stop-gap. He already knew that the much-revised 'leaf-spring' Lotus Cortina would be homologated in June - and since there was only one European event left before then, he preferred to build new-season cars to the latest spec.
This time the new cars were to even more specialised than before. BRM (the F1 team, from Bourne in Lincolnshire) had secured a contract to develop and build Lotus Cortina engines for racing, the engineering work being co-ordinated by Mike Hall, who became double famous as Keith Duckworth's chief designer at Cosworth, and to design the legendary BDA engine.
As in 1964, the 1965 Alan Mann cars were as light and as low as possible, running with all the aluminium skin panels, gearbox and axle casings which had been so cleverly homologated in 1963. After attention by Mike Hall these cars ran in BRM-developed Phase 2 form, producing about 150 bhp at 7800 rpm, and were extremely reliable at this rating.
(BRM and Hall had already produced much more power than this from the engine but since this meant enlarging the engine to more than 1.6-litres and using fuel injection, both of which were ruled out by homologation regulations, the extra power could not be used in touring car events.)
Those of us who watched the Alan Mann Lotus Cortinas being raced - particularly by Sir John Whitmore when in his most exuberant moods - will never forget them.
Although these were the days when racing saloons were still rather softly suspended to keep both their rear wheels on the ground, the Lotus Cortina was also afflicted with rather restricted front wheel travel, and had a tendancy to oversteer (or, at the very least, to settle into a very pronounced four-wheel-drift on corners).
The result was that in hard cornering the cars would roll considerably, the rear wheels would stay on the ground to keep transmitting power, but the inside front wheels would sometimes leave the ground completely. It looked wrong, though the drivers always insisted they could feel nothing amiss. Whitmore and Jim Clark, too, used these wheel-waving antics to get even tighter into the apex of a corner.
As a young Jackie Stewart is reputed to have commented about the cars: "They're such a laugh, you cannae take them seriously!"
However, as Sir John explained himself once explained many years later: "We built in a little bit of rear end steer to make it controllable, but in spite of its strange antics you can change line accurately; in a race you could dodge around in a corner quite well to get past some unexpected incident without losing too much speed."
By comparison with today's saloon car racers, the Lotus Cortinas looked amazingly standard. In those days they were still using wide-rim steel wheels, while bumpers and twin wipers all had to be retained to satisfy the scrutineers, and of course sponsorship liveries were still banned. In one event at least (Snetterton in August), the cars were even fitted with extra driving lamps, which were neatly covered by Cibie padded covers.
All this, of course, was overshadowed by the magnificent paint job of the 1965 cars, which was eventually applied to the cars by mid-season - lustrous red, with a metallic gold roof, spears on the flanks and across the tail. Sir John's car also had a series of stripes on the lower front body panel (under the grille) for recognition purposes.
For Alan Mann Racing, the '65 season started badly. In March the team started the Monza 4-Hour race with two of the 1964 A-frame cars. This was the first time they had used the BRM-developed engines, and although the cars were well up with the race leaders at first, both eventually retired with catastrophic engine failures.
There was then an eight week gap before the second event, which was actually a speed hill climb up Mont Ventoux in the south of France (it was then famous for use in the Monte Carlo and Alpine rallies). The new type of leaf-spring cars had been finished, but were still running in standard colours, and for some reason the car which would eventually become KPU 392C was seen sporting a 1964 race car's registration number.
Although Sir John was by no means a seasoned hill-climber, he astonished everyone by setting the fastest time of the day.
Only a week later Sir John paired up with 'Gentleman' Jack Sears to win the Nurburgring 6-Hour race. By the closing stages the car was so far ahead that team manager Alan Mann decided to slow it down so that the second-placed Ford (the Pierpoint/Neerpasch Mustang) could finish in formation. After he had hung out a sign which read 'Last Lap D Heat', the cars closed right up, with the Lotus Cortina getting the verdict by one tenth of a second.
Two weeks later, the two cars dominated the 2-litre race in the Zolder meeting in Belgium, but it was not without a scare. Soon after the start, the cockpit of Sir John's car filled with oil smoke - later blamed on an overfilled engine which had dumped the excess on the exhaust system! As at Nurburgring, two cars finished line astern, with Peter Proctor's Lotus Cortina right behind KPU 392C.
After a diversion at the Austrian Olympia hillclimb event, where the Whitmore/Lotus Cortina combination won its class and finished fourth behind three racing cars, the serious Championship resumed at Karlskoga in Sweden. There, in a 65-mile event, Alan Mann had entered no fewer than five cars - three Mustangs and two Lotus Cortinas. After 58 breathless minutes, Ljungfeldt's Mustang took the flag, though Sir John's Lotus Cortina was only 5.4 seconds behind him at the finish.
Then came the Snetterton 500 km race, an event which I observed from the rudimentary press box of the period. Here was an odd event, which didn't start until 6 m and went on for nearly four hours, ensuring that half the event was run in complete darkness. No wonder the Lotus Cortinas used extra driving lamps and that local knowledge meant so much in the tight confines of the Norfolk circuit.
The BMW competition always struggled to stay in touch, and although Bussinello's newly-homologated Alfa Guilia GTA led at first, the Whitmore/Lotus Cortina combination dogged it right from the start. After the Lotus Cortina blew a tyre (this chassis seemed to give its tyres a hard time), Peter Proctor's sister car took up the chase, but by half distance Whitmore lead from Proctor with the Alfa third.
Then, after three hours, Proctor's car refused to restart after a pit stop - the battery was flat - and the car would eventually finish sixth. By the end of the race, though, Sir John's car was a minute clear and won.
Although the season was still not over, the Championship was almost certain to go to the Lotus Cortina. Just to make sure Sir John drove it to a class win in a Swiss hill-climb, while at the final race of the season - a 24-lapper at Zandvoort in Holland - he finished second to Ljungfeldt's Mustang, with Proctor obeying team orders and shadowing his team-mate to the finish.
Suddenly - and triumphantly - it was all over, but fame at this level was very brief. After its intense eight-event campaign in three months, KPU 392C was taken back to England, given a cosmetic make-over by Ford, and used in a delaership and Motorshow promotional tour. By 1966 it was beginning to look neglected, had lost much of its special equipment, and went into storage.
The Championship-winning car had raced its last, and
the Lotus Cortina was never as successful on the track again.
Sir John Whitmore
Linking up with Ford in 1964, he not only drove Lotus Cortinas but GT40s and AC Cobras. Then, at the height of his fame, he retired from motorsport at the end of 1966 and completely dropped out of the motoring scene for many years.
Much later, in 1987, he came back, dabbled in historic
motor sport for a season with great success, and finally handed in his
competition licence at the end of that year.
From 1965 Alan Mann Racing's cars were usually liveried in metallic red and a distinctive gold hue - in later years, restorers found that there were grains of genuine gold in that paint and rarely tried to replicate it themselves!
Later in the '60s, Mann branched out into building special
cars for film companies (including the notorious Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang) but dropped out of motor racing at the end of the decade. He later
came to run helicopter enterprises instead, being based on Fairoaks
airfield near Cobham.
Lotus Cortina - Racing Origins
For 1964, Team Lotus ran 'coil spring' cars in the British saloon car series, while Alan Mann Racing prepared cars for use in Europe. Jim Clark, no less, won the British Saloon Car Championship, while the Alan Mann cars were always competitive in Europe. In that year, incidentally, the Alan Mann cars were still painted in standard Lotus Cortina colours - white with Lotus green spears and tail panel.
Although Sir John won five events in Alan Mann-prepared cars, and his team-mate Henry Taylor won once, it was not quite enough to secure the European Championship, which was marked on capacity class-improvement grounds. On this basis it was Warwick Bank's works Mini-Cooper S which took the trophy.