Well it had to happen I suppose, now that David and Jason are successful heads of an automotive media empire. They have cast off their proletarian roots and joined Beau in the Grey Poupon set at Monterey Car Week, perusing Rolex catalogs and attending Sotheby’s auctions. They’ve forgotten you, the regular people; but don’t worry dear reader, your favorite goth uncle has not. I haven’t been walking around, champagne flute in hand, pointing at nine figure cars and pretending I know what the fuck I am looking at. I’ve been keeping it real by connecting with MY people at an airfield in Germany and getting weird. But now I’m back in your service. Let me tell you what’s had me checking my guillotine for sharpness this week.
Out of the deluge of new releases rolling onto the finely cut lawns in California one in particular has stood out for its sheer pointlessness. The Lotus 66 Can Am car. A continuation car that in reality never actually existed. Lotus are selling a heritage they don’t even have. Have we reached the point where an assumed past and tradition count for more than the real thing?
[Ed Note: You’ll have to excuse Adrian’s rant, here. As you’ll read, he gets a bit emotional about his beloved British brand. -DT].
One of the Wildest Ever Race Series
The (Can)adian – (Am)erican Challenge Cup ran in its original form from 1966 until 1974. Although ostensibly run to FIA Group 7 regulations, in reality these were very loose and it was basically an open formula. To quote GPL World:
The Canadian American Challenge Cup Series (Can-Am) started out as a race series for Group 7 sports racers with two races in Canada and four races in the United States of America. The Series was governed by rules called out under the FIA Group 7 category with unrestricted engine capacity and few other technical restrictions.The Group 7 category was essentially a Formula Libre for sports cars; the regulations were minimal and permitted unlimited engine sizes (and allowed turbocharging and supercharging), virtually unrestricted aerodynamics, and were as close as any major international racing series ever got to anything goes.
As long as the car had two seats and bodywork enclosing the wheels, and met basic safety standards, it was legal. Group 7 had arisen as a category for non-homologated sports car ‘specials’ in Europe and for a while in the 1960s Group 7 racing was popular in the United Kingdom as well as a class in hillclimb racing in Europe. Group 7 cars were designed more for short-distance sprints than for endurance racing. Some Group 7 cars were also built in Japan by Nissan and Toyota, but these did not compete outside their homeland (though some of the Can-Am competitors went over to race against them occasionally).
There was good appearance and prize money, and the series was well sponsored, and thanks to it being limited to just one continent it attracted a lot of contemporary Formula One drivers on their off weekends. Due to the relatively lax technical regulations it played host to some incredibly innovative race cars including the Chaparral 2J that had a snowmobile-engined ducted fan arrangement and lexan skirts to suck it onto the track – the original “fan car.” The Shadow DN4 (which looks like the sort of Batmobile I might come up with) had tiny front wheels to lower its profile and improve aerodynamics.
Initially, Lola were the dominant team, with John Surtees winning the inaugural championship in 1966, until their strategy of designing a new car every year was outdone by McLaren, who took a basic wedge shape and made it faster each season by simply fitting bigger and bigger Chevy V8 engines. Even Ferrari thought it looked like fun, eventually building their largest ever V12 engine for the 7.0-liter 712. If this all sounds glorious, it was. Right until the moment Porsche got serious in 1972 and ruined everything.
And You Have Burned So Very, Very Brightly Can Am
The Germans had initially competed with a Spyder version of the 917 Le Mans racer, but even at 530bhp it wasn’t powerful enough. With an unlimited development budget in 1972 they unloaded the 917/10K from a Penske transporter and promptly blew everyone else into the weeds. For 1973, this became the 917/30. With a staggering 1100 bhp in qualifying in the hands of legendary driver-engineer Mark Donohue it won six out of eight races that year
The party had to end sometime and after Shadow had won the 1974 championship it was. The SCCA had had enough of German domination and fiddled with the rules to promote fuel efficiency. Like all the greatest eras of motor racing, it was simply getting too expensive and, thanks to a domestic recession and oil crisis, it folded for 1975.
So there’s your potted history of a brief time when giants thundered around the North American continent piloted by some of the greatest drivers who ever lived. The sharper reader will no doubt be wondering where Lotus fits into all this, seeing as I didn’t mention them at all in the previous few paragraphs. Eggs-fucking-zactly, my friends.
What is a Continuation Car Exactly?
I’ve always thought continuation cars were a bit tenuous. The way it supposedly goes is in the back of some long forgotten OEM workshop there’s a pile of dusty ledgers. One day the nearly dead custodian cracks one open, blows the cobwebs off the pages and reveals some unused chassis numbers from sixty years ago. How convenient. They strike me as a level of prostitution that, well, a prostitute might blanch at.
In a rare display of Britain giving capitalism lessons to America, British companies have been most shameless in this area. Jaguar has built continuation E-Type Lightweights, XKSS’s, as well as C and D Types. Bentley will sell you a “new” Blower or Speed Six, and Aston Martin has built DB4GT, DB4GT Zagatos and even 25 DB5 Goldfingers whose faithful recreation of onscreen gadgets mean they can’t even be driven on the road. But they’re harmless enough I suppose, unless you own an original. They provide high-end OEMs a nice little addition to the bottom line and demonstrate the restoration skills of your in-house technicians. I’m not getting too worked up about them, unless Ford suddenly decides to start building continuation Capri 2.8 injections, in which case sign me the fuck up.
That’s not what the Lotus 66 is. It only ever lived as a few tenth scale drawings commissioned by Colin Chapman and drafted by race car designer Geoff Ferris. For all Chapman’s startling innovations he had just as many failures. But he was apparently always driven by money, which is why the prosperous Can Am series caught his eye. At the time Lotus barely had the resources to cover all the series it was involved in, let alone racing in another, which is why the 66 never progressed beyond a few layout sketches. If Lotus was going to knock out a few more 49s or 72s, then that I could understand. After all, one historic formula one enthusiast wanted a Tyrrell P34 so badly, that unable to purchase one he built two of his own.
Cars are not just cars. They are a metal box of memories. The venue doesn’t matter. Every classic car is container full of lived experiences. Each crack in a leather seat for all the drivers who sat in it. Every faded sponsor decal on the scuffed bodywork for on track battles lost and won. It all means something to us as enthusiasts and owners. Provenance is everything, and it’s a living breathing thing, written and rewritten over through time.
The Type 66 is different. It’s a fugazi. A fake. A brand new replication of something not real. Lotus is indulging in its own alternate history fantasy with the object of parting fools from their money. You can’t race it, as it never raced in period, so it’s not eligible for an FIA Historic Technical Passport. With a build run of ten and a projected price of more than £1 million a piece, none of these are going to see anything more troubling than Lord March’s front driveway. It’s nothing more than a wheeled asset for tiresome watch-wankers to boast they’ve got one to people equally as loathsome as they are. At this point it’s a Hot Wheels Treasure Hunt for High Net Worth Individuals. As an object it’s utterly vacuous and totally devoid of meaning and purpose. It can’t tell any stories and it has no provenance. The sheer vapidity of this is highlighted by the fact you could buy a GENUINE 1970 McLaren M8 Can Am car for $295k.
Now you might argue that I’m just being contrary out of envy, or spite, or simply hating rich people. Not the case. I have nothing against rich people per se, nor is it my business how they spend their money. I know I’ll always be outside the tent pissing in, as opposed to inside pissing out, and I’m mostly fine with that. Though I do, after all, own an old Ferrari. My problem with the Lotus Type 66 is what it represents. It is an absolute clanging indictment of everything twisted and absurd with the enthusiast car scene at the moment, at all price points. Are we so bereft of imagination we’re inventing new forms of nostalgia to sell simply because people are running out of things to spend money on?
OEM heritage used to be a lodestar – something that reminded them where they’d been and where they were going. Lotus’ problem at the moment is one of total directional confusion. On one hand you’ve got bloated electric SUVs and lead-sled electric hypercars. One another you’ve got last-of-the-line ICE mid-engined sports cars that are no lighter than their contemporaries. And finally you’ve got the Type 66. What exactly, does this company stand for? [Ed Note: I did drive the manual, supercharged V6 Emira, and it’s fantastic. -DT].
Can Am was a wonderful period in motor racing that shone twice as bright but half as long. True beauty has no permanence, if it did familiarity would rob of its power. To be truly human means to live in the here and now, not constantly pining for a time when we imagine things were better, because the present is too horrifying to face.
I’d have more respect for them if they’d just built the Type 66 digitally and dropped it in Gran Turismo 7. At least that way more people would have got to enjoy it and it would actually get the chance to race.
Hi, Matt Hardigree, here.
Here’s a McLaren M8F I took a photo of at Laguna Seca this weekend because it reminded me, in many ways, of the Lotus. The cartoonish velocity stacks, in particular.
There are only so many Can Am cars that will ever be built and, unfortunately, some of them will be crashed at events like this one. They ain’t making any more and, to Adrian’s point, they represent an incredible period in racing history. It’s a shame that Lotus didn’t get to participate, though I’m sure it would have likely accelerated the company’s problems.
Is this all a bit silly? Sure, but all that silliness is producing what’s definitely going to be a glorious bark coming out of the high revving, 830-horsepower V8. We need more interesting cars. Even if EVs aren’t necessarily going to be the only vehicles you can buy in a few years, this might be the last gasp of socially acceptable, low run ICE-powered cars. Let’s enjoy it while we can.