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Lot 64

2015   |   Amelia Island 2015

1951 Lotus Mk IIIB

Coachwork by Williams & Pritchard

SOLD $247,500

Estimate

$250,000 - $450,000

Chassis

151844

Car Highlights

An Integral Piece of Lotus History
The First Lotus Built for a Customer and the First Car to Wear the Company Badge
Raced in Period by Colin Chapman, Adam Currie, and Tony Marsh
Correct and Authentic Car, Faithfully Presented in 1953 Livery
Eligible for Many Important Historic Motoring Events

Technical Specs

1,099 CC Ford L-Head Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
Single Stromberg Downdraft Carburetor
Estimated 50 HP at 6,000 RPM
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Hydraulic Girling Drum Brakes
Split Front Axle with Transverse Leaf Spring
Rear Live Axle with Quarter-Elliptical Leaf Springs

Saleroom Addendum

*Please note this vehicle is sold on a Bill of Sale.

Register to Bid

Formerly the Property of Adam Currie | The Earliest Lotus Sold to a CustomerAdam Currie, London (acquired new in 1952)Anthony Marsh, UK (acquired from the above in 1953)Selina Wadham, UK (acquired from the above in 1954)Murree Walton, UK (acquired via The Chequered Flag in 1958)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 1994)

Nottingham Sports Car Club Race, Silverstone, October 11, 1952, Currie, No. 12BARC Goodwood, March 21, 1953, Chapman, No. 101Tunbridge Wells Motor Club Sprint, Brands Hatch, March 29, 1953, Currie, No. 7Bristol Motor Club, Castle Coombe, April 4, 1953, CurrieW Hants & DCC, Ibsley, April 18, 1953, Currie, No. 27Bristol MC & LCC, Castle Coombe, April 25, 1953, CurrieEight Clubs Meeting, Silverstone, June 6, 1953, Currie, No. 25Goodwood Handicap Race, July 25, 1953, Currie, No. 1 (3rd Place)JCC, Davidstow, August 1, 1953, CurrieTrengwainton Hill Climb, Bank Holiday Meeting, August 3, 1953, Currie (2nd Place)Nottingham Sports Car Club Race, August 8, 1953, Currie, No. 6 (4th Place)750 Motor Club 6 Hour Relay, Silverstone, August 1953, Currie, No. 9D (18th Place)Cambridge 50 Motor Club Bottisham Speed Trial, October 1953, Currie (2nd Place)Tarrant Rushton Sprints, October 1953, Currie, No. 75 (2nd Place)BARC Goodwood Handicap, March 27, 1954, Marsh, No. 3 (5th Place)BARC Goodwood, Under 1,100 CC, March 27, 1954, Marsh, No. 3 (3rd Place)National Snetterton, April 24, 1954, Marsh, No. 61

Loton Park Hill Climb, July 8–9, 1995Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb, July 23, 1995

The history of this important Lotus automobile, the one and only Mk IIIB, can be traced back to 1951, when Colin Chapman and the Allen brothers (Michael and Nigel) constructed three modified Austin Seven chassis to race in the competitive 750 Formula. Though three chassis were built, only one Austin Lotus, now referred to as the original Mk III (LMU 3), was completed in 1951.

In May 1952, Adam Currie, an enthusiast working for Dunlop Tyres, and his good friend Peter Ross, a De Havilland engineer, paid a visit to Colin Chapman’s new workshop in Hornsey, UK. Currie, impressed with the performance of the Mk III, which was completely dominating the 750 Club races, convinced Chapman to finish one of the two remaining Mk III chassis and sell it to him. As it turned out, Currie was Chapman’s first patron, and his Mk IIIB is the earliest Lotus built for a customer. This car also possesses the important distinction of being the very first example of the marque adorned with the now-famous yellow Lotus badge.

Though the build was delayed due to the development of new models, the Mk IIIB was finally completed in September 1952 and registered as ONK 408. Like the original Mk III, the IIIB featured a modified Seven chassis, split Ford Eight front axle, and a mix of Austin components. Unlike its predecessor, the IIIB featured a highly developed Ford 10 engine – ported, polished, gas-flowed, and linered down from 1,172 cc to 1,099 cc.

Williams & Pritchard, the Enfield, UK-based firm that built all subsequent bodies for Lotus cars up to the 11, constructed the car’s aluminum coachwork using the Mk III drawings. Originally presented in bare aluminum, the IIIB was, by 1953, finished in black with contrasting cream wheels in the style of Dick Seaman’s Delage Grand Prix car. Notably, the interior was upholstered in green, in contrast to the red of subsequent Lotus cars.

ONK made its racing debut on October 11, 1952, at Silverstone. In an address given at the Historic Lotus Register Dinner in November 1987, Currie fondly recalled his first race outing in the IIIB:

“As there was no suitable class for the car, I had entered the 2 litre class and was so surprised to fnd myself third into the first corner behind a BMW 328 and a Le Mans Frazer Nash that I lifted my foot, and predictably ended up well down the field. All the same, the car went well and I had fnished in my first motor race. I had tasted blood.”

Throughout 1952, the Mk IIIB was tested and prepared for the upcoming season. In 1953, ONK was raced extensively by Currie and, occasionally, by Chapman himself. Referring to the latter, a spectator later wrote in Lotus World, “I specially recall watching Colin drive this car at Goodwood in the BARC members’ meeting of March 1953 – when for several electrifying laps he led all kinds of ‘establishment’ machinery.”

During the 1953 season, the IIIB raced at many of the top venues (Goodwood, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, and Castle Coombe), set at least one record in the 1,100 class, and raced competitively in the 1,500 class.

Nevertheless, the pace of progress forced Currie to look for a newer and faster machine. In October 1953, he advertised the IIIB for sale in Motor Racing and Motor Sport, with an asking price of £425. By year’s end, Currie sold the first customer Lotus to famed motor racing commentator Anthony Marsh, who had been impressed by the IIIB’s performance at the BARC Goodwood meet. Marsh raced ONK on several occasions in 1954 before selling it to Selina Wadham.

By 1958, the Lotus had ended up at The Chequered Flag in Chiswick, from where it was sold to Colonel Walton of the Gurkhas, who bought it as a 21st birthday present for his son Murree. Upon receiving the gift, Murree fitted a full windscreen, refinished the bodywork in his father’s regimental colors (red and green), and retained the Lotus for many years, making numerous trips to motoring events throughout Continental Europe.

The current owner, an American collector with a passion for historic racing machines and a connoisseur of Lotus automobiles, purchased the Mk IIIB from Murree Walton in September 1994. He then commissioned UK specialists Kelvin Jones and Don Rawson to complete a comprehensive, body-off restoration, returning the car to its 1953 livery and specifications. The consignor reports that this historic Lotus racing car retains its original chassis, engine, and coachwork, as well as many of its distinctive features, from the hood bulge (which originally housed a Scintilla magneto) to the three-spoke steering wheel, fashioned from the wing of a De Havilland Comet.

When the restoration was completed in 1995, the IIIB participated in two English hill climbs and was the subject of a feature article in Classic & Sportscar. Over the past two decades, ONK has resided in New England, where it has been driven sparingly and, remarkably, has not appeared at any public event since arriving in the US.

As the earliest Lotus built for a customer and the first car to wear the firm’s recognizable badge, the Mk IIIB will always be regarded as a pivotal model in the history of Chapman’s celebrated marque. Not only is ONK 408 a genuine artifact from the earliest days of Lotus, it was successfully raced in period and possesses a known, continuous provenance, with just five private owners from new. Prominently featured in nearly every book on Lotus automobiles, the Mk IIIB is the spiritual predecessor to some of the most famous sports and racing cars of the 1950s and 1960s.

For the collector with an appreciation for fine English sports cars or the true devotee of Chapman’s Lotus marque – one of the great names in the history of motor racing – the appearance of this important automobile at auction represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.