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Race Car Stories: Lotus 49

Sometimes vehicles come a long in motorsport that change the game or are something a little bit special. In this and future videos, we will be exploring some of the great racing cars from different series from around the world. This time up, the iconic Lotus 49.

In 1967, Colin Champan’s Lotus team transporter arrived at the Snetterton Circuit in the UK unveiling and testing the now legendary lotus 49 for the first time.

Powered by the all-new 3 litre Ford Cosworth Double Four Valve or, DFV it lead Graham Hills first impression  to be “It’s got some poke, not a bad old tool”

The Lotus 49 was advanced because of its design. The engine became a stress-bearing structural member bolted to the monocoque at one and and the gearbox and suspension at the other. This was the construction that nearly all F1 cars have followed ever since.

Lotus 49 engine, gearbox and suspension.
Lotus 49 Engine, Gearbox & Suspension

The Lotus 49 was not ready for the start of the 1967 F1 season and was plagued with reliability issues when it did arrive. Graham Hill suffered the worst of the failures, only finishing two of the nine races entered. A 4th position in the Canadian Grand Prix held at Mosport and a 2nd place at the United states Grand Prix at Watkins Glen behind his teammate, Jim Clark.

Clark had a much more successful season. Despite taking pole at the cars debut at Zandvoort in the Netherlands, the aforementioned reliability issues for Hill meant that Clarke took the victory.

Clarke followed this success with wins at Silverstone,Watkins Glen and  Mexico City respectively. Ultimately due to his own reliability issues in the French, German and canadian GP’s Clark would finish the 1967 season in 3rd place, 10 points behind the champion New Zealander, Danny Hulme driving the Brabham-Repco.

1968 saw a further refined 49. The team of Clarke and Hill Taking a 1-2 in the opening round of the championship at the south African Kyalami circuit.

Unfortunately, this would be the last time Jim Clarke would race in Formula One. Before the next round in Spain, Clarke would die in a crash while participating in a Formula 2 race at the Hockenheimring in Germany for team Lotus. While the cause of the crash was never definitively identified, an investigation concluded it was probably caused by a deflating rear tyre. He was just 32.

Jim Clark
Jim Clark

At the next race in Spain, the sole entered Lotus 49, driven by Hil, who had also taken the role of lead driver, created history. It was the first Formula One works car to paint their car in the colours of their sponsor. In this case, the Red and Gold of Gold Leaf Tobacco. Despite having qualified in 6th position, Hill took the victory.

At the following round, the Lotus 49B made its debut. This variant of the 49 had a slightly longer wheelbase and a new Hewland gearbox. More interestingly, the B variant was equipped with wings.

Hill would only take one more victory during the 1968 season at Mexico City, but this was enough to secure him the drivers title and the Constructors title for Team Lotus.

Graham Hill in his Lotus 49
Graham Hill in the 1967 Mexico GP in his Lotus 49

In 1969 Hill was teamed with Jochen Rindt. In a season where Hill would only score one victory, his fifth and final at Monaco and Rindt would take victory at Watkins Glen. This was only enough for team Lotus to score 3rd in the constructors championship with Rindt ending the season in 4th and Hill 7th.

Into 1970, and the Lotus 49 was to be replaced by the 72 by the works team. Despite this, Rindt scored a final victory for the car at that seasons Monaco GP.

With innovative design, 42 races, 12 wins, 23 podiums, 19 poles and 13 fastest laps the Lotus 49 is truly one of the greatest racing cars of all time. With a longevity of four seasons which we will undoubtedly never see again from a formula one car.

What are your thoughts on the lotus 49? Do you think there is another, more iconic Formula One car? Let us know in the comments!

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