The Jim Clark color scheme might not be accurate, but the Lotus 29 in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s collection does carry significant history, which is why museum officials have decided to give it a fresh restoration as part of a new effort to scrutinize the museum’s collection.
“We have a history of doing restorations here at the museum, but that hasn’t happened in many years, partly from a lack of focus and funding,” said Betsy Smith, the executive director of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, which oversees the museum.
However, as museum officials have sought out ways to improve the museum, they realized that a number of cars the museum owns could stand some rehabilitation, so they chose four vehicles — two race cars and two passenger cars from the museum’s secondary focus on Indiana-built vehicles — to restore over the next four years.
They chose to tackle the Lotus first, Smith said, because it’s “the most of interest and the most valuable one to restore. And with this one, it’s probably in the best shape of the four we chose.”
Inspired by the Lotus 25, the 29 resulted from Dan Gurney’s belief that a mid-engine car could best the Offenhauser-powered front-engine cars still dominant in the Indy 500 in the early 1960s. Colin Chapman, when given the opportunity to review the field of entrants in the 1962 race, concurred. Gurney, in turn, convinced Ford to not only provide its Weber-carbureted 4.2-liter single-overhead-camshaft all-aluminum race-only V-8 but also funding for the entire venture.
Lotus, however, didn’t simply drop the Ford V-8 into a 25 chassis. Instead, according to William Taylor’s The Lotus Book, the 29 was wider overall (by 4 inches), longer overall (by 10 inches), had a longer wheelbase (by 5 inches), and heavier (by about 135 pounds), in part to fit Gurney. In addition, Lotus made the side members larger and bumped the size of the fuel cells to 42 gallons. Company literature boasted of the 29 that it was “one of the most, if not the most, potent pieces of racing machinery ever built, surpassing even that of the pre-war Mercedes and Auto-Unions.”
Three were built, according to the museum’s director of communications, Mike Thomsen. The first, 29/1, was consigned to “test mule” status and painted green and yellow; the second, 29/2, was assigned to Gurney and painted white and blue with race number 91; the third, 29/3, was assigned to Clark and also painted green and yellow with race number 92.
On the first day of qualifications for the 1953 1963 Indy 500, Gurney wrecked 29/2 and by the end of that day had 29/1 on track using components from 29/2, according to Thomsen. He later qualified 12th, using race number 93, and took two qualification photos in 29/1: the first with the car still wearing its green paint scheme, the second wearing the white paint scheme from 29/2.
Due to excessive tire wear, Gurney — who at one point in the race ran in second place just behind Clark — fell back to finish in seventh place. Clark, however, hounded Parnelli Jones throughout the race and finished in second (some would say controversially, given USAC officials’ decision not to black-flag Jones for leaking oil on the track toward the end of the race). Later that year, Clark and Gurney, driving the same cars, placed first and third at the Milwaukee Mile, then qualified first and second at Trenton but both DNFd due to oil-line failures.
Despite the short racing history and the lack of a win at Indy, however, the Lotus 29 made history, both for proving that mid-engine cars could successfully compete and for being the last two cars to run carburetors in the Indy 500.
Both Gurney and Clark moved on to other cars for 1964, and Ford took ownership of 29/1 around the beginning of 1964. From there, the car’s history gets a little murky, Thomsen said. Bobby Marshman did campaign a Ford-owned Lotus 29 in the 1964 Indy 500 and later died after wrecking a Ford-owned Lotus 29, but Thomsen believes 29/1 remained entirely in Ford’s hands until the automaker donated it to the museum in the late 1980s or 1990s. (Though 29/2 didn’t race again in 1963, it was repaired and raced in 1964, according to Thomsen. The Barber Motorsports Museum‘s Lotus Collection does include a Lotus 29 in the Gurney livery; that car is 29/2, restored with race number 91.)
Nor does Thomsen know exactly how or why 29/1 obtained its current paint scheme and race number 92, intended to replicate Jim Clark’s 29/3. Regardless, both Thomsen and Smith said that 29/1 deserves to be put back to the configuration it was in when Gurney finished seventh in the Indy 500.
“It’s not like it’s any kind of surprise that it’s the Gurney car,” Thomsen said. “It just really comes down to ‘Are you gonna make it right or are you not?’ and I think this restoration project will be really exciting and interesting to a lot of people.”
Smith said that museum officials have estimated the cost of the restoration at about $90,000, though that will depend on what the museum’s in-house restoration staff discovers during the teardown of the car. “We know now that it needs new paint, a fuel cell, suspension work, and a rebuilt engine so we can get it running again,” she said.
The museum will also use the Lotus as a sort of experiment in how to raise funds for such restorations. “This organization has never traditionally asked the community for help, and we’d never be able to fund restorations by what we charge people who walk in the door,” she said. “We will reach out to the Lotus community, the Indianapolis community, and the wider racing community, and see what resources exist to help us out.”
In addition, Smith said that proceeds from the museum’s upcoming Hall of Fame banquet will go toward the Lotus’ restoration.
Though she said no deadline exists to complete the Lotus’ restoration, she would like it to wrap up by next year’s Hall of Fame banquet to show donors its transformation.
Once completed, the Lotus is expected to go on display at the museum, take to the track for exhibition laps, and possibly represent the museum at shows and other events.
The museum has not announced the other three cars it has chosen for restoration.
For more information on the Lotus’ restoration, visit IndyRacingMuseum.org.