The Car In The Lobby: James Dean’s Lotus Mark X
At Motorsport UK’s Bicester Headquarters, a regular cycle of cars, kindly offered by their owners, are proudly displayed in the lobby.
Every display car has its own story and through this new content series, we will profile the cars that pass through our lobby on our website and new Instagram account – www.instagram.com/carinthelobby/. If you’re visiting Motorsport UK’s Headquarters, then get involved on Instagram using #carinthelobby.
In this edition of the #carinthelobby, we profile James Dean’s Lotus Mark X, a car he ordered but never had the opportunity to race.
Having had multiple owners from 1955 to 1985, with a variety of chassis and engine modifications, the Lotus Mark X has recently been restored as Dean had intended.
The display at Motorsport UK is the first time the car has been seen publicly in more than 60-years.
James Dean and motorsport
James Dean discovered motor racing at the same time the public discovered him as a budding young film star in 1954. Having received an advance for his work in East of Eden, Dean purchased a Triumph T110 motorbike which he shortly replaced with an MG TD which was later traded for a Porsche 356 Speedster.
Dean obtained a California Sports Car Club racing licence and during filming of Rebel Without a Cause he won the F-Production class at the Palm Springs Road Race.
During the filming of Giant, although the Director had forbidden Dean’s participation in motorsport that did not stop him, and he competed in the Santa Barbara Road Race.
A piston failure on the fifth lap meant he dropped out and throughout the rest of the meeting Dean spoke to other drivers. After a conversation with Ken Miles, he decided to buy one of the new streamlined Lotus’s.
The highly innovative streamlined, small capacity, lightweight Lotus’s giant killing reputation had reached the USA. The streamlined bodywork was calculated by aerodynamicist Frank Costin (who’s brother Mike would become the ‘Cos’ of Cosworth) and gave the cars a 20mph increase in top speed over similarly powered un-streamlined cars.
The Lotus was supplied without engine and gearbox so that he could install an Offenhauser engine, as was being used with some success in American sports car races.
It was unpainted since the notoriously indecisive Dean could not decide whether to paint the car or polish it.
Unlike the five other Lotus X’s, this example did not have the newly developed Dunlop disc brakes, because Dunlop would not allow them to be fitted on exported cars.
Dean was tragically killed on 30 September 1955 before he had an opportunity to race the Lotus.
The journey of the Lotus
The Lotus was sold to John Timanus who fitted an MG XPAG engine and gearbox. Now painted red, on 23 June 1956 Timanus took the car to the First Running LA County Fairgrounds Pomona Road Race where it competed for the first time.
At the Second Running Pomona Road Races on 20 October 1956, Timanus had an accident that saw the nose badly damaged.
Restyled for the 1957 season, and fitted with a 1460cc Coventry Climax FWB motor, Timanus finished fifth at Santa Barbara. Looking to increase the performance he supercharged the engine with a Marshal/Nordec Rootes type supercharger.
Raced through the 1958 season with cooling slots added to cope with the power of the engine and the Californian heat, the car was stripped of its paint. Throughout 1959 and early 1960, the car ran with bare bodywork as Dean had originally intended.
By July 1960 the Lotus was fitted with new simplified bodywork and a 1098cc Coventry Climax FWA engine and was described as a Lotus Formula 2 by Timanus.
Rebodied again for 1961, Timanus now called the car the Lotus Manx and was still achieving success on the track, securing several overall victories.
In 1962, the Lotus was sold to Stan Peterson who fitted a B.O.P. V8 engine and Corvette T-10 gearbox. Initially kept in bare aluminium, he later painted it maroon and then green. Peterson had some success racing the Lotus but sold it to Preston Hopkins for his son Reilly to race, however he would barely use the car and the engine and gearbox were removed.
In 1979 the car was sold, without engine & gearbox to Chris Smith.
In 1985 the original chassis and other components passed to Graham Capel who commissioned replacement Lotus Mark X panels from Williams & Pritchard, who had made the original.
In 2000 the project passed to its current owner, who then set about finding an Offenhauser engine as Dean had originally intended fitting and commenced a rather lengthy restoration…
First time viewed publicly in more than 60-years; the current iteration is exactly as Dean had visioned.
The chassis has been fully restored by notable Lotus restorer Mike Brotherwood. After an Offenhauser engine and MG TC gearbox was sourced, famed engine builder Stuart Rolt rebuilt the engine with Liaz Jakhara completing the assembly work. Simon Diffey has just taken it to the Goodwood Members Meeting and is hoping to drive it at the Festival of Speed and in the new HSCC drum braked sportscar series.
The polished aluminium bodywork displays Dean’s permanent SCCA race number of 130 on the bonnet and his name is proudly sported on the side alongside his agent and crew chief, Dick Clayton.
The Mobil Pegasus’s on the front wings are an example of early motor racing supplier sponsorship and appeared on many SCCA racing cars, including Dean’s, and the minor decals are typical of American racing of the period.
Chassis: Steel spaceframe (which only weighs 35kg) with aluminium bodywork.
Front suspension: Swing axle (split Ford 8/10) with coil-over dampers
Rear suspension: De-Dion with coil-over dampers and inboard brakes
Engine: Offenhauser, 4 cylinder, 1500cc DOHC, 130 BHp.
Gearbox: MG TC, 4 speed close ratio.
Weight: 500 Kg
Wheels: 4” x 15”, 48 spoke Dunlop wire wheels.
Race tyres: Dunlop Racing 4.50×15 front, 5.25×15 rear.