Skip to main content

Lotus 56B

Lotus 56B 1970s F1 car

The 56B was yet another 'envelope-pusher' from Lotus boss Colin Chapman. Powered by a turbine engine - supplied by Pratt and Whitney - it was to be a new departure for F1. The car had its beginnings in Indianapolis, America. Chapman entered the STP-Paxton turbo car in the '67 Indy 500. It performed well. Driver Parnelli Jones would have won the famous race - had he not broken down, just yards before the chequered flag. Nothing daunted, Chapman returned to Indy in '68. With backing from STP's Andy Granatelli, Chapman hired Maurice Phillipe to design the '56' car. Sadly, Chapman was to experience an unpleasant case of déja vu. Pilot Joe Leonard also broke down, with victory as good as in the bag.

With luck like that, maybe it was time to try another race series! In any event, the American powers that be then banned turbine-powered cars. Chapman decided to move to F1. Sticking with the turbine power the Lotus 56 had pioneered, the 56B was ready for the start of the '71 season. It would have appeared the previous year - but for the death of driver Jochen Rindt, at Monza. Understandably, that threw a spanner in the works of the 56B's development schedule. But - with Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel - Chapman's latest creation duly rolled onto the grid for the Race of Champions, at England's Brands Hatch circuit. Things did not go well. The 56B bottomed out so much it snapped its suspension. It then crashed out at Oulton Park. Next stop Silverstone - where the 56B started on the front row, for the International Trophy. The first heat did for the suspension again. Fittipaldi, though, finished third second time out.

These initial outings were non-World Championship events. F1 'friendlies', as it were. The 56B's first race that mattered was the '71 Dutch GP. Driver Dave Walker started from the back of the grid - and on a wet track. By the fifth lap, though, he was up to tenth ... notwithstanding turbine throttle lag. Chapman - and the rest of the Lotus team - must have been cock-a-hoop! Unfortunately, it was not to last. Walker subsequently slid off the track - at the Tarzan hairpin. At Monza - a year on from Rindt's fatal accident - the 56B ended up eighth. At Hockenheim - in another non-championship race - Fittipaldi placed second. And that was pretty much it for the Lotus 56B. Ultimately, interest in it lay more in the technical elements of its fabled '70s 'turbo car' power delivery, than in its F1 points tally.


Popular posts from this blog

Chrysler Airflow

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! The lines of its bodywork were drawn from aerodynamics - at a time when that discipline was a mere glint in a boffin's eye! Certainly, it was far from being routinely used in automotive design. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgling craft. A 'wind tunnel' was duly developed. Even today, such systems are considered arcane ... but, in the early '30s, they were tantamount to a black art! The engineering wizards overseeing the project were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton. Breer was the catalyst ... he had been first to be smitten by the science of aerodynamics. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when Orville Wright - father of aviation - was brought on board! More than 50 test cars were built. By means, then, of painstaking refinements, the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.But the Airflow was not just about aerodynamics. 'Weight lo…

NSU Ro80

The styling of the NSU Ro80 was ahead of its time. At first glance, masses of glass were straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile - giving it a low front, high back stance - which would influence automotive design for years to come. The 5-seater body was supremely aerodynamic for a saloon car - making cruising at speed a breeze. So flawless was it outwardly that it was hardly touched in ten years of production. Just the tail-lights were modified, on later versions.The Ro80's handling was equally impressive. FWD - and precision power-steering - kept it perfectly pointed. The long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. High-efficiency disc brakes were fitted all round. The 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through the gears with aplomb. Top speed was a sound 112mph.But, of course, nothing is perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get the car into showroom…

FN Four

In terms of breakthroughs in the history of motorcycling, there cannot be many to rival the first in-line four engine. Belgium was the birthplace of this landmark layout. FN was the much-to-be-thanked manufacturer.The FN Four first hit the highway in 1911. It produced 4bhp. That, from a 491 cc capacity. At the time, such figures described state-of-the-art technology. Top speed for the FN Four was 40mph. Not bad - for an 8-valve inlet-over-exhaust set-up. Oh, it was air-cooled.The FN Four was light - tipping the scales at 165lb dry. Not only the motor, but the chassis, too, was avant-garde. It featured an early form of telescopic forks. A new-fangled clutch - and 2-speed 'box - only added to the FN Four's slick box of tricks. Solid shaft-drive output the power. Who, then, designed this visionary vintage? You will not hear the name Paul Kelekom shouted from motorcycling's rooftops. But, you should - for it was he who fashioned the FN Four. In so doing, he ki…