1959 LOTUS 16
By the time Lotus founder Colin Chapman built the first type 16 in 1958, the front-engined grand prix car was becoming an endangered species, with Jack Brabham and Cooper taking the first driver's championship for a mid-engined car in 1959. At that time, the 16 was fast and fragile, but since then, the car has come into its own, running sprint races on tighter tracks in vintage events. In owner Philip Walker's hands, chassis 368 even dukes it out with the Cooper that Brabham drove in 1959.
The 16 is a radical front-engined design, as you would expect from Chapman. It uses a spaceframe chassis with a Coventry Climax 2.5-liter twin-overhead-cam in-line four-cylinder engine canted over at seventeen degrees to reduce the frontal area. Instead of using a conventional transmission, the 16 has what was dubbed the "queerbox," featuring dog rings with a positive-stop motorcycle-type sequential operation. This was troublesome when the car was new, but it has been developed to the point where it is reasonably reliable. The 16 has control arms and coil springs at the front, with a Chapman strut and lower control arm at the back. Disc brakes are used all around.
The Lotus produced identical lap times to those of the Porsche at Donington and was very evenly matched in acceleration, cornering grip, and braking. It has pretty grippy tires, a low center of gravity, and a rearward weight bias, but the key to its speed is its 1327-pound weight-just 40 percent of the Porsche's.
Unlike in the ERA (and earlier F1 cars such as the Maserati 250F), you sit very low in the Lotus, with your left leg over the offset prop shaft, which is then angled to run alongside your hip. There is still lots of leg and elbow room and a large-diameter, thin-rimmed steering wheel, but you are enveloped by bodywork rather than perched above it. You can only just see the tops of the front tires, so you drive corner by corner and feel what the car is doing by the seat of your pants instead of relying on visual references.
The left-hand gearshift is simple to operate: forward to go up a gear, back to go down the five ratios. The higher the ratio, the longer the travel on the lever, which means it isn't the fastest gearshift ever. The Climax four-banger doesn't sound particularly memorable but has very usable power from around 3000 to 6500 rpm, and it ensures that the slippery Lotus goes very well down the straightaways.
In some ways, the Lotus feels the most modern of all the cars. The steering is light and superaccurate. It demands geometric precision rather than being flung into corners with your throttle foot sorting everything out. On turn-in, you get mild understeer, followed by neutral behavior with the application of power. The tail will come out, but the car doesn't like being driven that way and feels as if it would swap ends in an instant. The brakes, however, are superb, with great feel and feedback.
The 16 probably requires a better driver to get the most from it than does the ERA, which is actually quite friendly at the edge of its performance envelope. With the 16, the margins between going fast and falling off the black stuff are much narrower than with the ERA, but the limits are higher.