Driving KPU 396C – Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina

Driver coach and Clark fan Andy McKenna
Driver coach and Clark fan Andy McKenna

A pause down the phone line from McKenna. That’s rare, as he’s never normally short of something to say. “It was pretty emotional. Plus that car is unique, it’s the first time I’ve ever had a concern about a car’s value. It was fantastic.”

If you’re a true Jim Clark fan, you’re not going to turn down the chance to drive one of the original Lotus Cortina race cars he drove in period. And when you find out that you’re going to be driving it at Knockhill in Scotland, on the 50th anniversary of Jim Clark winning the British saloon car championship, it becomes significant. Add in the fact that on the Thursday before, someone has kindly arranged to close the Forth Road Bridge to allow you to drive across in the car, alongside current BTCC racer Gordon Shedden for a press event celebrating fifty years of the Forth Road Bridge, then Fantastic and Emotional will probably start to cover it.

Andy McKenna is no stranger to Lotus Cortinas, he’s previously created a superb FIA appendix K car that’s still out there campaigning. He’s also a passionate Jim Clark fan, with an iPhone camera roll full of images and a home with limited edition prints and artwork of Clark on most walls. He’s also a professional racing driver, a driver coach of some talent, is known to several Gendarmes and is director of Ice Driver, so when the car’s owner, Andy Middlehurst, needed a driver, he ticks the right boxes.

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Driver coach and Clark fan Andy McKenna
Driver coach and Clark fan Andy McKenna

In 2014, it’s 50 years since Jim Clark won what was then the equivalent of the BTCC in a Lotus Cortina. To commemorate this, the organisers of the Knockhill round decided that having some Jim Clark racing cars on hand was essential. Andy Middlehurst agreed to bring his stunning BRM engined Lotus 43, plus possibly the most famous Clark Cortina, KPU 396C. Made famous by the skilled photography of late Michael Cooper, KPU is the Cortina in that iconic shot of Clark at Oulton Park, the car head on at the camera, just the right about of oversteer, headlights blazing in the true Clark style. Andy has that print on his wall. Time to head north.

Jim Clark Lotus Cortina KPU 306 Copyright Michael Cooper
Mr J Clark esq. Not breaking sweat. Copyright Michael Cooper

So, Thursday dawned to driving rain. On the Forth Road Bridge, you could only see a few hundred feet. Not looking good for a photo opportunity and yet, with fifteen minutes to go, the skies cleared revealing the full magnificence of the structure. “Driving over the bridge was utterly surreal. I’m sitting in an Ermine White car with a green stripe and number 89 on it. To one side of me, I’ve got a red estate car. One that looks like it’s crashed through a vinyl sticker shop and a well known car parts shop. I get branding and sponsorship, I understand it, I also get marketing and all that goes with the BTCC and I admire how it’s prospered over the years and grown so we know it works. But Ermine white with green stripe and subtle yellow writing of Team Lotus is all the branding I need. The only thing I’d have swapped for was the Lotus 43 ahead of me.”

His passenger was Wallace Guthrie, winner of the Autosport competition for the seat. “Being in the passenger seat of this car, driving over the Forth Road Bridge, is a unique thing. I was at Zandvoort in 67 when Jimmy won with the Lotus 49 first time out, so this is a special day for me.” Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more suitable recipient of the prize.

Autosport contest winner Wallace Guthrie - a worthy winner
Autosport contest winner Wallace Guthrie – a worthy winner

KPU 396C is one the cars raced by Jim Clark that season. Rescued from a Glasgow scrap yard in 1988 by Andy Middlehurst, he restored the car to it’s original livery. All of the advanced development parts were there, the mechanical injection Twin Cam, the modified front suspension and other unique features, enabling Andy to restore the car exactly as Jimmy raced it in final Group 5 spec. The car is part of Andy Middlehurst’s collection of Clark related cars. Like McKenna, he’s a life long Clark admirer and also races for Historic Team Lotus.

Saturday was supposed to be a day for a shakedown in advance of a series of passenger rides before the crowd on the Sunday. “It was of limited use because of the rain, 25 year old tyres gave hardy any grip, so I just used it to get comfortable with the car.” Sunday morning and the BTCC crowds were there in force. A dry track and more seat time. KPU 396C is a Group 5 Touring Car, the last of the Lotus Cortina developed cars, “The car felt very different from an Appendix K or road car. A road going Lotus Cortina is lovely, an Appendix K or Group 2 as it was known is better still but KPU is a Group 5 car and is clearly a racing car . I was impressed with how tractable the motor was with mechanical injection, start from cold with a squirt of fluid down the trumpets and that’s it. As long as there’s a bit of heat in it , she cracks up no problem. The side exit exhaust on the passenger side certainly makes it easy to hear!!! I didn’t rev it really hard, I was mindful of the long periods on inactivity it’s had recently. But past 4000rpm – 4500rpm it felt lovely like a good Lotus TwinCam should.”

Mechanical injection on the Lotus twin cam
Mechanical injection on the Lotus twin cam

“The front suspension is totally different to the earlier cars, the revised geometry running huge amounts of castor, so the steering really loads up in the slow corners. After a few laps, I began to load the suspension up and when the springs started to move it really came alive and just wanted to go faster and faster. The crowd were awesome. So many flash guns blazing, it felt like driving through a 1980’s Group B rally stage.”

You didn’t talk about it much beforehand, why was that? “Because it won’t about me, it was about Jimmy. It would have been easy to Tweet and so forth about what I was about to do, but I didn’t want to take anything away from his achievement. It wasn’t about me driving the car, it was about Jimmy, the Lotus Cortina and perhaps informing modern Touring Car spectators about his achievements. It was a wonderful few days and hopefully we managed to remind some younger fans of what a great driver Jimmy was.”

Neill Watson was talking to Andy McKenna. Images via Alison and Andy McKenna

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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