The Lotus 17 was the successor to the 11 and incorporated many of the features that made the 11 so successful. Chapman sketched out the idea for the 17 and Len Terry designed it.
The chassis was a complex space frame construction with strut type suspension both front and rear. The front suspension would later prove to be its achilles heel. The body was fibre glass sitting on conventional alloy sills and floor pan. The sills, floor pan and transmission tunnel also gave torsional strength to the car. The tiny slippery body shape was also Len’s design.
The success of this car was based on being light and having a very small frontal area. The homologation weight was just 360 kg. This was achieved by components having a dual purpose. For instance, the wheel bearings were fitted in the wheel, removing the need of a separate hub. This idea was also used on the 11. However the pig’s ear was the front strut type suspension. This eradicated the need for a top wishbone and a suspension upright saving a considerable amount of weight.
Chapman’s relationship with Len Terry was always stressful as both men were extremely demanding and unwilling to compromise. Len told Chapman, the ‘Chapman’ front strut would not work. He was correct in his warning. However, knowing Len I am sure he could have been more diplomatic. Len tested the car and again pushed the point that the strut was a poor design. The relationship was failing.
Chapman then heard Terry was redesigning the suspension on a customer’s car outside of the Lotus company and he was also working on other projects. Unhappy about this Chapman fired Len recalled the cars and modified them. Nevertheless it was too late; Eric Broadley’s Lola MK1 was simply a better car and was winning.
Chapman then lost interest in the small engined sports cars and concentrated on the larger Lotus 19 and the new Formula Juniors.
In recent years ATME have transformed this car. It is now the car Chapman and Len wanted, beating all of the Lolo’s, dominating the small classes, beating the large capacity cars and regularly being placed on the podium. It is nicknamed “the giant killer”. Len occasionally visits the circuits and sees his car win. He also tells some great tales.
Len is now in his eighties but is fit and healthy, regularly cycling around his local roads. He is also happy to pass on his knowledge and gives me advice whenever I ask.