My association with Team Lotus covered the period from October 1975 until May 1984. After the second season, and particularly after we lost Ronnie, I had started to get on with other parts of my life. I was still involved with Team Lotus on a race-to-race basis, depending on my availability and their needs, and sort of became a super-lurker, meaning I’d be taken care of with food and lodging when I was at the racetrack because I knew the program, I was part of it, but I pretty much had to pay my own way to get there.
At the beginning of the ’81 season, South Africa had been cancelled due to the potential breakup between FOCA and FISA, so Long Beach became the first event of that year. The race was scheduled for March 15, but on the Sunday before, I’m in my flat in Long Beach,and out of the blue I get a phone call from Lotus team manager Peter Collins telling me to go rent a box truck because “we have a pickup to make and I’ll give you the particulars when it’s all set up.” I asked what size, and he said “big enough to put a racecar in.” So I said OK, and Monday I went, with my own money, and rented a two-axle truck that didn’t require a commercial license.
After I got the truck I was told to go collect the car Monday night at LAX. Team Lotus had pre-cleared the car with customs and identified me as the person to sign for and collect the car. The car was on an aluminum pallet and they simply took a big forklift, lifted up the pallet and we were able to roll the car directly into the back of the truck. I took some 4×4 blocks and nailed them right to the truck’s wooden floor to hold the car in place as there was no provision for tying it down inside the truck. I peeked at it, of course, and it was a strange looking car, with the driver sitting way forward as they were doing then, and I thought: “Golly WOW, what are all these little springs?”
So that night the car was sitting in the truck, in front of my apartment, and nobody knew what was inside. During the day on Tuesday I tied it down better and early Wednesday morning I drove out to Riverside, getting there so early that nobody was there yet, not even security, so I just drove in unobstructed to the garage area. I was met there by Peter Collins, Nigel Stepney, Peter Wright and a South African mechanic named Geoff Hardacre. Our first problem was getting the car out of the truck, because we didn’t have any ramps. So we wandered around the garage area and found an old-style hydraulic car hoist at the end of one of the rows of garages. We took the truck over, raised up the lift gate and then put boards on the hoist and rolled the car onto the boards. Here’s a million-dollar racecar precariously hanging with its rear wheels on a hydraulic lift and its front wheels on the lift gate of a box truck.
So, with somebody on every corner, all hands on deck, we lowered it, and to our shocked amazement got it down onto the ground and were able to roll it off the lift and into one of the garage stalls to begin prepping it to run. Shortly after we pushed it out to the pit wall our driver, Elio de Angelis, arrived. Peter Collins and Peter Wright made a reconnaissance lap of the track in their rental car to see if it was clear. When they came back in Elio went out and started knocking off laps, coming in to discuss everything since this was the very first time the car had run, other than a brief shakedown at Hethel, in the UK, for a leak test and to see if the wheels stayed on.
Although they didn’t necessarily articulate it, I don’t think they fully understood what they were trying to do with the car, but they did know it wasn’t fast. It had issues. They played around with front cambers, toe-ins, trying different castor-camber adjustments trying to get the car to turn in and have some front bite. Sometimes it would push and others we would get snap oversteer.