25 British cars to drive before you die: 18) Lotus 49, CAR+ September 2015

Published: 26 August 2015

► Lotus 49 F1 car takes #18
► The first perfect F1 car
► Ben Miller on its import 

As Grand Prix racing’s complex equation of innovation, regulation and collaboration has shifted, so various machines have dominated the sport; the Honda-powered McLarens of the late ’80s, Adrian Newey’s almost-autonomous Williams FW14B, Maranello’s screaming Bridgestone-shod V10s of the Schumacher era. All made their mark and shaped F1’s future to some extent, but the remarkable Lotus 49 perhaps best represents the kind of perfect storm required to first establish inarguable supremacy, and to then drag the whole grid up to a new plane of speed. 

From the gifted brains at Lotus came an impossibly tight origami of sheet aluminium, the dimensions of which are sufficient – just – to hold the necessary fuel and recumbent homo sapien, with not a gram of superfluous material. Bolted to it and essentially forming the back half of the car, the DFV, the bespoke Cosworth-developed V8 of unrivalled specific output that would soundtrack the sport’s last days of pre-sponsor, pre-wing purity, before going on to power much of the grid for decades to come.

The car debuted at the 1967 Dutch GP and recorded a clean sweep of pole, fastest lap and win. For the rest of season no other car would best the 49 in qualifying. The car you see here, chassis R10, is the ’68 49B in which Graham Hill won two Monaco GPs (’68 and ’69).  

‘It’s such a tiny, fragile and compact car,’ explains Martin Brundle, who made his 1984 F1 debut in a car powered by a Ford V8 closely related to the 49’s DFV. ‘It’s a little daunting too, and I couldn’t put my finger on why until days after I drove it – essentially it’s because the engine was ten years ahead of the chassis.

‘It feels like there’s nothing in front of you and an awful lot of performance behind you. To drive, it’s light and nimble, and the DFV’s lovely and tractable. On the throttle the thing’s always sliding across the road but it’s balanced; the front and rear tyres drift in unison. You can see why Clark and Hill must have so enjoyed just turning up and thrashing everyone in their 49s.’ 

Produced: 1967-1971
Price at launch: n/a:
Value now: £750,000:
Engine: 2993cc V8, 408bhp @ 9000rpm, 270lb ft @ 7000rpm:
Performance: n/a 0-62mph, 180mph

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three