Iconic Lotus 79 back on track
Matthew SparkesDuring its heyday the Norfolk-designed car nicknamed Black Beauty won two Grand Prix and helped drive racing legend Mario Andretti to a world championship win - now it is back omn track after 30 years.Matthew Sparkes
During its heyday the Norfolk-designed car nicknamed Black Beauty won seven Grands Prix races and helped drive racing legend Mario Andretti to a world championship win in 1978.
But after it was replaced with a newer model it sat forlornly in a warehouse, gathering dust for almost 30 years. Now this piece of motorsport history has been revived, restored and raced - thanks to Hethel-based firm Classic Team Lotus.
The 1978 Lotus type 79, one of only five made, went through 1,200 hours of restoration to get it race-ready for the Historic Formula One Championship.
Funding the restoration was Californian Chris Locke, who will be driving the car in the retro-racing events.
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Over the weekend the car was transported to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for its first competition in almost three decades, where it earned a podium place by coming second in its class.
Clive Chapman, managing director of Classic Team Lotus and son of Lotus Cars founder Colin, said: "It was in original condition, but it was fairly tired, so we had to have a complete strip down and rebuild. It attracted a huge amount of attention."
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Because of its rarity it is difficult to put a value on the car, but Mr Chapman estimates that it is worth "hundreds of thousands of pounds".
"Putting them out on the track is nerve-racking," he said. "The drivers are aware that if they crash it they've got to pay for it."
The restoration was all carried out locally, by Classic Team Lotus mechanics Kevin Smith and Lewis Cullington.
Even its iconic black-and-gold John Player Special advertising livery, which has seen it voted the most beautiful F1 car in magazine polls, was a Norfolk effort.
Norwich craftsman Paul Banham was called in to repaint the car some 30 years after painting the original graphics by hand.