by Bob Metz
(Originally written in July of 2003. Lotus, Ltd. had just celebrated its 30th birthday and the writer was asked to review the record of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the club thirty years ago. For this writer, who also just completed an “old home week” visit to Washington D.C., this was a nostalgia trip of remarkable impact.)
What was to become our present North American international club began as a simple get-together between two Europa owners in January 1973. Ken King and Jeff Anderson would meet to share their enthusiasm and swap stores of their ownership adventures – and to wonder if there were others “out there” who might enjoy some of the same camaraderie.
Ken was autocrossing a Europa in Washington, D.C.’s Championship Autocross series’ A/Modified class, and Jeff was running his stock Europa in the A/Prepared class. Joining these two was Tom Carter (known as T.C. or “Twin Cam” to his friends) in an immaculate Lotus Cortina. These three hatched a plot to found a club for like-minded souls, simply called “LOTUS!” By Match, they had found nineteen people who had given their names and phone numbers, and six of these had anted up $20 as charter dues. The group approached the Metropolitan Washington Council of Sports Car Clubs (MWCSCC – the area’s sanctioning body) for admission as a new club. The three founders had already entered and run the first Championship Autocross of the year with a total of ten Lotus owners present (though only four cars – evidently a typical circumstance for Lotus owners at the time).
T.C. was getting promotional flyers printed, and had already circulated the first issue (Vol. 1 No.1, dated March 1973) of the Lotus Letter, a simple single-sheet (at first) forerunner of ReMarque. Sadly, issue 1 also announced that Jeff was moving to Nebraska in two weeks so the founding club immediately lost 1/3 of its leadership!
By issue 2 (March 24) of the Lotus Letter, LOTUS! Was represented to the MWCSCC as a candidate club, recognized as a club team at that first Championship Autocross (finishing 13th of 14 clubs represented by full teams), and ambitiously planning to stage their own first-ever open autocross for the D.C. community within five weeks!
It was about this time that I had bought my first Lotus, a gorgeous ’69 European-delivery Europa, and therefore spoke strongly in favor to acceptance LOTUS! Into the MWCSCC, despite being a representative of another, non-marque club. It must have helped because as announced in issue 3, LOTUS! was a recognized member club of the MWCSCC. Subsequently, I began to show up as an activist in “our” new club. (Strange how the disease hits so suddenly).
By issue 4’s May 1st date, LOTUS! Was only five days away from staging that first autocross, dash plaques (even then, offered only rarely) were on order, club jackets were being researched, and a club party had been so successful that the buzz was already on for “Bash II.” And Ken King had already designed a form to collect data for a Service Reference File. At the time, we were averaging two meetings a month and the Lotus Letter was coming out nearly every two week sunder the (solo) hand of Tom Carter.
Carter was also the “O.D.” (officer-of-the-day, or chairman) of the autocross and by issue 5, the autocross was an unqualified success with 87 entrants and an excellent review in the Stopwatcher (a local sports-car weekly) by a writer who also sat on the Council’s Championship Autocross Committee – so we seemed well-assured of having a championship date given to us for our first year! By issue 5 we had also recruited a number of new and active members, including three (available) single women who were Lotus Europa owners and who either competed or worked the event and helped to make it a success. It didn’t hurt, either, that all three of them were gorgeous. We soon made one of them, Sharon Santullo, Membership Chair.
Our second party followed issue 5 (May 24) by only two weeks, and we had our first tech session scheduled at my shop (the Sports Car Center of Gaithersburg) for the following month, plus plans for a club run up to Watkins Glen for the Can-Am race in six weeks. Were we ambitious, or what?
Five days following June 11’s issue 6, we had our first tech session at my shop in the Maryland suburbs, followed by our third party hosted by Lynn Walker. Issue 6 also brought a report of our first “vendor discount” program with (no kidding) five suppliers offering discounts, including the most knowledgeable Lotus service shop in the area offering refunds of 10% on parts and service through the club on a monthly basis. (Of course my shop was one of the five.)
In issue 6 we also announced the ordering arrangements for club jackets, had Mylar Lotus logo stickers available, and had our first hint of classified ads and technical tips. We were casting about for a permanent meeting location that could accommodate a growing number of members – a search that would not be settled for a year or so.
Only July 25, issue 7 reported that our latest meeting at Ken King’s apartment had been a standing-room-only affair. We anticipated 30-40 active members within the next few months, so it was imperative to find a good meeting spot. I had been cornered to host a second tech session, and we were looking for talent to stage a second autocross within the next few weeks! We welcomed two new owners/members and counted an official, paid-up membership of 21. It was barely three months from our start as an “organization.”
I hosted the now traditional party-following-the-tech-session at my shop. The party was well attended by Lotus folk. I didn’t have to cook, as the Ms. Walker provided “fine” chili and someone else brought fried chicken (Col. Sanders’ as I recall – dubbed “Kentucky Fried Children” by one well-lubricated participant). Nancy Wilson brought cookies.
As the club grew we now represented every production Lotus in existence save one – the (original) Elite. We even had an actual “program” at our meetings. For example, as a precursor to the present LOG tech sessions, a presentation from the motorsport division of Renault provided valuable information to the Europa contingents.
The opening item in issue 9 on August 6th was the announcement that I had gained a large inventory of Europa parts at the expense of wiping out my lovely car. T.C. noted, “Your scribe happened to chance upon the car and…Bob was most fortunate to walk away relatively unscathed.”
We were finally ready to order those club jackets – at double the original estimate (sounds like Lotus, doesn’t it?) and started planning our first-annual trip to the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen to watch Emerson Fittipaldi pass the French-blue 12-cylinder Matra. Since there was a “good chance of a parade lap on the circuit,” so we were advised to break out the Classic Wax (and spares).
Issue 10 (August 24) pronounced that the previous meeting was a “disaster” (only seven members showed) and admonished people to come. The meetings were still at Ken’s place, so it may have been a case of people being weary of standing through a meeting. Still things were not all bad, Bill Scott (who is now owner of Summit Point Raceway) came to offer our first “track discount program.” We were invited to come out with our own cars, and for a total of $175 and two days on the track at Scott’s school, we could earn an IMSA license!
The first Car-for-Sale classified appeared in issue 10 (and I week at the price): a ’68 Elan SE/SS FHC with a nicely prepped engine and extras for “offers around $2,400.” Issue 10 also announced that my Sports Car Center was too closed and I had “retired!” The First Annual Lotus Pool Party and Barbecue (FALPPB) was moved one week later in September with the “rumor” of coverage by Wide World of Sports, “so get that extra Lotus patch sewn on your bathing suit!”
By September we were looking for a place to hold an open autocross in November. I had volunteered a gimmick rally for the club and needed a show of hands for participants (the event eventually set a “first” for the club – more later). General elections were to be held at the second meeting in September, at Ken King’s place. The classifieds featured more leftover parts from my first car…
Issue 12, dated October 1, announced “LOTUS has finally found a home!” Meetings and tech sessions were to be held at my new place, Universal Import’s Sports Car Store in Rockville. We had expended much effort to find a restaurant home for our meetings – to no avail. The election meeting at Ken King’s was sparsely attended (only ten came), so elections were re-scheduled for October. We had a first-ever “archives article” (one paragraph) on the evolution of the Europa. Finally, we included a questionnaire to find out what people wanted of their new club (now seven months old!).
Issue 13 (October 23) proclaimed our new officers. Tom Carter was our first new elected president (Ken had been our Chairman by acclamation), and also filled two other seats. A name had not heard in the Lotus Letter up to this point was voted Recording Secretary: Mark Winston (who was later to excel in the role of Editor of reMarque). Ken King stayed active as P.R. Director and Alternate Council Representative. Everyone agreed “the charter administration paved the way for the club, with most of the paving done by Ken.” A By-laws meeting was announced for the next month (uh-oh, real work).
Dated November 22, issue 14 announced our incorporation as a “limited liability corporation” and the subsequent name change to Lotus Ltd. I had prepared the Articles of Incorporation and submitted them to the Maryland Secretary of State. The By-laws meeting was moved to December to give people time to consider further what they wanted their club to be.
For a head start on consideration for the By-laws, we published the results of the questionnaire. Parts and mechanical advice were the over-whelming reason for people to join; association with other marque owners was a weak second; parties (which were a big success that year) were dead last on the list of priorities. Frequency of meetings was – again overwhelmingly – chosen to be once per month – Thursday nights the choice of 75%; the average member had five hours per month to devote to the club. We decided that we must’ve had a number of hot-shoes in the club – competitive driving skill was the number one contribution people felt they had to offer; still, there was a good spread of others: mechanical knowledge, etc. We unanimously chose to elect officers annually, and election of committee chairs was preferred over appointments. Over half the members claimed to attend more than 80% of meetings. It seemed likely at the time that if you sold your Lotus, you’d be relegated to “associate” status, with no vote (What if you crashed and totaled it?)
As an interesting sign of the times, the MWCSCC requested that clubs discuss the impact of the energy crisis on the sports car community and enhancement of public image.
And finally, a series of winter autocrosses were announced, sponsored by the Mason-Dixon Sports Car Club in Thurmont, Maryland (west of Frederick). At this point I should point out something for those of you that autocross. Think about it, autocrossing in January and February in the northwest corner of Maryland. Yes, we ran in the snow. Even a couple of Loti – talk of die-hards. Despite the weather, these winter events were a resounding success for many years.
Thus ended the first calendar year of your club. Vol. 2 No. 1 of the Lotus Letter appeared in March 1974, the club’s first birthday. In a future issue we’ll look at year two.