The mythical Lotus Can-Am racer realised as a £1million trackday car

14th April 2024
Adam Wilkins

Here’s one they didn’t make earlier. In 1969, Lotus explored the idea of entering Can-Am for the 1970 season and got as far as making technical drawings of what would have become the Type 66. The plans, however, were shelved in favour of focusing on Formula One. And when we say ‘shelved’, we mean put in a drawer and forgotten about.


Let’s rewind to 1969. Colin Chapman was coming under pressure from the American market to enter Can-Am, so he handed draughtsman Geoff Ferris the task of designing a car suitable for the no-holds-barred championship. At the time, though, much of Team Lotus’s resources were being used for its highly successful F1 proposal. The Type 66 drawings were filed away and not thought about until Clive Chapman happened to find them while looking for something else.

“I spoke to [Head of Design] Russell Car over the road [at Lotus Cars] and they were starting to get into 3D modelling,” says Clive. “I presented the schemes to Russ and asked if he could come with up with something so we could see what it looks like because we just had the plans and elevations.” This was back in 2015, and Motor Sport ran a story on the car as part of a Can-Am anniversary celebration.

And for a while, that was that. When Simon Lane joined Lotus Advanced Performance as Director in 2022, he was looking for ways to celebrate the marque’s 75th anniversary in 2024. “I found a model in our design studio,” he says. “I went to the exec team and I said ‘I really think we should create this car to launch in 2023 for our 75th anniversary’.”

Only ten cars will be built – the number reflecting the number of rounds in the 1970 Can-Am championship – and they’re priced at more than £1million apiece. Deliveries start next year, and owners will be invited to drive the track-only cars at Classic Team Lotus’s regular programme of test days.


Classic Team Lotus remained involved throughout the project, and Clive had one key stipulation. “I said if you’re going to do it, it really needs to be faithful to Colin’s drawings and, while you have the opportunity, and certainly Colin would have taken it, to use all the modern technology underneath.” And then started the debate about where to draw the line between originality and modernity. In the end, that delineation was drawn between what you can see and what you can’t. Outwardly, the Type 66 is true to the car that could have raced in 1970. Under the skin, it’s all new.

Lotus innovation is apparent at first glance. Side-mounted radiators, borrowed from the Type 72 F1 car, would have been unique at the time, as would its front wing. And that aero had function to match its form. “We’ve now done over 1,000 hours of CFD work on it to make sure it all performs correctly,” says Simon Lane. “It develops just over 800kg of downforce at 150mph.”

Clive Chapman adds: “It’s pretty much a Lotus Type 72 Can-Am car really with the side-mounted radiators, front wing which was a unique feature for a Can-Am car back then, so aero wise with the big tail as well it was going to be unique so really important to capture that. We wanted to really represent the car as it was going to be on the outside, particularly because the aero was so interesting.” The period appearance continues in the cockpit. Smiths instruments with the rev-counter rotated sideways look the part, as does the wooden-knobbed gearlever that gives the impression of an H-gate. 

When it comes to the bodywork, the old-school look is only as deep as the Gold Leaf-inspired paintwork. Scratch through that, though, and you’ll discover that the bodywork is made from carbon-fibre. Keep burrowing and you’ll uncover an extruded and bonded aluminium chassis akin to those of Lotus road cars. Driver aids also come within the scope of the updates. “We had a big debate [about the gearbox],” says Lane. “Do we put an H-gate in and stay faithful to the original car, or do we put a sequential in? We all agreed that, because it’s a track car and because it has so much power and so much potential performance, actually it’s going to be a lot more fun to drive with a sequential gearbox.”


Add in traction control, race ABS, an anti-stall clutch and power steering, and the 900kg machine with more than 830PS (610kW) will be easier to tame than an unforgiving Can-Am car from the period. “The original cars are fabulous of course, but to drive one of them is a real challenge,” says Clive Chapman. Simulations to date have seen the Type 66 having GT3 race car level performance on offer, with all the accessibility of a modern performance car.

The aforementioned V8 engine is of undisclosed origin and displaces 5.8 litres. It also produces 120dB, which will necessitate the optional additional silencers for some venues. The sound, though, was an important part of the package and we’re talking induction as much as exhaust. “We loved the funky trumpets of the original,” says Clive, “so we had to have those. You’ve got to have the stack.”

There are two visual clues that the Type 66 is a new car. One is the introduction of a crash structure at the front of the car, which necessitated an extension of the wheelbase. As was typical of the era, the original car would have placed the driver’s feet ahead of the front axle which wouldn’t be acceptable in a new car. The other is that the word Lotus on the rear wing is exposed carbonfibre rather than paint, giving a hint at the new technology hidden beneath. 

Neither detracts from the Can-Am spirit of the Type 66. Parked in a paddock filled with Can-Am cars at the 81st Members’ Meeting presented by Audrain Motorsport, it blended naturally into the pack looking every inch the real deal.

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