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My First Car: Lotus 7 build proved lucky number for Derek

PUBLISHED: 13:37 17 January 2016

Derek Wild build his first car, a Lotus 7, having bought it as rolling chassis with no engine or gearbox.

Derek Wild build his first car, a Lotus 7, having bought it as rolling chassis with no engine or gearbox.

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Derek Wild built his first car, a Lotus 7, and went on to enjoy a lifetime in motorsport.

I left school aged 15 and signed up for a five-year apprenticeship in the motor trade with Perry’s the main Ford dealer in North Finchley, London, about five miles from home.

We worked a normal week but had to attend Hendon Technical College one day a week. I graduated from using my bicycle to a small Francis Barnett motorcycle and then to borrowing my father’s Ford 100e Anglia which had lavish servicing as I could use the company’s facilities.

This car’s performance gradually increased as I managed to tweak it. I competed in the 750 Club driving tests at Crystal Palace and was surprised to win. Now I wanted a car of my own and let Mum and Dad have their’s back. I began to look around for a quicker form of transport.

In the showroom of a small garage I noticed the basics of a Lotus 7. I visited this showroom many times and also took my friends and parents along to view through the window – their perception of it was a load of aluminium junk!

Basically, the car was just about a rolling chassis with no engine or gearbox and without any weather equipment. I thought that this was quite a large project to take on but could be completed with a lot of hard work and much bargaining. My dad managed to give me a loan – possibly to get his car back – and I bargained with the garage owner and bought my own first load of car parts.

My friends were not impressed. One of my rugby-playing pals owned a small garage and workshop in Harrow and said I could work on my car there. Among his own cars was an SS Jaguar and a 100e engined Lotus II which could be driven on the road as well as competition and he let me take it to college one day – this was certainly a day to remember.

We towed the Lotus 7 back to his workshop and I started the build process which took many evenings and weekends to complete. I managed to persuade the works manager at Perry’s to sort out some engine and gearbox parts – these came from damaged cars and the works scrap heap. Gradually I managed to assemble the 100e engine and three-speed gearbox and fitted them into my car.

The Lotus 7 – designed by Colin Chapman – was a very light, basic car with no refinements such as heater, comfy seats, doors, hood, side screens or boot. It was just one step up from a motorcycle but the handling and performance was exhilarating. The body panels were made of thin aluminium which took a lot of cleaning to look good and I was again fortunate that Perry’s built many lorries, including those for removal firms, and had a large paint shop. One of the painters offered to paint my car so preparation began with much rubbing down and prima etching. The colours being used at this time was orange and grey and the finished car looked good.

I planned a trip to Yorkshire to visit relatives towards the end of the year and for the journey wore hat, gloves and duffle coat to try to keep from freezing but had to call into many cafes on route to thaw out. After this trip I soon bought a hood and side screens. One of the main problems with the 7 was rainwater seeping in which would rush to your feet when braking and back to your rear end on acceleration.

After finishing my apprenticeship I secured a job at Lotus in Cheshunt – handy for spares – little did I know at the time it would lead to a lifetime in motorsport.

We want to hear about your first car – where it was a memorable classic or a more modern motors. Send your memories of the car with a picture of it to motoring@archant.co.uk

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