Jim Clark interview In 1964, Clark talked about his Radford Lotus Elan - and your driving
In October 1964, Jim Clark spoke to Small Car magazine – which soon became CAR – about his road driving technique, his opinions on the average motorist, and his Radford Lotus Elan.
Jim Clark: ‘My Kind Of Driving – Your Kind, Too’
Cars in every shape and form are an inextricable part of Jim Clark’s life. He’s never tried to work out how many miles he covers each year on the circuits themselves, but he does know that in 1963 he drove at least 40,000 miles as an ordinary road user. That included some 20,000 in his own lotus Elan. His first Elan has given place to a £2000 luxury hardtop version specially built at the Lotus factory and converted by Harold Radford, a Rolls-Royce and Bentley coachbuilder.
‘My latest road car is basically a standard Lotus Elan hardtop model prepared for me at the Cheshunt factory,’ says Clark. ‘But after Lotus had finished with it, it went to Radford for some interior modifications. I drove my original Elan for thousands of miles and I was pleased with its performance and comfort. I learned a lot from that first car and I decided to incorporate some of my own ideas to make the replacement even quieter and more comfortable. I had all the interior trim stripped out and replaced with Cirrus elasticised PVC.
Then I ordered deep pile carpets, special seats and electric windows. Spending most of your life in the cockpit of a racing car makes you extremely careful about instrumentation. I had a new dash panel made up with the gauges and dials countersunk for easier reading and an extra console centrally mounted behind the gear lever for the electric window switches. Then finally the car got a £150 paint finish. I’m the owner now of a remarkably attractive and extremely practical road vehicle. I’ve already done 4000 miles in it.
‘At the moment the engine is standard but as soon as I get a moment I’m going to have it brought up to Special Equipment specification, which includes modifications like high-lift cams. Then it’ll be a personalised version of what is a very good car, particularly useful to my requirements for high-speed touring.
‘Every racing driver is constantly anticipating and thinking ahead far further than he can see. On any one lap he’s already attuning his mind for the next one. He’s always on the lookout for a warning slick of oil, or a shower of rain. He’s observing the actions of his rivals and adapting his driving to match the situation. I think anticipation is the key to better driving on the road, too. I’m certain many of today’s tragic road accidents could be avoided if road users trained themselves to spot danger signals in time. A child wobbling down the road ahead on an oversize bicycle. Somebody suddenly opening a car door onto the off-side. Traffic lights two blocks away changing from green to red. An old person crossing the road. They’re all indications that traffic will either stop abruptly or take avoiding action. A good driver is alert to any of these hazards.
‘Gearchanging and braking become second nature to a racing driver, but again it’s anticipation that matters most. Gearchanges should always be smooth. Made in plenty of time so the car is in the right gear for any corner in advance. I think many drivers are inclined to overbrake, so that the wheels lock and upset the efficiency of the brakes. The whole essence of good road driving should be to move and stop without conspicuous effort. There’s nothing worse than being passenger in a car that’s being driven like a runaway rollercoaster.
It probably means the driver isn’t concentrating. ‘As a racing driver, I’m used to scanning the vital instruments without taking my eyes off the road. Ordinary drivers could practice that too. And it’s still possible to carry on conversation on the road without frantic arm gestures or turning your head.’
Clark’s Radford-converted Lotus Elan hardtop is used mostly for night-time dashes between his London office and his farm near Duns in Berwickshire. Non-standard features include a special off-white paint finish. Steering wheel rim and boss are all black leather and the rest of the car is retrimmed in top quality red and black vinyl fabric. A padded boot floor keeps noise down, and there’s a thick wad of reflective sound deadening material under the bonnet.
‘There’s even more need for care than normally when driving in bad weather and at night. For example, you should clean your windscreen first, as well as the rear window and the glasses of the lamps. I should like to see a law passed for all manufacturers to fit windscreen washers and headlamp flashers as standard equipment. They’re extras on many cars. I think they’re essential.
‘From long-distance driving in the Elan, I’ve learned that your car must be fit for the trip. Oil and water must be up to the mark, petrol tank and a reserve can filled, and tyre pressures right for your load and speeds. I always like to plot my route in advance to avoid major towns and bottlenecks. I make sure I have the right maps with me. I think clothing is important, too, so you feel comfortable and relaxed all the time. That cuts down fatigue.
‘Drink and driving obviously don’t mix and I always avoid a heavy meal before a long drive. Far better to have a light snack and then stop later for refreshment. It helps to break the journey anyway. I find chewing a boiled sweet helps keep me alert.’
Clark’s Elan is equipped with seatbelts. ‘I think they’re essential equipment in passenger cars. I would never fit them in an open sports-racer, but I do recommend them for the road. ‘Compared to some I’ve seen in other countries, British drivers are quite good. But there’s quite a lot of room for improvement. I think our road users lack confidence in themselves. That leaves them hesitant and floundering. Once they’ve passed the test, few of them make any serious attempt at learning the finer points. With the roads as crowded as they are today and the number of new vehicles increasing every year it’s vital that our drivers should be efficient operators in any situation.
‘I want to suggest that the three words to remember for everyday driving should be anticipation, smoothness and tolerance. That should help anyone drive better and live longer.’
Even as World Champion, Clark was keen to better his road-driving skills – and pass his learnings on.