Well, The Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival has come and gone for another year but has left a lot of great memories behind (as usual).
How about a great Elan barn find in the flea market (running, and with great patina!) along with an E-type and a Morgan in comparable shape. Got to ride shotgun for a lap or two of the LR circuit in an '64 Elan S1 in the Lotus parade with about a dozen other "Loti" and got to talk with many other Lotus friends and enthusiasts (more on that later!).
As I mentioned previously my goal was to meet up with Lotus East distributor Fred Stevenson to see if he remembered anything about the JPS Europa Specials from the 1970's. As I had anticipated, I did find Fred in the flea market again this year, set up with all his various Lotus wears (some VERY exclusive -and expensive- mementos left over from his Lotus East days. When the moment was right I casually struck up a conversation with him about the JPS cars and the early days of the Dutchess Motor Company and Lotus East.
First of all, I thought Dutchess was Fred's baby. Wrong. Fred was just an employee working for Dutchess and Lotus East, in charge of setting up Lotus franchises from Maine to Florida, in charge of Lotus Racing in the US and middleman between budding dealers and Dutchess. Fred also has an extensive racing history. He was in the thick of it all from the mid 60's until about 1980.
Anyway, in enquiring about the Lotus street cars, this were his responses:
About the JPS "upgrade" packages for already-built black Europa Specials on dealers lots (-at this question Fred thinking hard, looking confused, somewhat amazed): No such thing, never heard of an "upgrade package". All JPS cars were built at the factory (ALL of them black with gold carriage stripes) and ORDERED from the factory, no retrofitting by Lotus or the dealers. Dutchess never was swamped with cars (as Bob Challman was in the early days of the Lotus Elite). And all cars were on a need-to-order basis.
How many built? Fred did not remember but thought it was about 400 worldwide!
The difference between a JPS and a Europa Special? Absolutely none (Fred laughs), just the little numbered badge on the dash (applied at the factory)! That-was-it!
About the rumor of gold rocker panels: "No, no gold rocker panels on any of the cars. If they were gold they were probably repainted by the owners". (In thinking Fred never recalled EVER seeing gold rocker panels on any Europa, Special or otherwise).
Build years: "...all built in 1973. Any '74 were probably titled that way because car sat too long in the showroom". Lotus did not go back and build more. "If you wanted one, you had no problem getting one!"
1 or 2 wipers?: Definitely 2 -US regulations! (a silly question, but had to ask it anyway.)
Brand radios used: Fred did not recall but mentioned that radios that Lotus installed were JUNK along with the English air conditioning units. They were just OK for "mild" summers in the northern sections of US, but for Georgia, Texas and Florida- forget it! Fred and Lotus Dallas dealer Frank Bertrang were to develop a REAL A/C unit for the Lotus Cars, manufacturer unknown), so refused to order radios and A/C from Lotus.
"So, did you tear out the Lotus units received?" I asked, "Nooo, just never ordered them in the cars to begin with!"
Any records kept on these cars? (On this one Fred thought for a long moment):" I think there were SOME records kept, by Dutchess anyway, but I would have no idea where they could be; probably lost somewhere in the transfer of all remaining parts and accessories when Lotus consolidated distribution and moved to California in about 1980" (pre Rolls Royce distribution).
This was another AMAZING story. Fred related that in the transfer, Lotus remains were packed up in labeled bins in Middleton, N.Y., sealed and shipped by truck to Newport Beach, California. In the UNEXPECTED arrival, the older Lotus East inventory was unpacked and unceremoniously SCRAPPED, the surprised distributor not knowing what to do with it for lack of space. All gone... Clearly a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
I sat there AMAZED and shook my head at this piece of information!
Later Fred related a small bit of the beginnings of Lotus East/ Dutchess going back to 1964 and the unveiling of the Lotus Elan. I had a feeling Fred had many more stories under his belt and we agreed to meet this fall for a more formal interview and talk more about this great time in local (meaning U.S. ) Lotus history.
Sorry, I know this just adds to the confusion but It doesn't stop there.
After my JPS Europa talk with Fred Stevenson at the Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival, I proceeded to the Lime Rock Club marque area and the Lotus paddock. A diverse collection of about 15 of Chapman's finest were gathered waiting for participation in the upcoming Lotus parade, two laps around the LR track. I wound up talking to two new Lotus friends ( -hello to Roman Artmyshym and his BEAUTIFUL black Europa Special and Bob Prescott with a fantastic white Elan S2!).
After a great parade lap ride in Bob's Elan we got to talk further, eventually leading back to Fred and the previous Dutchess Motor Company conversation minutes before. Roman then mentioned if Dutchess stories are what you are looking for you need to talk to that fellow over there (Roman pointed to the supposed "wrangler" for this Lotus event) in the orange shirt: Ed Reagan.
To make a long story short, I was introduced to Ed who turned out to be the head mechanic with Dutchess and over the course of an hour he relayed a number of stories (too long to go into here) and tales to make your hair curl. Ed also suggested I meet with another mechanic, Carl Franson who also lives in the area for a much more extensive talk, and together they could give me the entire lowdown on the Dutchess Motor Company, pro and con.
For a person (me) who used to salivate over Europa brochures in high school stamped with the Dutchess Motor Company logo (courtesy Fairview Village Lotus), this was too much.
That's about it for the adventures at Lime Rock this fall. All in all a pretty successful afternoon, one that should pay off in the long run with (I think) some very interesting stories for fellow Lotus fans.
I will do the sit down with Ed and Carl this fall and hope to have it to your fellow Lotus fans sometime soon.
BTW: If any Lotus fans have never attended the Vintage Fall Festival at Lime Rock Park (annually, Labor Day weekend) you are truly missing one of the East Coast's premiere events. You MUST put it on your calendar!
ed Note: There are some excellent period photos of the JPS and original JPS accessories here.