Lotus Evora 400 road trip to see the Lotus 38 at IMS


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Despite years of negligible U.S. sales, the Lotus name still resonates with car fans. Trace the residual fondness back, and one seminal moment jumps out: Scotsman Jim Clark winning the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in a Lotus 38, marking the speedway’s first mid-engined victory.

Channeling your inner Clark has been tough recently, though: Lotus hadn’t imported to the States since 2014 because its Evora S no longer met federal crash standards. Now it’s back with the fully federalized Evora 400. Not just safer in a crash thanks to side airbags, the 400 promises to be a better driver, too. To see if it lives up to that promise, we’re taking the Evora 400 from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Indianapolis, where we’ll watch Indy winner and Clark fan Dario Franchitti drive Clark’s Lotus 38. Road trips don’t end better.

The 400’s revised specs represent a sizable jump over the Evora S. A new Edelbrock supercharger—the S was always supercharged—and intercooler boost the Toyota-sourced 3.5-liter V6 55 hp to 400 hp. There’s a limited-slip differential, a suspension upgrade and bigger brakes. The 400 is 92 pounds lighter, thanks to forged wheels, new seats, lighter doors and Colin Chapman’s ghost throwing away things that didn’t do anything.

It’s surprisingly civilized on-road. The sills are narrower and lower for easier access, supple suspension smothers most flaws in the road and you feel fresh after hours driving.

The transformation from the S is obvious. Where shifting gears once felt like fighting a wooden spoon from a crammed dishwasher, the 400’s linkage is slick with mechanical precision. The engine no longer gasps breathlessly toward the redline and plays a snake-charmer’s tune to neck hairs.



Photo: We drive the Lotus Evora 400 to Indianapolis to watch a racer pilot a classic Lotus Photo 26


You don’t need to be tearing up a track to connect with the Evora: It’s also nimble, unintimidating and tactile at slow speeds. Push harder and you quickly strike a rhythm on second- and third-gear blacktop. Squeeze the firm brake pedal into the apex, feel the precise, quick steering’s tingle, the body rolling slightly before settling over the inside tire, the rubber phasing from crisp to slightly fuzzy as you tease out every last shred of grip. Be patient, settle the throttle, accelerate on corner exit …in race mode, you struggle to feel the stability system metering power and permitting just a little yaw.

We arrive at Indianapolis just before Franchitti drives the Lotus 38. “I went to a dinner to commemorate 25 years of Jim’s passing, and something just clicked,” he says of his Clark fascination. “There’s the Scottish connection, and with Jim dying five years before I was born, there’s a mystique, as well. Now that I’ve won Indy, there’s a connection there, too.”

A chance to drive his hero’s race car was not to be missed. The 38 evolved previous Lotus 29 and 34 designs, but Colin Chapman and Len Terry used an aluminum monocoque with steel subframes front and rear, not a spaceframe. Its asymmetric suspension distinguishes it, the slender body offset to one side.

Lotus recorded nine chassis numbers. Ford owns Clark’s car and supplied the quad-cam 500-hp V8. Today it’s on release from The Henry Ford museum.

“I’ve driven this car before, just not at Indy,” says Franchitti. “I’ve never got it close to the limit; its significance and value is so great, you don’t want to do anything stupid.”



Photo: We drive the Lotus Evora 400 to Indianapolis to watch a racer pilot a classic Lotus Photo 12


Franchitti fires up the V8, a thunderous racket bursting from the exhaust pipes. He takes to the track, ripping round in a blur of noise and green and yellow as we watch from turn 2, imagining what it must have been like to witness Clark win in ’65.

He returns, smiling. “You really feel how much power it has,” he says. “Give it a little bit of throttle and it just takes off.”

With that, he heads back out, keen to soak up the sensations of a car significant both historically and personally to Franchitti.

Few can experience a Lotus 38 firsthand, but with the Evora 400 now on sale, playing Jim Clark is about to get a lot easier.

This article originally appeared in the September 19, 2016 issue of Autoweek magazine. Subscribe here.














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