We set out into the darkness…
…RV loaded, trailer empty, and bodies caffeinated for the road ahead. Previously, we were partying with friends at the new Supercars and Salsa event we helped start. Now, we were on our way to Oregon for the promise of a Westfield Lotus Eleven; clad in black and red-lipped. After months of searching, a close friend of mine was realizing a dream; bringing home a vintage Lotus race car and completing a collection. This was not the first time a car like this found its way to us. On the other hand, this time was special because of the car we would be getting.
The car was a Westfield Lotus XI (Eleven); a car that could easily pass for the real thing at first glance. Westfield had built these replicas in the early ’80s as a kit, along with their version of the Lotus Seven. Using parts from an MG Sprite or Midget, the builder can recreate the magic of racing in the late ’50s. Furthermore, Westfield was also notable for the legal battle with Lotus regarding the rights to building the Seven and Eleven; a battle which resulted in Westfield ending production of their Eleven and Seven kits in the late ’80s. Today, a “pre-litigation” Westfield Lotus is a sought-after substitute for the real thing. This particular example was special, as it was the dream car of a man who would end up racing and caring for the car for 34 years. This man’s name is Don Erickson.
From Michigan to Alabama
We met Don on the street a short walk away from his house. He must have seen the RV/Trailer combo and the road-weary party walking around in slight confusion. Don was a tall, lanky gentleman with piercing blue eyes and a strong handshake. He led us up to the hill toward his house, where I noticed his mailbox painted a sporting red color. When I looked into the open garage, I could see the rear of a ’50s race car.
Our group made our way into the garage, and while everyone was gawking at this low-slung amalgamation of fiberglass and steel, I asked him to tell me the story of the car. He told me to wait a moment and went back into his house to retrieve something. I was sitting in the passenger seat of the Eleven playing with the toggle switches when he returned with a magazine. As soon as I saw the cover, I gasped. I was holding an issue of Road & Track with a white Lotus Eleven, dated March 1957.
Don told me when he was a teenager, he saw this issue of Road & Track and immediately fell in love with the Lotus Eleven. He promised himself that he would one day own that car. At last, his chance came almost 30 years later when he was looking through the classifieds of a kit car magazine and saw a listing for a red Westfield XI in Michigan. Immediately, he flew to Michigan and bought the car. Now, he had to figure out how to get the car back home to Alabama. What he told me next was nothing short of equal parts amazing and comedic. He jumped into his car with its 6-gallon tank, and drove the entire way back to Alabama only stopping when he needed gas, or to bail rainwater out of the cockpit!
“In hindsight…”, he told me, “…that was stupid. But, I was young then.”
Red to Black
In the 34 years Don owned the car, he had painted the car from it’s original bright red, to the svelte gloss black it is today. He left the original red color around the mouth of the car for the “lipstick” the factory Team Lotus Elevens were known for. He also modified the pedal box so that he could fit his tall frame into the driver’s seat and drive the car, but kept the original ’50s-style racing lap belts. The car had stickers from the many different events Don participated in, tastefully added to the interior and exterior of the car. The most prominent decal was the Sports Car Club of America roundel just past the front wheels, with its colors matching the colors of the car. Also present were various plaques and stickers celebrating past events in the ’80s and ’90s, including some awards. Don’s Eleven clearly had history.
After spending time looking over the car and swapping stories between the new and old owner of the Eleven, the time came to start the car. Everyone gathered around as Don undid the sprung latches and tilted the front clamshell over to reveal the tiny, 1275cc Series-A engine carefully placed into the Eleven’s frame. Don put the key in the ignition, pressed the starter button, and waited. The car sputtered at first, and then sprung to life. The car sounded just like the original Eleven’s at Le Mans, with a hoarse staccato coming from the engine’s tiny cylinders and through the exhaust. Don reached down and plucked the throttle cable, coaxing the engine to sing. Soon, the engine was screaming while Don held the throttle wide open. It sounded wonderful! After turning off the engine and closing the front clamshell, the time to make the final hand-off had come.
I sensed a bit of hesitation from Don as my friend started getting the documents together. After caring for your dream car for the better part of 34 years you would be hesitant to sell it too. Although, for whatever reason or another, Don was not driving the Eleven anymore. He couldn’t let the car simply rot away either. It was better to find someone who is just as passionate and willing to drive the Eleven the way it was meant to be driven. Luckily, he found that in a fellow Lotus enthusiast.
My friend backed the car out of the garage and onto the cul-de-sac. He took one of his children in the passenger seat and promised to meet us by the trailer after he had a little “joyride”. Later, he pulled in behind the trailer with both him and his son grinning ear to ear. Soon after, we loaded up the Eleven destined for its new home in California and began saying our goodbyes to Don. I asked Don if I could write about him and the car since I thought the story of how he got the car was both interesting and funny. He gave me the go ahead, and I gave him my contact information so he could see the blog post and the pictures later on.
We said our final goodbyes after tying everything down and making sure the documents and extras were in order. Lastly, we piled into our respective transports and finally left towards California. This time, the trailer was just a hair over 1000 pounds heavier than we began. I sat at the dining table and began working on notes for what would eventually become this blog post as the city gave way to trees.
“Now,” I thought to myself; “The Eleven’s next chapter begins.”
I was sitting outside with my friend late at night at a Starbucks. We were looking at how the lights reflect off the curvaceous body of the Eleven. It hadn’t settled in that we left to Oregon and came back with a vintage British race car in tow. After taking a few pictures with my phone, my friend asks me something. “Do you think I should keep the paint?” Both of us had been talking about changing the color of the Eleven. However, I felt that to change the paint was to erase the history of the car and traces of Don. The change of ownership wasn’t a clean slate for this car. Rather, it was a new chapter in its history.
“Nah, I ‘d keep the paint. It kind of has history to it.”