An Eleven & 15 in Asia
Think tall Lotuser and you instantly think of racer and former Team Lotus’ Formula 1 manager (and Walter Wolf Racing and Fittipaldi Automotive) Peter Warr. Warr won the first Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka) in a Lotus 23B sports racer in 1963. But there were other tall Lotus drivers, one of whom was six-feet-six Bangkok-based Edward Peter Heath.
Heath’s height may have been fine for sports car racing because a competent welder would have been able to reconfigure a Lotus sports car spaceframe to suit even the tallest NBA player. However, shoehorning a six and a half footer into a Lotus 12, 16 or 18 single-seater was another matter entirely. But I digress.
Edward Peter Heath was born in London in 1914 and educated at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, followed by a year at London University. He joined the Borneo Company in 1934, the first job for the 20-year-old Londoner. The posting was out east to Bangkok, Thailand. “It was a very good job…I was offered £350 a year, which was very good money in those days,” Heath recounted in an oral interview in 1983. There may not have been a chance or interest in motor racing before the war – that would have come when peacetime resumed (Heath was back working for the company four months after the Japanese surrender). On 23 December 1947 Heath received the Order of The British Empire (O.B.E.) for services to British prisoners of war in the Far East, his internment experiences worthy of a separate story [recounted in detail in the Imperial War Museum’s oral history files [Imperial War Museums oral interview 1983-05-18, Catalogue number 6808]. Heath later oversaw the Borneo Company’s operations post-war as its General Manager (between 1953, when he got married, and 1963) and later as its Managing Director in London.
The year he relocated to London, he received the Order of the White Elephant for his services to trade and industry in Thailand. When the Inchcape Group took over the Borneo Company in 1967, it included the Thai operations, interests in Canada, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, Singapore and Brunei [see Sharp, Ilsa. (1993). Wheels of Change: The Borneo Motors story]. He joined the Inchcape board of directors on 5 January 1967 and was effectively number four in the Inchcape hierarchy. He remained an MD until 1975, and was Deputy Chairman from 1976 until 1979, retiring on 30 September 1979.
TALL ORDER: His frequent trips back to the UK post-war allowed him to attend British Automobile Racing Club meetings, occasionally as part of Innes Ireland Ltd, legendary Lotus racer Innes Ireland’s race preparation business that operated out of a garage at Farnham. Ireland’s team looked after the Lotus Elevens of several owner-drivers, one of whom included the Bangkok-based business executive.
Records show his Lotus Eleven was entered at the 26th July 1958 Mid-Cheshire Motor Club’s Oulton Park meet for Formula Libre cars. It had a Coventry Climax FWA 1098cc motor and the race number was #53. He was slated to race at a race at Oulton Park on 20th September 1958 for the Mid-Cheshire Motor Club’s International Race Meeting but may not have attended, though not surprising as his work schedule would have made it rather difficult to fully immerse himself into the sport. 46-year-old Heath then shipped the Eleven, Chassis 522 (FWA engine 7749), home to Bangkok. There was talk that car and owner stopped over in Sri Lanka for the Ceylon Grand Prix., which presumably would have been in 1959. My copy of the C.R.D.C. Katukurunda Circuit Meet of 11 October 1959 shows a number of Malayan entries in the bike races, but no mention of Heath or the Lotus Eleven. Heath may indeed have taken part in an event later in the year but I have not been able to confirm this.
Caption: It’s not often we have a photo of engine and its driver – so this one’s special. Macau 1961 with 620 and 47-year-old Borneo Company Ltd General Manager Peter Heath.
The Eleven was then shipped to Singapore from Bangkok for the 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix held 20-21 February. The car set FTD, but did not finish the race, not for want of trying. That year 522 was entered in the Macau Grand Prix in November. Heath started from the back of the grid for the ACP (Automovel Club de Portugal) Trophy race for sports cars and overtook everyone to win, having shredded his gearbox in Thursday practice and missed out on qualifying. The Lotus may have won but its owner still felt it wasn’t fast enough. 522 was sold to Malaysian Saw Kim Thiat in September 1961, in time for the inaugural Singapore street Grand Prix, by which time Heath had acquired a Lotus 15 Climax.
UPSCALE LOTUS: Heath had already come to the conclusion that single-seaters were out of the question for him so Innes Ireland’s 1959 works Series 3 Lotus 15 (chassis 620-3) was acquired. It had a 1½-litre Coventry Climax FPF motor and a ZF S4-12 4-speed close-ratio transmission. Heath entered the in the BARC Goodwood Handicap race on 1st July 1961, racing for A.G. Whitehead. He followed up with a Handicap race on 22nd July 1961 at Phoenix Park. The car was also entered in the Grand Prix Pescara on 15th August 1961 in the round 5 of the World Sports Car Championship for Graham Whitehead but it appears two of the Whitehead cars did not arrive for the event.
Caption: Setting fastest time of day in the Eleven at the 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix.
The car was shipped to Hong Kong in time for the Macau Grand Prix of 1961. Yes, you guessed it. He won the Grand Prix in the No.10 car.
The next big race the following year was the Malaysia Grand Prix in Singapore, held over Easter weekend. Heath was the only competitor from Thailand. The Sports and GT support race was a Lotus benefit, with Saw Kim Thiat, in his new ex-Heath Lotus Eleven, winning the class for the smaller engined cars while Heath took the win in the larger Sports and GT race in the 15. Neither was lucky in the Grand Prix.
NEW HOME: Following an unsuccessful attempt at a second Macau win in 1962, the car was left in Hong Kong for sale before being shipped down to Singapore, care of Borneo Motors. And guess who bought chassis 620? Kuala Lumpur-based Saw Kim Thiat. This, according to Saw, was only possible after much haggling that dragged on and on. Eventually, a deal with was struck at SGD8,000, which Heath finally accepted in early 1963. Saw now had a new mount for the 1963 Malaysia Grand Prix (which was held in Singapore). There must have been some serious padding put in so that the new owner could actually drive a car that had been configured for a six-and-a-half-foot man.
Caption: Heath and his #54 Bangkok road registered Eleven chase Neil Moncrieff in the somewhat modified Jaguar XK140, Zoo Corner, Johore Grand Prix. Behind the Cooper is Tony Huggett in a Lotus Le Mans Climax.
What would steal the limelight for 1963 was the Jaguar versus Lotus battle on the grid. There were seven Jaguar E-types entered, twelve Lotus, and six big Healeys, for a total of 53 entries in the Grand Prix! The single-seaters may have arrived but the sports cars still ruled the roost. In the 10-lap Sport and GT car race, Saw finished half a lap ahead of his closest competitor, setting fastest time of day. The 15 had certainly made a name for itself in the shorter support races but was notoriously unreliable when it came to the longer Grand Prix events. [For details of the races in the Singapore Grand Prix see Solomon, Eli. (2008). Snakes & Devils – A History of the Singapore Grand Prix]
Caption: Heath and the Lotus 15 in action in the Singapore Grand Prix.
The 15 was still circulation in 1965, now owned by Saw’s friend Eddy Choong. It was entered in the 4th Tunku Abdul Rahman Circuit races held on 3rd and 4th July around a 2.85-mile course around the streets of Petaling Jaya. Clearly, the 15 and its Climax motor had seen better days.
In the 1972 Sports & GT support race to the Singapore Grand Prix, new owner Brian Tyler entered it with a 1499cc motor, against such varied competition as a rebodied Lotus 23B, Lola Mk1, Porsche 906, Daren GT Prototype and new 240Z Datsuns in the Sports Cars race. The Lotus 15 disappeared from our radars after 1972. Its subsequent history back in Europe is explained in Bill Colson’s comprehensive article on its history in Historic Motor Racing magazine, Vol.1 No.3.
Heath continued to race, and following the sale of the Lotus 15, raced an Elva Courier and later on, a Diva Valkyr (with a cut out in the roof to accommodate the tall diver) in the UK (he had returned to the UK in 1963 with the Borneo Company) and in the Macau Grand Prix (1966). Heath (b. 6 June 1914 – d. 12 January 2003) passed away in 2003, aged 88.
Caption: The Lotus Eleven, now in the hands of Saw Kim Thiat, 1961 Singapore Grand Prix. The car now carried Kuala Lumpur road registration BG6800. Note the lack of the rear headrest.
Caption: Saw Kim Thiat (right) and his Eleven, together with Malayan Motor Sports Club officials and Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman at the TAR Diplomatic Enclave event in August 1961.
Caption: Saw in the repainted Lotus 15, 1963 Johore Grand Prix.