From garage orphan to shining star, this Lotus Eleven is reborn
ST. CHARLES, Mo. — When Paul Epperson and a friend looked at Corvairs in a southern Missouri barn he spied a Lotus buried under layers of garage junk, but it wasn’t for sale. Yet. Talk about serendipity.
Epperson, 46, is a former airline pilot who likes to restore cars and he was haunted by the hulk of the Lotus, which he later discovered to be a 1958 Lotus Eleven Series 2 LeMans.
He stayed in contact with the owner, and about a year later he returned to show the man a picture of the Corvair that he and his friend restored. The man asked, “Are you still interested in the Lotus?’’
“If I can afford it, yes,” Epperson said, and with that, the two agreed on a price. That was 2008. Thus began an odyssey that is still unfolding.
The Lotus Eleven, built in England by Colin Chapman between 1956 and 1958, is the epitome of a streamlined, lightweight, road-going racer and many consider it to be one of the most beautiful racers ever designed. In racing, it dominated it class, winning hundreds of club races but also scoring class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Sebring. The Eleven was powered by a tiny four-cylinder engine, but the excellent aerodynamics, strong brakes and leech-like road holding meant that it could outrun cars that were bigger and more powerful. Epperson’s car has a 1498 cc engine that produces about 100 horsepower, but it only weighs 850 pounds.
Epperson, and his wife, Christine, attacked the restoration as if they were archaeologists, for unearthing every bit of documentation regarding the car’s history and provenance was as important, and in some cases, more time consuming, than actually restoring the car. The original chassis plate was missing, but by consulting a Lotus historian who came to see the car, they were able to verify that the car was a real Lotus and not a replica.
The Eppersons spent countless hours of searching all kinds of records, old race results, programs and even tax roles to track down previous owners. They that Gregg Brumm raced the car in 1964 and 1965 while working on an MBA from Stanford University in California. Brumm graduated in 1965 and returned to St. Louis, where he raced the car in 1966. In 1967, he sold the car to Gerry Watson.
Their search eventually connected them with Watson. He lived just two miles away. He said he had removed the car’s original chassis identification plate for a memento when he sold it. Watson came to see the car and brought the missing chassis plate and several photographs.
Epperson decided to restore the car as it was during Gregg Brumm’s ownership and his work is first rate. Every detail, including the 1955 Packard Sapphire Blue Metallic paint is just as it was when Brumm raced it.
Last July, before the car was displayed at the Concours d’Elegance of America (formerly Meadow Brook) in Michigan, Epperson reunited Brumm and the Lotus for a few laps around Michigan International Speedway. What could be more fitting?
The Eppersons have compiled nearly 200 pages of information about the car and may write a book. They continue to seek information about the car.