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Jack Boxstrom will race the restored Lotus Mk 9 at Mosport this weekend.
Jack Boxstrom will race the restored Lotus Mk 9 at Mosport this weekend.

Car Enthusiasts

Racing vet rekindles an old romance Add to ...

Almost half a century after having his doors blown off by some of the best names in the business during the 1962 Players 200, veteran Canadian racer Jack Boxstrom will find himself on the grid at Mosport this weekend waiting for the checkered flag to fall, once again strapped into the cockpit of the Lotus Mk 9 he drove that day.

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Boxstrom's racing reunion with the neat little aluminum-bodied sports racer will be one of the highlights of the Annual Vintage Racing Festival that starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday at Mosport International Speedway near Bowmanville, Ont.

This year's event, put on by the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Mini, and the action-packed program includes a special race for German cars and a one hour enduro (for information go to varac.ca or mosport.com).

I recently caught up with Boxstrom at Shannonville Motorsport Park near Belleville, Ont., as he was climbing out of the just-restored Lotus after his first drive in it in 47 years.

"It was a fabulous experience. What a thrill. It really brings back memories," he says. "But it will be even better at Mosport, because that's where I had my big race in it."

How that came about is a delightful story, from a simpler time.

Boxstrom, now 72, says he was always a car freak, one of those boys whose first words were "car-car" although it would have come out "bil-bil," as he was born in Sweden. He came to Canada in 1951 with his parents and later studied industrial design at the Ontario College of Art before a stint with Frontier College teaching English to the Inuit.

"All through this time, I thought when I get my first real job, I'm going to buy a car and race it," he says. That first "real" job was as an exhibition designer for Design Craft in Toronto (he later created Ford's exhibits at the CNE), and he finally made it onto the track in 1961, at the wheel of a modified Morris Minor saloon.

There were no driver's schools in those days and Boxstrom, then in his early 20s, recalls just turning up at Harewood Acres and racer Jerry Polivka jumping in and telling him to drive around the track.

"So I drove off at breakneck speed, although I didn't know where the track went. And he began hitting me on the arm until finally I realized I was driving in the pit road. He got out kind of shaking and said, 'You passed', and walked away. That was my race school."

Despite spending too much money on it, the Morris Minor never went fast enough and Boxstrom bought the well-used Lotus (originally imported by Polivka) for about $2,000. And after doing a single club race in it the following spring, he was allowed to run it in the 1962 Players 200 race at Mosport, then the biggest event on the Canadian calendar.

"With only about five races under my belt, there I was racing with le crème de la crème," top drivers such as Stirling Moss, Masten Gregory and Jim Hall. Only two other Canadians were on the grid, Ross De St. Croix in a Lola Mk 1 and Oliver Clubine in a Taurus special, but both later broke down.

When he'd been given permission to enter, officials had urged him to "get a large mirror and look in it," which proved good advice as his low-powered Lotus was much slower up the back straight than the fast guys. "I was being lapped by the top runners every six laps," he says.

The mirror he chose, however, was an early convex design that should have carried the warning that modern drivers are familiar with - objects may be closer than they appear.

"It was curved too much," says Boxstrom. "I'd see a white dot behind me and think, there's a car way back there and then, whaaaaa, Jim Hall in his Chaparral would blast by, nearly blowing me off the road."

The Lotus Mk 9 was the brainchild of Colin Chapman who had begun building "specials" in 1948, introduced his first "production" racer the Mk 6 in 1953, followed it with the Lotus Seven sports car, and then the Mk 8 sports racer in 1954. The Mk 9 of 1955 was based on the Mk 8, with a shortened space-frame chassis and unique all-aluminum bodywork designed by aerodynamicist Mike Costin.

Boxstrom's 1955 example is powered by a single-overhead-cam Coventry Climax four-banger displacing 1,220 cc and fitted with an MG gearbox, a front end created by cutting a Ford Prefect axle in half and a Morris Minor rear end.

Cast aluminum "Alfin-"equipped Humber Super Snipe drum brakes stop the ultra-lightweight (500-kg) car, which runs on amazingly skinny tires.

Boxstrom sold the Lotus in 1963 for $1,800, including a '53 Chevy tow car and trailer, to Doug Fisher and Murray Duncan who raced it, then took it apart. They sold it back to him a couple of years ago, for about $35,000. Boxstrom says Fisher, looking at the original 1960s receipt, said, "That's not a bad storage fee for 46 years, Jack."

After Boxstrom and the Lotus parted company in 1963, he continued his racing career, which included several seasons in International Motorsport Association competition and four Daytona 24 races. "I was never a front-line driver, but it was fun," he says.

In the early 1970s, he managed the rock band Rough Trade, got involved in vintage racing and began acquiring historic racers - including a pair of Canadian-built cars, a "Formula Ferocious" open-wheeler and a sports racer, built by rear-engine pioneer Bill Sadler, plus Jim Hall's first front-engined Chaparral from 1961.

His eclectic collection also includes Ferraris and Aston Martins, Packards and a hot-rod flathead Ford.

In the late 1970s, he purchased Shannonville Motorsport Park, and almost went broke as "all my friends came out and drove around for nothing."

He then launched a highly successful motorcycle series, before selling the track in the late 1980s. He joined RM Auctions Inc. in the mid-1990s and was recently involved in its Ferrari Maranello factory auction at which a Testa Rossa sold for $12-million.

But sitting in the cab of his SUV at the track chatting with me, it was obvious the most beautiful car in Boxstrom's world right then was the Lotus, its unpainted alloy body sparkling in the sunlight.

"Oh God, just look at it. Isn't it pretty?"

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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