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1969 Lotus Elan Plus 2 racer owned by Fred Samson Credit: Bob English for The Globe and Mail
1969 Lotus Elan Plus 2 racer owned by Fred Samson Credit: Bob English for The Globe and Mail

Classic Car

This Lotus has been part of the family for 30 years Add to ...

The Lotus Elan Plus 2 adding flashes of bright yellow to a grey, early-May day at Shannonville Motorsport Park has been a familiar sight at vintage race meets for more than a decade, but on this occasion there were an unfamiliar pair of hands on its steering wheel.

"Succession planning," says vintage racer Fred Samson of West Hill, Ont., explaining why his son Randy, 46, was strapped into his car and taking part in the Canadian Automobile Sport Club-Ontario Region's spring race licence school.

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So, is the elder Samson, who bought the car three decades ago and has been racing it for the past 11 years, planning on hanging up his helmet any time soon?

"Not at all," Fred says. But he is now going to share driving duties with Randy - much as the pair did during the latter's teen years when they teamed up to run go-karts - until the day he decides it's time to step out of the cockpit and into the pits as a full-time mechanic.

"It's sort've come full circle, but with a little bit of role reversal," says Randy, who was 16 when the Lotus became part of the family in 1980, the same year his father decided they should go kart racing. Something another kid who went to his high school was involved in - racer Paul Tracy would later become known as "The Thrill from West Hill."

Randy recalls he and Tracy turning up at the track with Randy's go-kart stuffed in the trunk of his father's Cadillac and Tracy's hanging out of the boot of his dad's Rolls-Royce. But they ran in different classes so never raced against each other.

Fred was working long hours in those days and their weekend race outings were a way of spending time together. Randy, of course, got the latest and hottest equipment while dad made do with his hand-me-down karts. "I really valued that time with dad," Randy says.

Today, Fred is retired and it's Randy who's putting in the long days, so hooking up to go racing again is serving the same end. Randy also started kart racing again this year, taking advantage of an arrive-and-drive program at a local track.

The 1969 Lotus Elan Plus 2 had originally been purchased in kit form by Canadian racer Hugh Cree, who put 60,000 miles on it before selling it to Fred Samson, a lifelong sports car and racing fan, who then proceeded to drive it "all over North America."

Lotus introduced the tiny Elan in 1962 as a roadster to replace the pretty Elite, added a coupe version in 1965 and the elegant Plus 2 in 1967, with a wheelbase stretched to make room for a pair of rear seats.

It was powered by a 1.6-litre engine making, depending on tune, from 108 hp to 126 hp, with a four-speed gearbox behind. Top speed was 190 km/h with 0-100 km/h taking about eight seconds - quick for the day.

A 1970 Lotus advertisement in Britain offered high rollers who aspired to be high flyers, too, a mobility combo that include an Elan Plus 2S, a Piper Cherokee 140C (plus flying lessons) and a Raleigh "Executive" bicycle for ₤8,888.

Fred decided to give racing a try when he retired from his job as a buyer for Sears in 1997 at the age of 60. He fitted the Lotus with a roll bar and harness and other suitable modifications, but says it hasn't been totally stripped, retaining things like the power window motors and a tape deck.

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"I was retired and had lots of time, but not a huge budget," he says, explaining an amateur racer's ride that's more in the spirit of its time than some of the hyper-modified vintage cars that run in some series.

With his racer ready, he got his competition licence at a CASC-OR school at Shannonville, also held on an early spring day with snow in the air.

"It was cold and miserable," he says. "The best thing was winning a set of Bridgestone tires in a draw at the end of the school."

They were to prove surprisingly useful a decade later. After originally mounting them on steel rims and racing on them a couple of times, he stored them after moving on to racier wheels and rubber. But they were dragged out of hiding for Randy's wet and cold track school weekend. "They had plenty of tread on them, but they were like hockey pucks," he laughs.

Randy managed to keep all four of those decade-old tires under the car and on the pavement and acquired his licence at the two-day school, which involves classroom sessions, followed by a test and extensive on-track instruction from a ride-along coach.

In his "young and invincible" youth, Randy says he was comfortable dicing in traffic with other racers but now, older and with responsibilities - "and driving someone else's car" - the $750 spent on CASC-OR school for aspiring racers proved of real value in reviving long-forgotten skills and acquiring new ones.

He admits to a bit of apprehension about re-firing his racing career, but his father is understanding, recalling his first race. "I started from the back of the grid at Mosport and as we came up to speed, the engine roaring, my heart rate soaring, my knees were shaking so hard they were banging together, my hands were shaking, everything was shaking," Fred says.

Randy made his race debut in the Lotus last weekend at Shannonville, which will tune up born-again Team Samson nicely for the VARAC Vintage Festival weekend at Mosport June 18-20.

They'll share the car for this great annual event made even more special this year by bringing together a large number of historic racers - both cars and drivers - to help the track celebrate its 50th anniversary.

"That's going to be fun," says Fred, likely made more so by the fact there are no plans to run those 10-year old Bridgestones again. "They're back in the shed," he says.

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