During the 1960s Boxing Day in Britain, the day after Christmas, was a holiday marked by a winter race meeting at Brands Hatch. This is the famous Les Leston on December 26, 1961 in his equally famous Lotus Elite charging through Paddock Hill Bend, a semi-blind sweeping right hander which falls away downhill at the end of the Brands top straight. He went on to win this GT race, as he often did with this Elite in the early 1960s. His Elite’s apparently unusual and provocative license plate (it was actually DADten) became an additional source of his racing renown.
The Lotus Elite was a truly ground-breaking design and in keeping with its designer Colin Chapman’s motto of “simplify and add lightness.” The Elite was probably the first monocoque production car with a chassis and body as one assembly, all made from fiberglass – or, as it was then known, FRP, fiberglass-reinforced plastic. The chassis had a steel subframe to carry the engine and front suspension, as did the Jaguar D-Type. The resulting weight savings and all independent suspension allowed excellent performance from an 1100cc engine of only 75 hp, although more powerful versions were introduced later. The body shape was very aerodynamically efficient as well, reflecting input from Frank Costin an early expert in that field. However, like many new design materials there were mechanical problems with the FRP due to stresses and vibrations.
Leston, born Alfred Lazarus Fingleston, was best known for his emporium, Les Leston Ltd. in High Holborn, London, where he sold all sorts of automotive aftermarket accessories and racing gear, one of the really early leaders in that field. Concerned with safety in what then was a very unsafe racing world, he was also one of the first to produce fire-resistant driving suits. Many of his accessories have become collectors’ items and are often listed on eBay.
After retiring from racing Leston continued with his successful business, eventually moving it to Hong Kong. He was also a racing commentator for the BBC for several years. Les Leston passed away in 2012 at the age of 91.
Photo by Colin Waldeck ©The Klemantaski Collection