Progress Chassis Company
The editors have been using this section as a “build up”. It has also been used to give advance credit to those that made significant contributions to Colin and Lotus cars. There are other names to follow and no particular priority has been given. These series of articles have been undertaken to record with due justice those that helped but who did not always receive proportionate recognition.
It will also serve to place the achievements in better perspective. A further advantage of this approach is that it helps us appreciate the value of team work and how mutual respect and shared standards might be adopted. Colin Chapman and Lotus were astute in their incorporation of extraordinarily gifted craftsmen / engineers who helped overcome problems and modest beginnings. Lastly it is hoped that it can explain the necessity of theory and practice; design and craft execution and that they remain fundamental to harmonious problem resolution.
John Teychenne was the founder of Progress Chassis Co. He was joined by Dave Kelsey, Frank Coltman and others in the early 1950’s.
John and Colin had attended Scholl together and had been boy hood friends. Colin had lived with his parents at the Railway Hotel in Tottenham Lane until they moved to Muswell Hill. John was based at 19 Ribblesdale Road on the other side of Tottenham Lane. When Colin’s dad Stan gave Colin use of the stable block to work from; John was only 100 yards or so away. [See photographs]
.How John developed his welding skills has not been elaborated but he had the motivation and resources to create his own special. There has been a suggestion that there was some learning on the job. It is possible that Len Terry might have made a contribution to the design or construction. [With some overlap; please see our article on Williams and Pritchard and other contemporaries]
The proximity, the friendship, and shared interest in motorsport made for a potent local net work. This enabled introductions to be made and reputations communicated.
It’s possible that John and his team might have contributed to the chassis of the early Lotus trials cars or they might have made or adapted components.
The first major complete chassis that is attributed to Chapman and Progress is the Clairmonte Special.
This car had many very advanced features and is particularly well described in Peter Ross’s book. [Please also see photographs].
The Lotus Mk.VI
Colin had developed the Mk.VI essentially for the 1172 Formula that had been proposed by the 750 Motor Club. He also hoped that the car might also be made eligible for national class racing up to 1500cc.
To these ends the first car was built up with considerable help of the Allen brothers. [Nigel and Michael were to make such a significant contribution that it is intended to devote an entire article to them. This will follow shortly]
Dave Kelsey was to comment when he first saw the first Mk.VI,
“The car was immaculate in unpainted aluminium, gleaming in the Sunday morning sunshine but I had no way to know that this was to be the forerunner of a whole new breed of car …………….. It was revelatory, therefore to see this shiny, nest two seater – engine lost in spacious and spotless engine compartment, exhaust burbling twin SU carburettors, rocking gently as Nigel blipped the throttle. I already knew Colin could make a car go, having watched the Lotus Mk.III perform spectacularly well at various meetings and now had produced one that looked right and almost professional”
Posterity does not record the sequence of events. It’s very probable that Colin had conceived the Mk.VI as a small run semi production model. [It was certainly well thought through and entirely practical as a dual road/ race car].The early Mk.VI in private hands was soon winning races and drawing publicity. The demand was passed on to Progress. They produced a jig [a secure accurate former to hold the chassis tubes as they are assembled].It will be appreciated how necessary this is in three dimensional form when heat induces expansion and then contraction during welding].The existence of a jig also aided a degree of uniformity and small production runs. The possible interaction between success on the track and production capacity drew orders. Once in circulation a driver had to be in an Mk.VI to be in contention in the 1172 Formula. More cars more wins, more publicity, more demands. Between c1952-56 it has been suggested that approximately 100 were made.
Dave Kelsey has suggested that the first chassis took six weeks to produce working evenings and weekends. Later with experience and greater resources it is claimed that this was reduced to a week [but 17 hour days].This is an indication of the complexity and patience required. It should be noted that each tube requires joining / welding at each end and each joint has to be completed 360 degrees. To achieve this for practicality the complete chassis has to be rotated around. Any omissions could have serious consequences and rectification more difficult one the aluminium panels attached. Hence the absolute attention to detail and checking .To the bare chassis brackets have to be attached. Often these require almost the same time as the chassis itself. The most important brackets relate to the steering, suspension, engine mounts and gearbox etc. [note that engine /gearbox mounts might vary depending on what items were used].
The Mk.VI chassis was well designed relatively over engineered and generally robust and repairable. Contentiously built by Progress with rudimentary rust proving and paint their survival rate is an indication of the quality and workmanship .Even in period the completed body and chassis unit were expensive. This is established by comparisons with house prices and average wages [in a future article will reinforce this point and bring the details to light]
Although the production numbers suggest that Progress were almost fully engaged on Mk.VI production Dave Kelsey has suggested that they also undertook shop fittings. This might have been to hedge against seasonal variation in demand and also not to be over dependent and to aid cash flow. During the 1950’s London as austerity eased there was an increasing demand in retail sector [this might have also been a useful source or raw material!]
The mid/late 1950’s
The Mk.VI chassis was basically the basis for the Mk.VIII, IX and X. Although these were made in smaller numbers.
The mid late 1950’s were the halcyon years and saw Lotus emerge onto the world stage. By the late 1950’s Colin Chapman had designed the Lotus Eleven and had been successful at Le Mans.In 1957 the Seven and Elite were displayed at the Motor Show. Colin was also entering GP racing with his single seater cars.
Town Planning restrictions at Hornsey and the growth of demand for Lotus products prompted the move to Cheshunt. Also about this time Arch motors seem to have undertaken more work for Lotus. The available reference books do not tell us much about Progress during the 1960’s.The proprietors would have been in their prime. Britain was entering an intense period of success in International Motor sport and London was the epicentre. London was also entering the pop era and it’s entirely possible that these skilled craftsmen could have responded to a variety of lucrative opportunities.
It has been suggested that Progress constructed chassis for others and this is fully understandable given the experience they had acquired. [It should be noted that they were in an ideal position to evaluate a chassis and frequently conducting repairs were probably aware of the strengths and weakness.
Dave Kelsey constructed and raced a Lotus Mk.VIII and produced a car to his own design in 1961 .This was known as the Kelsey GT2/4.
Note. Please refer to an earlier newsletter to see the article by John Douglas on Progress