In 1958, Robert Kahmer his friend Ben Fowke split the $2,700 cost of a 1955 Lotus Mark X and had it shipped over from England. Customs were a little more lax in the late 50s, and Fowke was able to drive the baby-blue Lotus straight home from the Baltimore dock in April of 1959. The very next weekend, the two guys raced the car at the Cumberland Race Track in Maryland.
Fowke was able to drive the baby-blue Lotus straight home from the Baltimore dock in April of 1959.
Kahmer loved the Bristol-powered Lotus, but Fowke didn't and sold his half to Kahmer who raced it for all of the 1959 season and some of 1960. But that's when the car's story begins to sound all too familiar. Kahmer got engaged, and sold his Lotus. Over the next few decades, Lotus RCR 520 lived a hard life. One owner converted it to a road car, moving the steering wheel to the left, fitting a full-sized windshield and cutting the body sides to make room for "normal" sized doors. It was a mess.
About 55 years after selling his Lotus, Kahmer answers his phone to hear, "Hi, Mr. Kahmer. Did you once own a 1955 Lotus?" Kahmer, a bit stunned, answered, "Well, yeah. I'm looking at the title framed on my office wall right now."
John Viviani, lead auto restoration technician at Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, AL, was finishing an extensive restoration of the Lotus Mark X RCR 520 when some detective work had turned up Kahmer's phone number. The car's aluminum body was finished, a 2.0-liter Bristol straight six fitted and the museum was trying to decide what color the car should be. Silver or brushed aluminum? Kahmer emailed a number of photos showing the car was not only blue, but had a fuel-filler cap above the rear bumper, not below, and the dashboard was originally black instead of the dangerously-reflective bare metal. Viviani had also fitted the car with a typical 1950s-era, 85-mile-per-hour speedometer. But Kahmer shared a story of once topping the car out at 135 mph. The only way he would have known that is if the car's speedometer went that high.
The fuel-filler and dashboard finish were relatively easy fixes, but the speedometer proved tricky. One of the few automotive brands fitted with 150-mph speedometers in the 1950s was Jaguar. Though an appropriate dial was finally found and restored, its cost was about twice what Kahmer had originally paid for the entire car in 1958.
"It's like going to your high school reunion and there's the 17-year-old girl you had a crush on."
Over the weekend, Kahmer was reunited with his car. "It's like going to your high school reunion and there's the 17-year-old girl you had a crush on," he said. He then went on to entertain the attendees of the museum's second annual For the Love of Lotus event with almost an hour of fascinating racing stories from the 50s and 60s.
Viviani then invited Kahmer to sit in the car for the first time in 55 years. With some assistance, Kahmer carefully eased into the leather racing seat, put his right hand on the wood-rimmed steering wheel and raised his left arm in an obvious celebration of happiness. He then stared through the diminutive windscreen, down an imaginary racetrack, and disappeared into a few moments of memory. Then, pointing toward a spot on the baby-blue hood said, "There used to be a mirror right there."
Viviani's restoration is, apparently, not done yet.
The Lotus Mark X RCR 520 will be part of the museum's permanent collection along with numerous trophies and documents from Kahmer's personal collection. The addition gives the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum a total of 51 Lotuses including two Mark Xs.