World-class F1 racer Pete Lovely dies at 85

One of the best independent Formula 1 and sports car racers of his generation, Pete Lovely died May 15 in Washington at age 85.

Lovely was known in his F1 career for racing private Lotus entries, including a hybrid Lotus 69 F2 car fitted with a Cosworth DFV V-8. He retired from F1 in 1971, but continued to drive in historic races for another 35 years.

In all, Lovely's career spanned more than 50 years, both as a team owner and driver, including 11 F1 World Championship races. Lovely was a Volkswagen dealer in Puyallup, Wash., and also ran Pete Lovely Racing, a well-regarded vintage race car restoration shop.

Lovely was a regular competitor at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., for more than 30 years and was inducted into the Legends of Laguna Seca in 2007. Gill Campbell, CEO and general manager of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, has fond memories of Lovely: "He was a fixture at the racetrack from day one. On Nov. 10, 1957, Pete was driving a 2-liter Ferrari Testa Rosa against more powerful cars driven by bigger-named racers like Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall and Richie Ginther. But Pete's keen race strategy earned him the win and a permanent place in the record books. He will be remembered for his passion and kindness.”

Pete Lovely’s racing career dates back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. Always competitive but invariably open and friendly, Pete discovered Lotus in the company’s early days. He raced one of Colin Chapman’s Mk8/9 cars successfully, and when the Eleven was introduced, he arranged to purchase one from the factory.

In England to collect his new Eleven, a stroke of luck led to him driving for Chapman. The Lotus team was racing nearby, but one of the team drivers was unable to compete. Someone suggested that Pete fill in, and his performance led him to drive with the Lotus team at Le Mans and vaulted him into the position of best customer.

In the late ‘60’s Pete approached Chapman about purchasing a Lotus 49B F1 car. Pete asked Chapman for one of Graham Hill’s cast-offs and Chapman offered Lotus 49B/11, which was the chassis that Hill had driven to victory at Monaco. Lovely campaigned the car as a privateer at a number of North American F1 Grands Prix in late the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and still drove it in historic races, almost until his death.

However, recent investigations have revealed that the car is not what it was assumed to be. It appears that Colin Chapman “baited-and-switched” cars on Lovely. For years, Lotus historians have been trying to figure out what happened to Lotus 49/2 (chassis #2). This was the car driven by Jim Clark in 1967 at the Belgian GP at Spa. It was the debut of the Lotus 49 and the Ford Cosworth DFV engine. On that weekend Graham Hill captured the pole in Lotus 49/1 and Clark was relegated to the second row. But Hill developed an engine problem, and Clark went on to victory by a large margin, which was a great start for the new model and its engine.
As is typical with race-car builders, Lotus took cars apart, threw some away, and sold 49/11 to Pete. Years later the Chapman family wanted to put 49/2 into the family museum, but no one knew what happened to it. Eventually the Lovely restoration team met a number of the Lotus team members and original mechanics of 49/2.

In their conversations Lovely’s crew heard stories of changes and markings that were made to 49/2. These included marks scribbled on the rear bulkhead behind the engine, and doubled plates around the front suspension pickups and the exposed top fuel filler (only the very early 49s had the exposed filler, later it was hidden beneath a fuel door). All of the details the mechanics recalled were on Lovely’s 49/11. Could it be that Chapman renumbered 49/2, upgraded the chassis/suspension, retagged it and sold it to Lovely as 49/11?

The Lovely team and many Lotus historians believe that is exactly what happened and that the famous Clark Lotus 49/2 is now Pete Lovely’s 49/11. So, what started as Chapman’s effort to “pull the wool over Pete’s eyes” – selling him Hill’s 49/2 as the 49/11 – is now an important piece of F1 history. And it’s always going to be the ex-Jim Clark, ex-Pete Lovely Lotus 49/2.