Lot 61 (Chateau Impney, 10th July 2016)
Sold for £79,875
(including buyers premium)
Registration No: N/A
Chassis No: Not Stated
Mot Expiry: N/A
- Successfully campaigned by Roger Nathan including victory at the Coupe de Paris against Works Fiat-Abarth opposition
- The very first, and only alloy-bodied, Costin Nathan
- Raced in period in both open (spyder) and closed (GT) guises
An engineering genius whose aeronautical training gave him a particular affinity for aerodynamics and monocoque chassis design, Frank Costin was instrumental in the racing success of both Vanwall and Lotus. Intrigued by a visit to the workshops of former Lotus chief mechanic Willie Griffiths where he encountered a tuned 1-litre Hillman Imp engine that developed 96bhp but, with a Jack Knight gearbox attached, weighed just 230lb, Costin entered into talks with Griffths' new employer Roger Nathan about using the lightweight drivetrain as the basis for a sports racer. Better known for his exploits aboard a Lotus Elite and Brabham BT8, Nathan was already familiar with Costin's work having campaigned a Marcos Gullwing at the Nurburgring 1,000km in May 1964. Not dissimilar to the Lotus 23 rival that Costin had designed for Jim Diggory but which was subsequently raced by Dr Norbert McNamara in America, this very machine - the Costin-Nathan Works Prototype - made its public debut at the Dorchester Hotel on London's Park Lane in early January 1966. Frank Costin and his son Ronny undertook much of the initial construction work themselves in North Wales including fabricating the Gaboon plywood central monocoque and elegantly triangulated front / rear tubular steel subframes before dispatching the 'two-seater' Spyder to Roger Nathan's North London Works for completion. Featuring all-round independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and magnesium alloy wheels, the Works Prototype was clothed in aluminium by Williams and Pritchard (whereas subsequent Costin-Nathan cars wore fibreglass bodywork). Powered by one of Nathan's tuned 1-litre Imp engines allied to a close-ratio gearbox, it was reputed to weigh just 860lb in full race trim (though, some sources quoted its dry weight as 700lb!).
The considerable success that Roger Nathan enjoyed aboard the Works Prototype during 1966 provided invaluable publicity for the new marque. The crowning glory of a season which yielded at least five class wins, a second-in-class and numerous lap records was victory in the Coupe de Paris on 25th September ahead of fierce Fiat-Abarth Works opposition. Nathan's last outing with the Spyder was at Brands Hatch on 27th November 1966 as part of the London Motor Club's November Cup Car Races. By that time he and his mount had come to the attention of fellow racer Chris Meek who was then driving a Ginetta G4 with backing from Geoffrey M. Horsley. An accompanying letter from Mr Horsley to Mr Meek dated 2nd December 1966 makes for intriguing reading: 'I have considered your proposals very carefully, but I do not think I am interested in a 1 Litre Costin-Nathan. I might have been slightly interested in a Twin-Cam version. A Porsche Carrera Six (906), however, is a different proposition, and I am very interested in this . . . The biggest snag as far as I am concerned is that if we negotiated for a Porsche and failed to get one, I would be too late to order a Clubmans Chevron for next season'. Mr Meek replied to say: 'I have now definitely contracted to drive the one litre Costin-Nathan and this may be converted to 1600 during the coming season. I certainly agree with your comments regarding the Porsche Carrera Six. I also agree that we should be able to obtain one for £4,000 . . . I would understand perfectly if you feel you have to order a Clubmans Chevron in view of the time factor, but I certainly think that if you were to order a type of car that we could both drive it would be far more sensible'.
A racer on two and four-wheels whose career encompassed single-seaters, sports racers, GTs and saloon cars, the late Chris Meek (1932-2016) was also a persuasive individual. Thus, on 6th January 1967 Mr Horsley purchased '1 used Costin-Nathan, less engine and gearbox, for the sum of £1,370' from Roger Nathan Racing Ltd (original bill of sale on file). Unfortunately, the relationship between Geoffrey Horsley / Chris Meek and Roger Nathan was never destined to be a harmonious one. Doubtless rather fond of the Works Prototype with which he had achieved so much, the latter commiserated with its new owner in a letter dated 17th January 1967: 'I was extremely sorry to learn your Costin-Nathan jumped the trailer and trust you did not do any extensive damage. Had you bought the straps I suggested before starting on your journey this unfortunate incident would not have happened'. He also recommended 'owing to the low ground clearance, that your mechanics cover the underneath of the car with a sheet of 18 or 20 gauge aluminium, obviously after the repairs have been carried out'. The car remains skinned in aluminium from the sill sections down to this day. Chris Meek lost little time in sourcing a Hewland Mark 5 gearbox for the project and commissioned Vegantune of Spalding, Lincs to build-up a Ford 'Twin-Cam' 1.6 litre engine. A decision to re-configure the Works Prototype from Spyder to GT specification - thus mimicking the car that Roger Nathan built for the 1967 Le Mans 24-hours - brought further delays and set-up issues. Despite entries for Cadwell Park (5th March), Mallory Park (27th March) and Oulton Park (1st April), it was not until the West Essex Car Club's Snetterton meeting on 7th May that Chris Meek started a race aboard the 'Costin GT Ford'. Relations with Roger Nathan had soured to the point that neither Meek nor Horsley wanted his name associated with their endeavours.
For his part Roger Nathan felt that the difficulties they had encountered with the Works Prototype may well have been exacerbated by the damage it sustained when falling off the trailer. Referencing the accident in a letter to Chris Meek on 5th April 1967, he was keen to point out that: 'This may or may not have contributed to some of the troubles he (Horsley) has experienced with the car, which, as you know, I used last year with outstanding success and without any trouble whatsoever'. At loggerheads with Nathan, Meek turned to Frank Costin for assistance in a letter dated 8th May 1967: 'We are in a spot of trouble and I wonder if you could help. The ex-Roger Nathan car, which has now been converted to GT, has been purchased by one of my sponsors Mr G.M. Horsley and fitted with a Ford twin-cam engine and Hewland box etc. We have overcome many of the problems and you will be pleased to know that I won my first race in it yesterday. The brakes are diabolical and it desperately needs your magic touch to set the suspension up, especially the spring rating and shock absorbers, roll bars etc . . . Incidentally, the twin-cam engined car is now fitted with Brabham Formula 2 rod gear change, which is delightful'.
Chris Meek had not only won the Class B (1151-1600cc) event at Snetterton against Ginetta G12 and Diva GT opposition but also set a fastest lap of 1min 48.4secs (90mph). Sadly, the Ford 'Twin-Cam' engine failed later that month and with preparation of the car transferred from Vegantune to Stubbs of Stourton Ltd pending possible litigation, Geoffrey Horsley lost enthusiasm for the whole endeavour. Writing to him on 6th June 1967, Meek commented that: 'It's heartbreaking about the engine and I have had the pump checked and this definitely seized-up and caused the blow-up. The approximate estimate for the engine should be ready tomorrow. Would you please drop me a line and give me instructions with your proposals for the car. As you know I have the offer of a GT drive, but if you wish to go ahead with this project I will definitely give you my support. The car obviously has great potential now and I am sure if Frank Costin was to spend two days on it all our troubles would be over'.
With the Works Prototype back in his possession, Horsley suspended all further development and instead tried to recoup some money from Vegantune for what he perceived to be shoddy workmanship. Advertised in the 10th January 1969 issue of Autosport as: 'Costin-Nathan GT - less engine but including Hewland gearbox. Cost over £2,500. Offers invited', the car failed to find a new buyer. His subsequent proposition which appeared in Motoring News during October 1973 that a would-be restorer could have a season's use of the sports racer elicited several replies including one from Michael Moran who undertook to refurbish the engine and gearbox. Mr Moran lost interest thereafter and Mr Horsley engaged the services of solicitors Casson & Co until the partially refurbished drivetrain was returned to him in 1979.
Essentially undisturbed for the last forty-five years and only recently release from the late Mr Horsley's estate, the Works Prototype is now in need of total restoration. It appears to be substantially complete in terms of its major components and is accompanied by various spares such as a pair of Spyder doors and a Spyder windscreen. The car lacks a chassis plate but aside from bespoke aluminium bodywork (complete with traces of original red paint), it also has a unique bulkhead design and a Spyder dashboard etc. Further boasting a continuous ownership history and wealth of period correspondence / invoices, this 'mother of all Costin-Nathans' is surely worthy of a return to the race track in either Spyder or GT guises.