Nominally a two-seater (to comply with formula rules), it was a purpose-built for racing with a driver alone.
The 23 used a wider version of the Lotus 20 space frame, with the same suspension, clothed in a fibreglass bodyand was originally intended for engines of 750 cc to 1300 cc (45-80ci).
The revised Lotus 23B was given stronger chassis tubes and fitted with more powerful 1.5 and 1.6 litre Lotus Twincam engines.
The car was constructed of fibre glass and had a Hewland MK gearbox, with double wishbone and dual trailing arm suspension and rack and pinion steering.
Debut at the Nürburgring
The debut of the 23 was at the Nordschleife in May, 1962. The tiny 100 bhp (70 kW) Lotus 23 shot away from the field of Porsches, Aston Martins and Ferraris with Jim Clark at the wheel. Even though some cars had four times the power of the Lotus, after the first lap, in the wet, Clark was 27 seconds ahead of Dan Gurney's Porsche. Extending his lead on each lap until the track dried, Clark was overcome by exhaust fumes from a damaged exhaust manifold on lap 12 and crashed out.
Banned from Le Mans
In June 1962, two 23s were entered at Le Mans, a 750 cc and a one liter (45ci & 61ci). Due to political pressure brought to bear by French teams, the 23s were disallowed on technical grounds related to their wobbly-web wheels. A furious Chapman vowed, "We will never race again at Le Mans!" - and Team Lotus has not entered cars till 1997, when Lotus raced one Elise GT1 in the French event.
In spite of these early problems, the Lotus 23 proved a competitive, durable, and popular race car. Over 130 were produced in three versions: the standard 23, 23B, 23C. Today these cars are a mainstay of vintage racing in Europe and the United States.
Restoration and replication of the Lotus 23
Beginning in the early 1980s a small group of enthusiasts began to make it possible to restore original Lotus 23 by remanufacturing parts. These parts are now easily available. It was at about this time that a Register was established for the Lotus 23. That Register is now part of the Historic Lotus Register of the UK. Enthusiasts for the car can join the Yahoo Group, "L23Registry". Some race organizers and the Historic Motor Sports Association began in 2007 to take steps to restrict race participation by replica cars.
There are several sources of replicas of Lotus 23 cars.
The Xanthos 23 is the most accurate reproduction of the original car using the same design and materials as the 1960s original. Powered by Lotus twincam, it is still built by Xanthos Sports Cars in the traditional way near Bristol, UK.
Following the success of his Ultima GTR project, Lee Noble created a Lotus 23 replica with a wider track than the original to allow for true two seater use. It proved very successful in racing, with over 60 cars produced using either Lotus twincam or Renault V6 engines. Noble's version continued in production, first by Auriga Design using an Alfa Romeo engine and transaxle, and now by Mamba Motorsport near Oxford, UK using Ford Duratec Engines.