Deep Sanderson 301

Yes, this car company, Deep Sanderson, was named after a jazz song called Deep Henderson.*

And at the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, its 1,300-cc 4-cylinder racing engine prepared by Downton Engineering—originally from a humble BMC Mini—propelled it to an incredible 244 km/h (152 mph) on the Mulsanne Straight.

That speed was hit a year after the car's 1963 appearance at the French race, where it was gunning for the prestigious Index of Thermal Efficiency award that rewarded both speed and low fuel consumption. It was also the year Carlo Abarth apparently became furious at all of his cars being overtaken by the Deep Sanderson garagistas from Britain, and (possibly) cajoled officials to disqualify the team over a bogus technicality.

I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself with its racing results, but it's important to appreciate this car's achievements when you consider that it's actually a kit car.

That's right: developed by talented engineer Chris Lawrence from lessons learned with his company's Deep Sanderson Formula Junior cars, the 301 was a road car simply because "Race on Sunday, sell on Monday" seemed like a good way to start a car company.

Like his race cars, the small, mid-engined coupe used a novel suspension called the Lawrence Link (if you'd like to read a more in-depth piece on it, go here). Instead of going into technical detail, I'll instead share Lawrence's philosophy when designing his novel suspension. 

"I’ve never liked this business of anti-roll bars lifting the inside wheel to make the outside wheels work properly. I call that building a four wheel motorbike. As you can get it into a corner you are only running on two wheels. I adhered to that throughout my career and all my cars have been stunning in the wet.

"That’s why, because I leave the inside wheel doing something. The car itself is going to transfer weight but I’m not adding to it. Somebody once said, 'An anti-roll bar is a quick way to prop up an otherwise inadequate suspension,' and I think that’s right."

In head-to-head formula car races against the best from Lotus, the Deep Sandersons were winning just three races from their debut. The 301 road car had the same suspension, but now with a full backbone chassis (before the Lotus Elan) and mid-mounted BMC Mini engine.

Debuting at the Racing Car Show at Olympia in 1962, Lawrence was at one point surprised by two men who'd climbed under the all-alloy 301 prototype to have a closer look: Lotus' Colin Chapman and Mike Costin.

The race cars (and subsequent road cars) built after the alloy prototype would be in fibreglass, with about 17 kits sold in total. 

Sadly, the 1964 Le Mans was disastrous for both the team (they didn't finish) and Lawrence, who was sleeping on the way back to the UK when his vehicle was involved in an accident. Recovering in the hospital over nine months, his car company began to struggle, so he sold the innovative Lawrence Link suspension design to Rover. Predictably, Rover did nothing with the design, except to block Deep Sanderson for using it in its next Le Mans racer, the 302, entered in 1968.

Anyway, in period, the Deep Sanderson 301 added up to a tidy package, one that Classic & Sports Car recently tested, saying:

"Driving it, you realize how close to insanity Lawrence and his cohorts must have been to take on the world in this car. For a test drive, when sheer exhilaration tends to push the rawness into the shade, it is fine, but the idea of 24 hours at 10/10ths in the Deep is as claustrophobic as the cockpit itself when it steams up with condensation. Imagine a (much) louder Mini, with no comfort whatsoever beyond the seat.

"Even after a few hours in the Deep you feel as if you’ve survived 12 rounds with Tyson or a spin cycle in a washing machine drum, but so focused on the prize was Lawrence that he was prepared to endure that kidney-punching for hours on end."

Small? Loud? Fast? Frenetic? I want one.


* There is some confusion online as to what the car company was named after, a jazz song or Chris Lawrence's uncle—or possible his mother's maiden name. Based on my research, it seems as though the jazz song is most plausible—Deep Henderson was a jazz tune, and 'Deep' is an awfully implausible family name. Please get in touch if you can verify either way.