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  • 27 March 2017
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    Lotus - Not just a car

    What’s it all about

    What do you think when you hear Lotus? What images come to mind and why? Lotus has always been known for its superior, efficient and stylish engineering. We’re going to have a look at Lotus from the very beginning and figure out just how it's managed to get its outstanding reputation that precedes itself.

    Firstly, let’s just stop and appreciate that there is a dedicated Lotus Philosophy! A philosophy is regarded as ‘a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour’, and Lotus have implemented a fundamental and pivotal guideline for their developments from day 1. So, here it is:

    “Lotus is a pioneer
    We do not play by the rule book
    Instead, we redefine it
    When our rivals catch up, we move the bar once more
    Lotus never stands still”

    This approach to automotive manufacturing sets the brand apart. It’s more than just a car, it’s a lifestyle, and, even more so, it’s an exclusive and elite group to be a part of. Through eight decades Lotus have focused on innovation being the key in their designs, unconventional approaches that focus on high performance. The founder of Lotus, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman CBE (more commonly known as Colin Chapman), is at the root of this individual and outstanding approach. Chapman had a great knowledge in the aeronautical industry and a passion for design, development and automobiles. This would prove both vital and key in the development of the 125 Lotus cars over the last 70 years. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look from the very beginning.

    The early days 1947-1957

    The first ever Lotus was born in 1947, this was the Mark 1 Trials Special and was based on a 1937 Austin 7 chassis and drivetrain. Chapman implemented the strategy of stressing every panel of the car to strengthen it rather than adding additional material, many of his techniques had been learnt at University whilst studying aircraft construction. This engineering philosophy of not adding unnecessary weight was to be carried on throughout Lotus history. In 1948 the Mark 2 was developed, this was during Chapman’s RAF military service, a time when his fascination of an aircraft's flight engineering really started to shine through. This was a car that was renowned for speed and agility and did very well in the racing world, but requirements and prerequisites changed and a new formula of racing was introduced. 1951 saw the introduction of the eye-catching Mark 3, the racing community stood up and noticed this one.


    By 1952 Chapman had tweaked, nipped and tucked the design and was ready to do something new. His engineering enthusiasm and knowledge is embodied in the Mark 6, the multi-tubular body frame reimagined and reinvented chassis construction, this lightweight frame meant the Mark 6 weighed no more than 41kg! This was the first production sports car for Lotus.



    A minimalist open sports car designed to manoeuvre a racing circuit. The Lotus Seven began as a reformed and enhanced Mark 6 but it soon took on its own character. A steel tube frame with aluminium bodywork and later the fibreglass nose, a variety of engines and the addition of being available mostly in kit form meant that it was an attainable model for people to have and adaptable to both road use and racing. Different variations of the vehicle were produced until 1973, when the rights to the car were bought by Caterham Cars ltd which still produces the Caterham Seven now. It was also at this time that the Type 14 Lotus Elite appeared this was the first closed passenger vehicle offered by Lotus. But it was 1960-62 that is considered the start of the Lotus revolution, with the introduction of the Type 18 and 19, the first to incorporate a mid-engine design and it was the Type18 that Lotus won their first Formula One at Monaco in 1960. The Type 19 was the road going and widened version of the Type 18 (also known as the Monte Carlo). It appeared that Chapman’s philosophy on engineering and development was working.

    “Adding power makes you faster on the straights;
    subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”

    lotus type 18

    From 1962 the success continues...

    By 1962, Lotus was a well-established brand. Celebrated for its ingenuity and innovative engineering, Chapman’s “simplify and then add lightness” approach was a very modern notion, he made minimalism a legitimate concept for development before it was trendy. Over the next decade, it was one success after another, Lotus were the shining light in the automotive industry especially where racing vehicles were concerned. They were pioneers in their designs and really did change the path for automotive engineering. Here are just a few of the highlights:

    • Type 23 - was the most popular sports racer in Lotus history 1962-64
    • Type 26 the Lotus Elan - the most produced Lotus ever 1962-73
    • Type 43 - truncated Monocoque Chassis- doubted at first but now used in all formula one racing cars 1966-67 later developed into the Type 49 which introduced aerofoils, high mounted wings, wedge-shaped body panels and the use of air management to create down force 1967-70 .
    • Type 50 - Lotus Elan Plus Two. This was their first ever family car, it retained all the sportiness of the standard Elan (1962) but added the practicality of improved cabin space and two jump seats.  

           lotus 43 


    Chapman's engineering knowledge and passion had taken Lotus through a real period of success and growth, the last decade saw this continue but also gave way to less successful ventures. Here are some of the main events that can sum up this tumultuous time of legacy and scandal.

    • 1970-1975 saw the development of the most successful Formula One race car ever raced, the Type 72 and later the 74. It used variable rate torsion bar springs at both front and rear, front inboard disc brakes, the continuation of the wedge aerodynamic bodywork, multiple element rear wing and side radiators. Today, nearly every Formula racing car uses these elements. The Lotus 72 won 3 World’s Constructors Championships, 2 Drivers Championships, and is the Only Formula One car to win 20 Grand Prix races.

    lotus type 72

    • 1976-1980 - The Lotus Espirit, first revealed as a design and styling exercise by Giugiaro Design and proved so successful it soon went into production. It proved so stylish in fact, it actually appeared in the film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, driven by 007 himself! The amphibious take on the vehicle made the Espirit one of the most famous cars in the world.

    lotus espirit first gen

    • 1981- 1982- Chapman got involved with his friend John DeLorean and started on a new venture in “81. This was a venture that was mainly associated with scandal. Mostly to do with government investment and a venture to help with unemployment levels in Ireland, this, unfortunately, resulted in an underperforming car and also the fact that DeLorean was eventually arrested on cocaine-dealing charges in 1982. Following the arrest of DeLorean, Chapman passed away from a massive heart attack aged only 54

    The Lotus Esprit Turbo 1981-87

    We feel that the Esprit Turbo is deserving of its own section. The innovative and inspiring dynamic car of high speed and top design was the embodiment of Chapman's mantra ‘performance through lightweight’ weighing less than 1000kg. It used the turbocharging technology learned in racing and applied it to the Esprit, power output was raised to 210bhp it was history's most extreme example of turbo lag. Price wise the Esprit was on sale at the equivalent of about £85,000 in today's money. This Lotus was a true testament to everything that Chapman stood for and everything he was striving to do, and at least would have given Chapman this satisfaction before his death.

    lotus turbo


    • Lotus Elan 1990, the Type 100 was a vehicle that was very much dressed to impressed. 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, and through a culmination of Lotus’s classic steel bone chassis and advanced composite fibreglass body it was the stiffest and lightest car of its time. Lotus were still proving and developing on Chapman’s belief that you should not add materials to make a vehicle better but make the materials better themselves. In 1995 Kia bought the rights to the car and starting producing the simply titled Kia Elan.  

    lotus elan
    The 108 prototype Olympic bicycle Gold Medal Barcelona 1992. Lotus developed the aerodynamic, carbon fibre Sport bicycle which got Chris Boardman gold in the 4000m at the Olympic games in Barcelona. Ingenuity and invention through engineering techniques was still a big part of who Lotus were, inventions and creations like this are just further proof of it.

    lotus 108 bike

    • Lotus Esprit S4 and S4s 1994-95 were models that represented a landmark for Lotus. With extensive changes to the exterior and interior design and layout, Lotus had introduced things such as mid-mounted rear wings, 17” wheels, larger cabin, passenger airbag and power assisted steering. This fine tuning of the already successful model gave the Lotus new levels of refinement.
    • Lotus 111- the Lotus Elise 1996 was originally designed as a low production model but the Elise smashed all expectations and got Lotus back on top as the leader in sports car production. The Elise has also inspired some of the more impressive limited additions, such as the 340R and the Exige Coupe.  

                                lotus eliselotus s4

    Lotus enters a new century: 2000 till now

    • Lotus Extreme concept 2000- this was a radical concept that brought together all the vehicle designs they had done over the years. Aerospace, motorbike and boats!
    • The Lotus Shopping Trolley 2000- stability and agility. The two fundamentals of a good driving experience can also be applied to a good… Trolley experience? They developed a perfectly handled, 5 wheel shopping trolley!
    • Lotus Sport Exige. The Exige, in development since 2000 was a high performance 2 door vehicle. It has been developed and tweaked over the years, including the famous Union Jack body.
    • EVE hybrid 2007 - Efficient, Viable, Environmental, this was based on the compact and midsized Proton Gen 2 with a 1.6 litre engine. The Lotus and Proton engineers worked together to produce a car that would demonstrate that existing models of cars could all be adapted to have lower emissions. It was seen as a for economical move, it seems more viable to add hybrid tech into existing models rather that create a whole new hybrid platform.  
    • Evora 2008, this was the first all-new car to be released by Lotus since 1995 and the Lotus Elise. It was the first in a five year plan for Lotus to expand their line-up to beyond their track vehicles. Evora was the more practical road car, designed to appeal to the mainstream, and it succeeded, winning Britain’s Best Driver's Car 2009 from Autocar. Later came the Evora 400, this was the fastest Lotus road car of this century producing 400bhp (hence the name), they achieved this through lowered weight and enhanced aerodynamics, another nod to the Lotus mantra.

    lotus evora 400

    • 3-Eleven was released in 2016 and smashed everything before. It is Lotus’s fastest production car ever with a top speed of 174 mph and 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds… how? You guessed it, they cut even more weight by using a carbon fibre body, with no doors, roof or windscreen. Chapman's sentiment of ‘simplify then add lightness’.

    lotus 3 eleven
    So, there you have it. A brief yet insightful look into the manufacturing history and, more importantly, the philosophy of Lotus. Chapmans innovation led to an engineering tradition, and Lotus is known for using the last parts in its manufacturing and a leader in lightweight productions. Colin Chapman unknowingly initiated a design approach that has made Lotus a leader in environmentally friendly vehicle technology, and a design initiative to never lose their integrity and quality. His very different approach set them apart from the get-go, believing in refining rather than adding to enhance performance was a very different approach, but, as we can see, it was an approach that well and truly paid off.

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