Historic Car Brands
Lotus Cars was founded in 1952 and owned for many years by Colin Chapman. After his death in 1982 and a period of financial instability, Lotus passed through different hands and is currently owned by Chinese multinational Geely, with Etika Automotive as an equity partner.
Lotus Mark 1 – Tom Bartlett
The Lotus origins go back to 1948, when Chapman built his first Ford-powered, lightweight racing car in a garage. In 1951 the first car branded ‘Lotus’ was the MKIII model that was built to comply with the Austin 7 class racing rules.
Although retaining the 7’s chassis and major componentry, Chapman’s Lotus version was a rocket and demand for copies convinced him that there was future for the brand.
Incidentally the four stylised letters at the top of the ‘Lotus’ logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
The first Lotus factory was situated in old stables and the company moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt in 1959.
In its early days, Lotus sold cars aimed at privateer racers and trialists. Its early road cars were normally bought as kits, in order to save on purchase tax and some models continued in that vein, until the kit car era ended in the late 1960s.
1955 Lotus Mk9 and Lotus 6 – Brian Snelson
Running through the list of subsequent Lotus models shows that of the 130 different vehicle types made, the majority are racing cars: either open wheelers or sports racers.
The Lotus Mk6 was the first production racer and around 100 were built. It was followed by the very successful Lotus Seven. Subsequent models of the Seven continued in production until 1972 and, even then, the design was licensed and continues today.
Original Sevens were powered by a Ford side-valve, 41hp 1,172 cc in-line-four engine. It was used on the road and for club racing: typically 750 motor club racing in the UK.
1965 Lotus Seven Series II – Dave7
The Lotus Seven S2 followed in 1960 and the Super Seven S2 from 1961.The Super Seven initially used the larger Cosworth-modified 1.3-litre Ford Classic engine and later examples were fitted with 1.5-litre or 1.6-litre engines. The Seven S3 was released in 1968 the 1970 S4 had a squarer fibreglass shell replacing most of the aluminium bodywork.
Some S4s scored twin-cam Lotus engines.
1962 Lotus Elite – Charles 01
The Lotus Elite debuted at the 1957 London Motor Car Show, after a year in development and race track trials. It was the first Lotus closed vehicle and was formed with then-innovative fibreglass monocoque construction, with no chassis.
A steel subframe was bonded into the front of the monocoque, to support the engine and front coil/wishbone suspension. A bonded windscreen ‘hoop’ provided mounting points for door hinges, a jacking point for lifting the car and roll-over protection. Inset steel mounts at the rear located the differential and Chapman-strut suspension.
The body construction caused numerous early problems, until manufacture was handed over to the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
The Elite broke too much new ground, unfortunately, in the days when integrating steel and FRP components was little understood. Elites didn’t like rough roads or racing stresses that saw bonded mounts pull out fo the FRP.
The Elite tipped the scales at little over a half-tonne, so performance from the tiny 1.2-litre, aluminium block and head, 75hp, OHC Coventry Climax in-line four was sparkling.
The 85hp SE was introduced in 1960 as a higher-performance variant, featuring twin SU carburettors and a ZF gearbox in place of the original MG one.
Lotus Elite at Mallory Park – Tom at Picassa
The Super 95 model had a higher compression ratio and some Super 100 and Super 105 cars were made, fitted with Weber carburettors, for racing.
The Elite won in its class six times at the 24 hour Le Mans race and New South Wales driver Leo Geoghegan won the 1960 Australian GT Championship at the wheel of a Lotus Elite
When production ended in 1963, just over 1000 cars had been built.
1963 Lotus Elan 1600 S1 – Dave7
Lessons learned with the Elite program were incorporated in the design of the much more successful Lotus Elan two-seater that was later developed to 2+2 form.
Fibreglass bodywork was attached to a steel backbone chassis and the 680kg car was powered a 105hp,1.6-litre Lotus Twin Cam engine that was based on the four-cylinder 1.5-litre engine, with a Harry Mundy-designed, two-valve, aluminium, chain-driven, twin-cam head.
The rights to this engine design were later purchased by Ford, which renamed it the Lotus-Ford Twin Cam used it in a number of Ford and Lotus production and racing models.
1973 Lotus Elan 2S – Acabashi
Inevitably, the Elan received a factory-initiated racing upgrade. The 26R had competition-spec wishbones, sliding spline driveshafts in place of rubber joints, bigger anti-roll bars and a degree of reinforcement around the suspension pick-up points. A140hp Cosworth-tuned engine was standard, but 160hp was offered in time.
The Elan had around 12 times the sales success of the Elite!
Lotus Cortina MkI – NRMA Motorfest 2012
The two-door Ford Cortina Lotus sports saloon was produced from 1963 to 1970 by Ford, in collaboration with Lotus Cars.
The major changes involved installing the engine and close-ratio gearbox from the Elan.
The Lotus had shorter struts up front and vertical coil spring/dampers replaced the leaf springs, A- and trailing-arms located the axle location. Braces were put behind the rear seat and from the rear wheel arches to chassis in the boot.
Aluminium doors, bonnet and boot were pressed and lightweight casings were used for the gearbox and differential. Nearly all the cars were painted white with a green stripe.
Later MkI models and the subsequent MkII Lotus Cortina abandoned the complex rear-coil arrangement and had reset rear leaf springs.
Lotus Europa – Morven
Always the design leader, Lotus launched its first mid-engined road car, the two-seater Europa, in 1967. Mid-engined cars had taken over in monoposto and sports car racing, but there were only a few specialised road vehicles with that configuration.
The Europa combined an Elan-style backbone steel chassis and lightweight body with a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission. The chosen powerplant was the Renault 16 1.5-litre, but upgraded by Lotus to produce 82hp. In the front wheel drive Renault sedan the engine sat behind the transaxle, so in the Europa the whole assembly was simply turned through 180-degrees.
In 1971 Lotus dropped in its 105hp twin-cam Elan engine and, in 1973, the Renault 16’s new five-speed box. Race-modified Europas had dry-sump Formula Junior engines, good for 160hp and Hewland transmissions, plus race suspensions front and rear, with larger brakes.
1975 Lotus Elite 2.0 – Vauxford
From 1974 to 1982, Lotus reintroduced the ‘Elite’ model name, on the larger, front-engined, four-seat Type 75 and later Type 83 models that replaced the ageing Lotus Elan Plus 2.
The Elite had a fibreglass shooting brake body, mounted on a steel backbone chassis, evolved from the Elan’s and with a glass rear hatch opening into the luggage compartment.
The Elite was the first Lotus to use the aluminium-block 4-valve, DOHC, four-cylinder Type 907 engine that displaced two litres and was rated at 155hp.
Lotus 907 engine
The Eclat was a fastback version of the Elite, launched in 1975 and upgraded in 1980 with the 2.2-litre engine. In 1982 it morphed into the Excel that had many Toyota transmission and running-gear components, reflecting Toyota’s brief shareholding in Lotus at the time. (Toyota had invested in 1980, when Lotus was in a dire financial position.)
In 1975, the Lotus Esprit replaced the Europa and was initially powered by the 907 engine, driving through a Citroen C-35 transaxle, as used in the SM and the Maserati Merak. The 2.2-litre 912 engine came in 1981, with or without turbocharging. By 1986, the naturally aspirated engine had 170hp and the turbo version, 215hp.
Lotus Esprit – Mr Choppers
The wheels fell off at lotus in December 1982, when Colin Chapman died suddenly from a heart attack. (He had been involved in the UK-Government-funded DMC Delorean Project and there were many questions being asked about where the money went.)
With Group Lotus near bankruptcy in 1983, David Wickins, the founder of British Car Auctions, oversaw a complete turnaround in the company’s fortunes, organising the sale to General Motors that was finalised in 1986. Subsequent sale led to ownership by Malaysian motor manufacturer, Proton in 1996.
Lotus Elan M100 – Charles 01
During the GM period the Lotus M100 Elan was launched in August 1989, reviving the Elan nameplate after 14 years. A two-seater convertible sports car with front-wheel drive, designed in-house by Lotus, it featured a 1.6-litre, DOHC, in-line, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission supplied by Isuzu (then part-owned by GM) and was built with GM’s development and testing resources.
Most Elans were sold with the turbo option that provided 164hp.
1996 Lotus Elise – Hugh Llewelyn
The Lotus Elise two-seat, rear-wheel drive, mid-engined roadster was released in September 1996. The Elise had a fibreglass body shell, bonded to an extruded aluminium chassis that kept weight and production costs to a minimum. (The Elise was named after Elisa Artioli, the granddaughter of Romano Artioli who was chairman of Lotus and Bugatti at the time of the car’s launch.)
Power came from Rover’s 1.8-litre four and ranged from 118hp up to 142hp. Later models had Toyota power, with or without supercharging, u pro 217hp.
Formula 1 legend
In its early days, the company encouraged its customers to race its cars and it first entered Formula One through its sister company Team Lotus in 1958.
A Lotus Formula One car driven by Stirling Moss won the marque’s first Grand Prix in 1960 at Monaco. Moss drove an underpowered Lotus 18 entered by privateer Rob Walker.
Major success came in 1963, when Jim Clark’s Lotus 25 won Team Lotus its first F1 World Constructors Championship.
1967 Dutch Grand Prix – Colin Chapman and Jim Clark – Eric Koch
The Lotus 49 was designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe for the 1967 F1 season, using the Cosworth DFV engine that would power most of the Formula One grid through the 1970s. It was one of the first F1 cars to use a stressed-member drivetrain to reduce weight, and the first to be widely copied by other teams. It won World Championships in 1967, 1968 and 1970.
Ayrton Senna drove for the team from 1985 until 1987, achieving 17 pole positions.
Team Lotus cars won a total of 79 Grand Prix races. Team Lotus is credited with making the mid-engined layout popular for IndyCars and developing the first monocoque Formula One chassis.
During his lifetime Chapman saw Lotus beat Ferrari in achieving 50 Grand Prix victories, despite Ferrari having won their first GP victory nine years sooner.
Formula One Drivers’ Championship winners for Lotus were Jim Clark in 1963 and 1965, Graham Hill in 1968, Jochen Rindt in 1970, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972 and Mario Andretti in 1978.