Mark11948 HUMBLE ORIGINS

Founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, studied structural engineering at University College in London. He built his first trials racing car in a rudimentary lock-up belonging to his girlfriend’s parents. Using only a power drill and elementary panel beating skills, he crafted the 1930’s Austin Seven based special into what later became known as the Mark 1 Lotus, registered OX 9292.  

Chapman graduated in 1949, and after national service in the RAF, joined the British Aluminum company. The experience he gained of aircraft technology, and the knowledge he acquired of aluminium during this time was to have a significant impact on the evolution of the Lotus ethos of “performance through lightweight”. Chapman met his girlfriend Hazel Williams 4 years earlier, and she was to prove instrumental in the path of his career.
Chapman became increasingly obsessed with motorsport and this provided a compelling focus for the company.

1950 CHAPMAN’S 2ND TRIALS CARColin Chapman in his workshop

During his leave periods from the RAF, Chapman built his second trials car with the help of girlfriend Hazel Williams, (his future wife) and friends Michael and Nigel Allen. This car was considered state-of-the-art  and was the first Lotus to be usable on the road. Sold in October 1950 to Mike Lawson, who quickly went on to win the Wrotham Cup.

Many theories have been formed over the years as to the origins of the naming of Lotus, but these can only be conjecture. The truth died with Chapman.
The famous Lotus badge is formed from the initials of Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.

Hazel Chapman-Mk3-Silverstone-1951

1951 Mark 3 circuit racing

In this year the first circuit racing car was designed; the first to actually be called a Lotus. The combination of the light-weight aluminium body and Chapman’s innovative engineering expertise, helped propel the car from 0-50mph in 6.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 90mph.
This was the true birth of the Lotus brand, although the two earlier cars were later to become known as the Mark 1 and 2 respectively.

The Mk IV early in 1952 still with its original rounded nosecone

1952 The Lotus Engineering Company

With the loan of £50 from girlfriend Hazel Williams, Chapman formed the Lotus Engineering Company. Build of the light-bodied, powerful Mark 4 began, but soon after production of the space-framed Mark 6 racer overtakes it. Over 100 Mark 6 examples were made over two years, and this became Lotus’ first series production car.

Chapman in the Mark 8

1954 TEAM LOTUS IS SET UP

The team comes into being. With the Mark 8, with which they could enter international motor racing, they become an overnight success.  On the racing scene, Chapman’s tendency to seek out loopholes in the regulations and to innovate begins, and this will later lead him to become known as both a maverick and a genius.

Colin Chapman in the Mk9 - Snetterton - 1955

1955 EARLY PRODUCTION

The Mark 6 was much in demand, but after manufacturing only 100 cars, orders for the pure sports racing cars took priority.  Chapman gave up his job to become fully employed with the production of Lotus cars at the Hornsey factory.

The Mark 8 became even more popular and Lotus was pressed for supply in both the larger and smaller engine capacities.

The company went on to develop the very agile Mark 9 and the more powerful  Mark 10, and was accepted by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders as a member, allowing them to display their cars at the Earls Court Motor Show for the first time.

The Works Lotus Eleven 1956

1956 THE LOTUS ELEVEN

After a busy 1955, Chapman decided to focus development  for the ensuing year on one basic model.
Developed as a descendant of the Mark 9, the Lotus Eleven (Chapman’s new chosen name and the start of the Lotus ‘E’ name tradition) comes in three basic models to suit varying customer requirements.
From hereon the models are referred as types rather than marks.

Lotus Seven1957 LOTUS SEVEN & LE MANS

The Lotus Seven was launched as a ‘no-frills’ sports car. The car was available as a fully built car or as a kit, and delivered exceptional performance at a relatively low cost.
Production of the Seven continued at Lotus until 1973, when the rights were passed to Caterham, who still produce a form of the car today.

TYPE 14At the Earls Court Motor Show the Type 14 Elite (the number 13 was not used as it is considered unlucky) was shown for the first time to great acclaim. This fixed head coupe is still considered by many to be one of the best proportioned cars ever built. This was the FIRST Lotus to carry a glass fibre composite body that also acted as the chassis.

Also in 1957 the Eleven proved highly successful on the race track, and achieved a historic win in the 750cc Class of the Index of Performance at Le Mans.

1958 GROUP LOTUS PLC

This is the year Chapman established Group Lotus.
Despite having been designed for Formula 2, the performance of the Lotus 12 meant that it became the FIRST Lotus to enter Formula 1 managing a highly credible fourth place at Spa.

The Type 15 (based on the Eleven), and Type 16 Formula 1 and 2 racing cars were developed. As one of the FIRST engineering consultancy roles, Chapman also had a hand in developing the Vanwall Grand Prix car for Tony Vandervell; the car going on to win the 1958 Constructors Championship.

Factory at Cheshunt1959 THE MOVE TO CHESHUNT

The factory moves from the original showroom next door to the Railway Inn on Tottenham Lane, Hornsey on the outskirts of London, to a new purpose-built facility at Cheshunt.

Following the great success of the Lotus Eleven, a new small capacity sports racer labelled the Type 17, was developed.  This extremely lightweight car weighed just 341 kg, but this innovation proved not to be successful on track and Chapman was forced to go back to the drawing board.