1990 The Lotus Carlton
The legendary Lotus Carlton (Lotus Omega outside the UK) was launched; essentially a Carlton/Omega GSi completely stripped and rebuilt by Lotus, to become one of the quickest saloon cars in the world. Its specification was simply awesome. Power was from a 3.6-litre straight-six with 24 valves, two turbochargers, producing 377bhp and 419lb ft of torque. In magazine tests the Lotus Carlton pulled around 174mph; and would also run to 60mph in 5.2secs and 100mph in just 11.5secs.
In the USA, a works-supported team of three Esprit Turbo SE's entered the 'Showroom Stock' race series. In just nine races the team achieved four victories, six pole positions, six fastest laps, and second place in the Manufacturers' Championship.
On the engineering side of the business, the Rt. Hon. Cecil Parkinson, Secretary of State for Transport, opened a new £2 million semi-anechoic chamber and the Hethel factory.
1991 Elan wins award
The Elan received the British Design Council award. Team Lotus became privately owned by a new management consortium led by Peter Wright and Peter Collins, the latter having been a former team manager with both Benetton and Williams. Team drivers were Julian Bailey and Mika Hakkinen, with Johnny Herbert retained as official test driver.
The actor Paul Newman drove one of the three new '91-spec race Esprit’s for the Showroom Stock series in the States.
The M200, a futuristic concept sports car based on the Elan caused a stir at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, and the following month a revised Esprit range was unveiled.
1992 Go for Gold
1993 Bugatti ownership
Bugatti International of Italy, a relatively new company that had been formed in 1990, bought Group Lotus from General Motors. This company had only the name in common with the original Bugatti company formed by Ettore Bugatti in 1924.
Romano Artioli held a 20% share in Bugatti International with the remainder of shares held by a Luxembourg holding company, ACBN Holdings S.A. Artioli became acting CEO of Group Lotus.
The Esprit S4 had a minor facelift and a range of mechanical refinements including power-steering as standard. In May, the Esprit Sport 300 supercar went into production, and the following month a pair of them competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race – it was the first works-supported entry for more than 30 years.
A contract to design a new family of car engines for the Taiwanese government gave Lotus Engineering cause for celebration.
The new Lotus Sport 110 road bike made its debut with Team ONCE on the grueling Tour de France.
1994 Elan S2
The Elan S2 was launched at the Geneva Motor Show. Featuring a new 16inch wheel and tyre package and some further suspension enhancements. The Elan S2 was to be built in a limited run of just 800 units.
There was a fresh Esprit derivative, too, the S4S, complete with 300bhp (224 kW; 304 PS) , new wheels and tyres, and revised suspension settings.
An Esprit S4 ‘Police Car’ was produced, demonstrating that there was no point running from the law.
The first Lotus Sport 110 production carbon-composite bicycle was auctioned at Sotheby's to raise funds for the UK's Transport Trust. And it was a busy year for the bike. In June, Boardman rode a Lotus Sport 110 to win a 30km stage of the Tour de Suisse, then in July set a new record average speed on the Prologue of the Tour de France. To nicely round off his season, Boardman won the 4km Pursuit and the 30km Road Race at the World Championships in Sicily.
Out on the race track, an Esprit Sport 300, driven by Thorkild Thyrring, won the British National GT series.
1995 Team Lotus disbanded
Spiraling costs led to the disbanding of Team Lotus at the start of the F1 season, closing an important chapter in Lotus history.
In February, the Lotus GT race programme was brought in-house in preparation for an all-out assault on UK sports car endurance racing. Drivers Alessandro Zanardi and Alex Portman had a mixed season in the highly competitive GT2 category, but the Esprit proved a worthy contender. In wet conditions at the Silverstone British Empire Trophy four-hour race, the team managed to take class honours and crossed the finish line fourth overall.
Lotus produced its 50,000th car in the March, and in celebration donated the car, an Elan S2, to Prince Charles’ Princes Trust charity; with the help of former Lotus driver and film star, Britt Ekland, and an English newspaper. The Elan S2 raised £65,000. Production of the limited edition S2 ceased in August 1995. Lotus was the featured marque at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races in California, USA. Lotus enthusiasts from around the world attended the famous event, to see a glittering display of Lotus F1, Indy, sports and road cars.
The most significant event of the year was the unveiling of the Elise, (named after the granddaughter of Chairman, Romano Artioli), at the Frankfurt Auto Show. To the obvious delight of the press and public the Elise was not only pretty, it was technically advanced and super-light. Its composite and energy absorbing chassis was made from epoxy-bonded aluminium extrusions, a world FIRST, as were its extruded aluminium suspension uprights and aluminium metal-matrix brake discs. It promised breathtaking performance (0-60mph in 5.8secs) for a price of less than £20,000.
1996 Proton majority shareholder
Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton) announced it had acquired an 80% majority shareholding in Group Lotus plc from ACBN Holdings S.A. (the holding company of Bugatti International).
The acquisition was regarded by Proton as providing mutual benefits, with Lotus’expertise in product development and engineering, and its exclusive patents, and Proton’s manufacturing capability.
The all-new Esprit GT1 racer was unveiled at the Paul Ricard circuit in France on 1 March, the still-secret Lotus V8 lurking under its engine cover. Four days later the secret was out, when the 175mph Esprit V8 road car made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The all-new Lotus-designed and extremely compact 3.5-litre V8 had twin turbos; not only did it develop an impressive 350bhp, it had a whopping 400Nm of peak torque and a very flat torque curve. As well as this new power plant, the Esprit benefited from upgraded brakes, featuring a new ABS controller and a new vacuum servo system.
At the Geneva Motorshow the Esprit S4 GT3 was well received by both public and press. It was propelled by a turbocharged and charge-cooled 2.0-litre unit pumping out 240bhp. The lightweight GT3 could do 0-60mph in 5.1secs and reached 164mph.
The Elise became the darling of the world's motoring press, picking up countless awards and trophies for the brilliance of its handling and design. It was also a finalist in the 1996 Prince of Wales Award for Innovation - fitting recognition for the talented team who designed the car.
Lotus Engineering continued to expand with HRH Prince of Wales officially opening a new £3.5 million engine test cell block in late November.
Lotus staff create the ‘Living logo’ in the grounds of Ketteringham Hall, owned by Chapman and used by Team Lotus as a base for the development of racing cars.
1997 1000th Elise
The Elise proved more of a hit than even Lotus expected - the 1000th Elise rolled off the production line in the middle of May. This forced a rethink on production volumes, which were raised to 2500 units a year from the 800 originally planned.
Two intriguing Elise versions were also unveiled. The first was a research project, powered by two Zytec electric motors, the second was the awesome Sport 190, designed as a track day powerhouse.
Lotus announced that it was investing £7.5 million in 19 new state-of-the-art test cells (raising the total at the Hethel site to 42), to accommodate major new engine build and development programmes. A further £1.5 million was spent on a new paintshop facility, opened in the July by the King and Queen of Malaysia. At the London Motorshow, the Esprit V8 was treated to a new interior, and gearbox and clutch improvements. A pared-down version of the Esprit was launched, the V8 GT.
1998 50th Celebrations
The Elise was chosen by the Design Council as a prestigious ‘Millennium Product', and Group Lotus was among the first companies in Europe to achieve QS9000 certification, one of the most stringent quality management systems in the world.
In September Lotus hosted its 50th anniversary celebrations with a party at Hethel. More than 12,000 staff, dealers, club members and Lotus owners from all over the world enjoyed a superb day out, and over 2,000 Lotus cars were parked on the test track.
There’s more cause for celebration at the Birmingham Motor Show in October, as Lotus revealed the stunning 340R as a concept car.
The lightweight and big-braked Esprit Sport 350 supercar was released as a dramatic limited edition model, and the Elise Sport 135 also took a bow - although just 50 examples were built by the factory, all its components could be bought through the company’s aftermarket outlets.
1999 Back into motorsport
Lotus launched the Elise 111S at Geneva Motor Show in March. Powered by a 145PS version of the 1.8-litre K series VVC engine, this sporty new derivative had a close-ratio gearbox and enhanced handling.
The Opel Speedster/ VX220 concept was shown, and the sports car went on to be built at the Lotus factory in Hethel.
Lotus also revealed that the 340R was to become a production model (with a run of just 340).
The news that Lotus was to return to motorsport was widely welcomed, with its own innovative one-make race series based on the Motorsport-developed Sport Elise. To coincide with a comprehensive redesign of the test track at Lotus’ Hethel headquarters, the Lotus Driver Training Experience was launched in August. This was also the month that Proton unveiled its impressive Satria GTi hot hatch - Lotus had played a significant role in making this one of the best-handling cars in its class.
1999 also saw the company reveal an all-new mini-supercar concept that fits into the range between the Elise and Esprit. Called Project M250, the car had a 250hp, 3 litre V6 engine.
The London show was used as the platform to announce that the Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220 would be built on behalf of General Motors by Lotus, at Hethel. Manufacturing was to take place in a new facility, which would give Lotus the capacity to produce 10,000 cars annually.