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.
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.
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.
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.
At 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.
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.
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.