From simple beginnings in Hornsey, North London in 1947, Colin Chapman went on to build the world-famous, multi-million pound Lotus organisation. In so doing, he left an indelible mark on the sports car industry within the UK and estabished himself as "the greatest, most creative designer of racing cars in the history of motor racing", to quote Jackie Stewart.
As the annotation to the photo on the left of Ketteringham Hall (the headquarters of Team Lotus, the Grand Prix team) shows, Lotus went on to win the Formula 1 World Constructors Championship 7 times and the Drivers Championship 6 times. They also took on the americans in "their own backyard" and won the Indianpolis 500 in 1965. Colin's main desire was always to take on the scarlet Ferraris on the race track and break their domination of the sport. As, the record shows, this he certainly did during the sixties and, at the peak of their superiority in the seventies, Lotus had amalgamated more Grand Prix victories than any other team: this was now a world-class team, that was second to none. Lotus had become the team by which all others were measured on the track and on the road, their sports cars, such as the Elan, Elite and Esprit, had elevated te marque from it's to self-build heritage, to the supercar league. The name "Lotus" would now forever be synomomous with superb handling and exotic performance.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, was born of ordinary parents, in London on May 19, 1928. His youth was filled with typical English boyhood antics and schooling. The design drawing of a "littl stik man"on the right, which was produced by Colin at the tender age of 5 1/2 years, showed the promise of great things to come! In later years his imagination and innovation, would combine with his perfectionism and powers of motivation to push the frontiers of vehicle technology, at a time when the British motor industry was boged down with technical conservatism. By the age of 17 he was entering the University College of London University to study engineering.
It was soon after entering the London University, that he and Colin Dare began a second hand car sales business. The year being 1946 cars were scarce and the business boomed. Often lectures were skipped in order that "deals" could be secured. The business expanded into modifying and improving the cars before selling them, which brought greater profits. Unfortunately, this booming business was not to last as in 1947 the British government did away with the basic petrol rationing and the demand for second hand vehicles crashed. The remnaint though, an old 1937 Austin 7, was to be the basis of the first Lotus, the Mark 1. Only the chassis and drivetrain were retained as Colin fashioned a totally new body and modified the engine and suspension. The Austin was modified to be a trials car, using many of the construction techniques that Colin had learned while studying aircraft construction at school. Colin continued to develop and modify the Mark 1, including a innovative splitting and hinging of the front beam axle to provide independent front suspension. However, in the Spring of 1947 work on the Mark 1 tapered off to benefit of Colin's studies and by the end of the year Colin Chapman had completed his engineering studies and officially attained B.Sc.(Eng).
Work had only begun on the new car when Colin enrolled in military service in the RAF, where he learned to fly and also became even more intrigued by airplanes and their engineering. This was to prove an important influence for this budding engineer, which would manifest itself gloriously on the Formula 1 circuits of the world, in many different forms. Aerodynamics was an area that had received little scrutiny from the leading teams, other than the provision of "stream-lined" bodies.
A Mark 2 car was completed by late 1948 and it's speed and performance further enthused Colin's interest in motor sport. In September of 1949 Colin's term with the RAF was completed and he returned to civilian life. The Mark 2 was sold to Mike Lawson, the uncle of Sterling Moss, and Mike proved very successful with it. In the Autumn a new formula was introduced for circuit racing, 750cc Formula racing and by January of 1951 work on the Lotus Mark 3, a car designed to meet the requirements of this new formula, had begun. It was this third Lotus that really caught the eyes of the racing community.
With Colin in the driver's seat, the Lotus Mark 3 consistently won races- it was clearly the fastest of the 750cc Formula. The Mark 3 showed all of the now classic signs of the future Lotus. It was light, lean, innovative. It did not merely win, it pounded the competition into submission. It forced the racing governing bodies to regulate specifically against the Mark 3 to preserve equality. This was, as was to be seen in the future, only the first of such occasions where rules were written with Lotus specifically in mind. The die was set, the racing community had been put on it's ear!
Mike Lawson returned to Colin ready to purchase a faster Lotus and by the end of 1951 it was apparent that othercompetitors were interested and inquiries began to flow into Lotus about obtaining copies of this winning car. Accordingly, the Lotus Engineering Company officially came into being on January 1st 1952, located in Colin's father's building in Hornsey. Copies of the Mark 3 were built and a Mark 4 design was put into motion. A Mark 5 was shelved to design and build products for the components market. With the Mark 6, Chapman used his engineering knowledge to design a robust multi-tubular body-frame, which was light, yet extremely rigid. There was no room for excess, every tube had a specific purpose, resulting in a space frame chassis which weighed only 55 pounds, and when panels and mounting brackets were added the full up weight tipped only 90 pounds!
By late 1953 the Mark 8 was introduced and the level of orders meant that Colin was no longer able to hold down two jobs: he resigned from technical sales with the British Aluminum Company and became full time leader of the budding Lotus company.
1957 the Mark 7, which enjoyed universal approval as the renouned Lotus 7 and still was verified by the list of customers lined up to purchase copies of the winning car.
The next few years were spent pursuing victories at Le Mans, the cars; the Mark 9, the Lotus Eleven and the Lotus 14, Elite.
By 1960 the Le Mans victories were in hand and Chapman's interests in racing turned from Sports Racer vehicles to open wheeled race cars, Formula Junior, Indianapolis Cars and the World Series of racing; Formula One, an arena dominated by the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Porsche, Cooper and BRM. Photo of Lotus 25 at Monaco - click here for my personal tour of the circuit
From 1960 to 1981, Chapman and Lotus became the most successful Formula One Team, posting championship after championship. Establishing a tradition of winning by a total commitment to creating a superior performing car through superior engineering and innovation.
It was a dedication to superior engineering and innovation that took Chapman and Lotus to an Indianapolis victory in 1965 and fielding the infamous STP Turbine cars and 4 wheel drive cars of the late 60's. It was this same dedication that created the first successful full monocoque racing chassis, the first successful fully stressed engine for racing, and the first full composite chassis for a road car.
It was the Chapman connection that brought Ford's money to the small firm of Cosworth, operated by two old employees, Frank Costin and Keith Duckworth. From this came the most successful Formula One engine in history, the Cosworth Ford DFV. The first win came with Jim Clark at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix. It was the maiden race for the sleek, ultra-light Lotus 49 powered by the Cosworth Ford in its first race. The competition was overwhelmed by the superior chassis and engine and victory was Clark's.
In 1978 Chapman unveiled the Lotus 79 Formula One race car and again the rule books would have to be rewritten as would history.
The Lotus 79 used bodywork on the underside that effectively created a venturi,
thus as the air rushed under the car the air was forced to accelerate and
the pressure of the air was lowered dramatically.
The result was down-force never before imaginable, in excess of 2000 pounds of down-force was created in addition to Lotus 79's 1250 pound weight.
The Lotus 79 was said to corner as if truly on rails and it took six Grand
Prix wins in 1978. The impact upon racing created by ground effects cars
were so astounding that by the end of 1981 the ground effects Formula One
cars were banned and replaced with flat bottom cars in 1982.
... Meanwhile, Chapman's R & D team at Ketteringham Hall came upwith Lotus's way of tackling what had now evolved into a totally stupid set of technical regulations. Skirted Grand Prix cars may well have thrown the technical initiative to the innovative British constructors but, properly engineered, they at least had predictable handling characteristics and their suspensions, though regarded as stiff by the standards of their time, were not in the same league as the rock-hard breed of F 1 machines which were spawned by the fIxed-skirt rules. FISA may have known what it was seeking to achieve, but the route by which it set out to reduce cornering spee ds was strewn with technical problems. Lotus's answer was the twin-chassis type 86, originally tested at the end of 1980 during the last season of the sliding-skIrt regulations.
WInd-tunnel testing had convinced Chapman's team that, instead of having separate sliding skirts moving up and down relative to the bodywork, it would be better to spring-mount the body structure atop the wheel uprights, thereby transmitting the aerodynamic loadings directly to the suspension and tyres, while also incorporating a conventionally sprung chassis riding free within the movable aerodynamic body This brilliant concept killed two birds with one stone, stabilising the under-car aerodynamics while at the same time precluding the driver from the physical battering which was now an inevitable byproduct of ultra-stiff suspension.This was a fundamentally intelligent and aerodynamically sound means of blending together the requirements of consistent and predictable performance with driver comfort and security but FISA got wind of what Chapman was up to and issued yet another ofits 'rule clari~lcations' to Article 3, clause 7. ~ny speci~lc part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance - must comply with the rules relating to bodywork; must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly means not having any degree of freedom); and must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car. , The Lotus boss remained absolutely convinced that the sport's governing body had no business or power interfering with the clause imposing rule stability for two years - a clause which FISA itselfhad only just had a major hand in enacting - and pressed on with the construction of a ~lxed-skirt version ofthe 86, now based round a carbon/Kevlar monocoque rather than the 86's aluminium honeycomb chassis. He presented itjust before the start of the season.The new type 88 would, in Chapman's view, solve the problem ofpitchsensitivity which had dogged his ground-effect efforts with the type 80 two years earlier. Resisting such pitch had meant stiffening springs to the point where half the suspension movement was coming from deflection within the rocker arms, a test of the car's structure which was as unnecessary as it was unsatisfactory not to mention the pounding received by the luckless ,
driver. Anyway to cut a long story short, a succession of protests and unfavourable edicts from FISA spelt the downfall ofthe 'twin-chassis' Lotus before it was ever permitted to take part in a race. Technical ingenuity had been stifled simply because the rest ofthe herd was ag'in it.Throughout 1981 and into 1982 spring rates gradually c1imbed to beyond the 3000-lb mark as designers fought to control the behaviour of their fixed skirts, these efforts quickly producing a breed of 200 mph go-karts from which bruised and battered drive rs emerged periodically to recount horri~lc tales of close shaves which their dif~lcult-to-control cars were unable to avoid.
When Chapman died in December of 1981, from a massive heart attack, no one questioned the indelible influence that Chapman and his small English motor car company had upon the engineering and manufacture of automobiles both for racing and for street. Every single automobile on the race track and on the road today owes some part of its design and engineering to Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman and his company, Lotus.
What is missed by racing enthusiasts around the world is the sight of Colin Chapman's black cap sailing across the track as one of his Formula One race cars streaked across the finish line at one of the 78 Grand Prix races won by Lotus. What is missed by automobile enthusiasts around the world is the feeling of great anticipation of what the brilliant mind of Colin Chapman would bring to the roadways for them to savor and enjoy. And, yet the Lotus Legend lives within the walls of the Lotus factory in Hethel, England and with the current Formula One Lotus race cars.
It has been said by many that Colin Chapman accomplished more to influence the modern automobile than any other human. Quite a statement considering the greats who are Chapman's peers. It is enough to say that the automotive engineering and automobiles are in their present state of development due to Colin Chapman: innovator, genius, engineer, driver, founder, enthusiast.
ACBC ? Hopefully, after reading this dissertation on the life of Colin Chapman, you will be able to explain the letters that appear on the famous Lotus badge ..........they are the initials of the name of the great innovator himself: Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
LOTUS? There have been several theories about the origins of the Lotus name: as far as I am aware, none of which have been confirmed by Colin himself, his family, the company or any of the Lotus clubs. Some avid theorists (including some owners!), would have it that the name is an acronym for Loads Of Trouble Usually Serious!!! However, the most plausible explanation I have heard, is that one of Colin's very early projects started life as a car auction purchase, complete with a "lot" number. However, the car was sold-as-seen because it was unservicable or "u/s", as it is often abbreviated. After collection, the car apparently still carried the auction card, which read "LOT U/S" .......... and the rest is history!!
For more information on Colin Chapman, you might want to read: