From simple beginnings in a small factory next to his father's pub in Hornsey, North London in 1947, Colin Chapman went on to build the world-famous, multi-million pound Lotus organisation and 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 badge above and the annotation on the photo on the
Ketteringham Hall (the HQ of Team Lotus, the Grand Prix team)
show, Lotus went on to win the Formula 1 World Constructors
Championship 7 times and the Drivers Championship 6 times
Lotus also took on the Americans in "their own backyard" and won the Indianpolis 500 in 1965 with a car built at the second Lotus factory in Cheshunt
Colin Chapman's main desire was always to take on the scarlet
Ferraris on the race track and break their domination of the sport
The record shows that he certainly did this during the 1960s and,
at the peak of their superiority in the 1970s, this became total
In 1978 Lotus had amalgamated more Grand Prix victories than
any other team, overtaking Ferrari after much less years in
competition - Lotus had become 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
Chapman is pictured in this photo in 1981 on the grid at Brands
Hatch, with his cars, drivers, mechanics, full logistics team and
transporters, including future F1 world champion Nigel Mansell
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 Lotus Mark 1 is on the left
with the soon to be Hazel Chapman in the passenger seat
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, as seen on the right, 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, on the
left, 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 other competitors 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, as seen on the right, was put into motion.
A Mark 5 was shelved to design and build products for the components market. With the Mark 6, on the left, 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.
When Chapman died in December of 1982, 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.
Indeed, 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
It is enough to say, that the automotive engineering and
automobiles are in their present state of development because of
Colin Chapman: innovator, genius, engineer, driver, founder
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.
What is also 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.
Rest In Peace Colin
ACBC - 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 - The name of the company?
There have been several theories about the origins of the Lotus
name: 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, probably the most plausible explanation, is that one of Colin's very early projects started life as a car auction purchase, complete with a "lot" number and 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: