In this final chapter, we will take a look at another traditional British sports car company that changed Formula One in many different ways.
The company was founded by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, in London, 1952, but had earlier start in 1948 when Chapman built his first racing car in his garage.
Lotus was born during a time when the popularity of British sports cars was at its peak. In the beginning, the company focused on producing race cars for private teams and drivers.
The original factory was situated in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. In 1959, the Lotus Race Team split from the main company, this way the priorities of the competition department wouldn’t get mixed up with the growing production of road cars.
Back in the mid-1950s, the most promising Lotus was the “Eleven”, the car was super light, only 450Kg and equipped with a Coventry- Climax 1.1 liter 4 cylinder engine, producing 140 HP. This combination gave the car a top speed of 230Km/h, a pretty respectful performance back then.
The car enjoyed some success on the race tracks around Europe, in 1957, the Lotus Eleven won the performance index in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, proving true Colin Chapman’s words: “light is right”.
The cars that came as successors of the Eleven, the “Teen Series” : the 17 and the 19, also had a relatively successful careers on race tracks.
If Lotus had a less than brilliant career in the Sports Car arena, it was in Formula One that Colin Chapman could show how talented he was as a race car builder.
By the end of the 1950s, the 4 cylinder Coventry-Climax engines had grown to 2.2 liters and were powerful enough to challenge the other brands at the Grand Prix arena.
The Lotus debut in F1 was in Monte Carlo, 1958, Chapman brought an all British team to Monaco: two model 12, one for Graham Hill and the other for Cliff Allison. In the end, Allison finished in 13st and Hill on 15st.
In 1960, Colin Chapman created the car that became the turning point for the company: The Model 18, it was the company’s first mid-engined Lotus and it was a great evolution from the front engine cars, besides the obvious better handling, the model had a much improved front and rear suspensions and the capacity to handle more powerful engine, since the Coventry-Climax reached 2.5 litters and 250 HP.
The first F1 victory for Team Lotus came on April 8, 1960 when a Lotus 18 driven by Innes Ireland won in non-championship Glover Trophy. Its first World Championship GP win happened six weeks later, on 29 May, Sterling Moss dominated the 1960 Monte Carlo GP, driving for Rob Walker’s private race team. Walker had leased a Lotus 18 from Colin Chapman for the season. Moss also won the USA GP at the end of the season helping Lotus finish second in the constructors’ championship.
The Lotus 18 became the standard design for Formula 1 cars and was copied by numerous race car makers. According to Chapman’s own words: “The Lotus 18 is my real Formula 1 car, the front engines I built before were just rubbish “.
The Lotus 18 is also credit as the car in which Jim Clark took his first-ever single-seater victory. The scene of the victory was Brands Hatch on August 1960.
The cars that came as the evolution of the “18” were equally successful on the race tracks. In 1963 Jim Clark scored 7 wins during the season and won his first World Championship, driving the Lotus 25.
The 1964 title was undecided to the last race in Mexico but problems with Clark’s Lotus gave it to Surtees in his Ferrari.
In 1965, Clark dominated again, winning six races driving the Lotus 33 and claiming his second world title.
In 1967 Lotus adopted the engine that would become the most successful in Formula One history: The Ford Cosworth V8.
The model 49 was basically constructed around the Ford engine and while 1967 season was spent developing the car, in 1968 Graham Hill won the driver’s World Championship as well as the constructor title for Lotus. That season was the last time Lotus were painted in Moss Green; for the most part of the year the cars received the livery of the new sponsor: “Gold Leaf” tobacco company.
The Lotus dominance in the 60s came with a terrible cost, the Chapman’s lightweight mantra resulted in cars with serious structural flaws. The number of top drivers injured or killed in Lotus cars was considerable – notably Stirling Moss, Alan Stacey, Mike Taylor, Jim Clark, Mike Spence, Bobby Marshman, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, and Ronnie Peterson.
In Dave Friedman’s book “Indianapolis Memories 1961–1969”, Dan Gurney is quoted as saying, “Did I think the Lotus way of doing things was good? No. We had several structural failures in those cars [Indianapolis Lotus 34 and 38]. But at the time, I felt it was the price you paid for getting something significantly better.”
The amazing performance of the Lotus Formula One cars continued throughout the 1970s, the team won the constructor World Championship in 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1978, always wearing the famous black and gold livery of the sponsor “John Player Special”.
The Team Lotus never won a Championship again after 1978 end its operations were officially terminated in 1994. There were several attempts to bring the brand back to life in Formula One but none of them were successful.