The History of Lotus


Lotus Cars is a British manufacturer of sports and racing cars based at Hethel, Norfolk, England. The company designs and builds race and production automobiles of light weight and high handling characteristics.
It is currently owned by Proton, the Malaysian carmaker, who took Lotus over in 1994 on the bankruptcy of its former owner Bugatti.
The company was formed as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by engineer Colin Chapman, a graduate of University College, London, in 1952. The first factory was in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994. The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959. This was made up of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited which focused on road cars and customer competition car production respectively. Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971 but the newly renamed entity ceased operation in the same year.
The company moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt in 1959 and since 1966 the company has occupied a modern factory and road test facility at Hethel, near Wymondham. This site is the former RAF Hethel base and the test track uses sections of the old runway.
In 1986, the company was bought by General Motors. On 27 August, 1993, GM sold the company, for £30 million, to A.C.B.N. Holdings S.A. of Luxembourg, a company controlled by Italian businessman Romano Artioli, who also owned Bugatti Automobili SpA. In 1996, a majority share in Lotus was sold to Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton), a Malaysian car company listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.
The company encouraged its customers to race its cars, and itself entered Formula One as a team in 1958. A Lotus Formula One car driven by Stirling Moss won the marque's first Grand Prix in 1960 at Monaco in a Lotus 18 entered by privateer Rob Walker. Major success came in 1963 with the Lotus 25, which with Jim Clark driving won Lotus its first F1 World Constructors Championship.
The first car that we now call a Lotus was built in 1946 or 1947 and called an Austin Seven Special. The first car actually called a Lotus, at the time, was built in 1949 and was fitted with a more powerful Ford engine than the Austin Seven unit used in the previous car. Chapman made sure that it could also be used as a practical road car, and in 1950 entered it in his first race at Silverstone, where he took on a Type 37 Bugatti and won. This changed his whole interest in motor sport, and he decided to build a road racing sports car to compete in the new 750 Formula in 1951.
This car was called the Lotus Mk III, and the previous car became the Lotus Mk II, and the original Austin Seven Special became the Lotus Mk I. The new racer was started in the same small factory, but then Chapman met the Allen brothers, Michael and Nigel, who had a very well equipped workshop beside their house, and were persuaded to join him in building a team of three racers for the new Formula. They only had time to finish one, and it was an enormous success in 1951, winning every race it finished in the 750 Formula, and often beating cars of double the engine size in other races.
The first production Lotus was the Mark VI. In 1952, fitted with the new 1.5 litre Ford Consul engine, it raced twice before being written off in a road accident. Several orders had ben received from customers, and an order for six chassis frames was placed by Lotus with two friends who formed the Progress Chassis Company to build them. Lotus Engineering Company became a limited liability company on 25th September 1952.
Racing success with the Mark VI in 1953 encouraged Chapman to build a streamlined version for 1954, and fitted with a 1.5 litre MG engine, this car, and the earlier Mark VI, beat the works Porsche in the sports car race before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Lotus had arrived, and new cars were now being ordered in sufficient numbers for the company to take off.
The Eleven sports cars followed, and with the new Coventry Climax engine they were the cars to have if you wanted to win races. In 1957 an updated version of the Mark VI appeared called the Seven. This was so successful that it is still in production now (called the Caterham Seven).
A single seat Lotus appeared in 1957 and Lotus won the Index of Performance at Le Mans. Lotus had outgrown the tiny premises at Hornsey, and in 1959 moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt.
The new factory was needed to assemble the revolutionary new Lotus Elite, a two seater coupe with integral glassfibre body/chassis. Lotus entered Formula 1 in 1958 and by 1960 with their first rear-engined car, the Eighteen, a Lotus won its first Grand Prix, driven by Stirling Moss.
The 1960s showed steady growth of Lotus both on the race track, where Jim Clark won two World Championships, and in the market place with the new Lotus Elan, still thought by many to be the best ever sports car, and in collaboration with Ford, the Lotus-Cortina. The new DFV engine from Cosworth brought further F1 success, and Lotus won at Indianapolis.
The rear engined Europa followed, and Chapman, keen to be rid of his kit-car image, sold off the Seven to Caterham Cars and prepared to start building cars for a higher income bracket. Cheshunt was too small, and the final move was made to Hethel, near Norwich in Norfolk in 1966 where a new four seater car, also named the Elite, entered production with their own 2 litre Lotus engine.
On the track the 70s were a continuing success story in all the single seat formulae, but sports car racing had virtually ceased with the unsuccessful Lotus 30 and 40.
The Elite was followed by the lower priced Eclat, the Esprit two seat Coupe, and the Sunbeam Lotus which won the Rally Championship in 1981. Then in 1982 came the shattering news that Colin Chapman had died at the age of only 54. To many of those interested in historic Lotus cars that was the end of the era, and Team Lotus withdrew from Formula 1 in 1995. Group Lotus continues to be a leading figure in the world of automotive engineering, and recent success with the Elise has done much to restore their deserved prestige.

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