Colin Chapman established Lotus Engineering in 1952 and it was an almost immediate success with its Mk 8 sports car. A new Formula 2 regulation was announced for 1957 and in Britain several organizers ran races for the new regulations in the course of 1956. Most of the cars entered that year were sports cars and they included a large number of Lotus 11s, led by the Team Lotus entries for Chapman, Cliff Allison and Reg Bricknell. The cars did well but Cooper, which had produced a single-seater F2 car was able to win most of the races with Roy Salvadori. Chapman won one race at Brands Hatch.
The following year the Lotus 12 appeared. There were no victories, competition from Cooper being intense but in 1958 Allison won the F2 class in the International Trophy at Silverstone beating Stuart Lewis-Evans's Cooper.
As the Coventry Climax engines were enlarged in 1958 to 2.2-liters Chapman decided to enter Grand Prix racing, running a pair of Lotus 12s at Monaco in 1958 for Graham Hill and Cliff Allison. These were replaced later that year by Lotus 16s. They were still not competitive against the 2.5-liter machinery.
In 1959 - by which time the Coventry Climax engines had been stretched to 2.5-liters - Chapman continued with a front-engined F1 car but the car achieved little and so in 1960 Chapman switched to rear-engined cars with the Lotus 18. By then the company had expanded to such an extent that it had to move to new premises in Cheshunt.
The first Lotus victory came at Monaco that year when Stirling Moss beat the dominant Ferrari team in his Rob Walker Lotus. The first Team Lotus victory was in 1961 when Innes Ireland won the United States Grand Prix.
There were other successes in Formula 2 and Formula Junior. The road car business was doing well with the Lotus Seven and the Lotus Elite and this was followed by the Lotus Elan in 1962 and the Lotus Cortina in 1963.
Success on the race track was an important part of the company's strategy and in 1963 Jim Clark drove the Lotus 25 to a remarkable seven wins in a season and won the World Championship. The 1964 title was still for the taking by the time of the last race in Mexico but problems with Clark's Lotus and Hill's BRM gave it to Surtees in his Ferrari. However, in 1965, Clark dominated again, six wins giving him the championship. For the new 3-liter Formula 1 in 1966 Chapman chose BRM engines (a mistake) but the arrival of the Cosworth DFV in 1967 returned the team to winning ways with Graham Hill World Champion in 1968 with the Lotus 49. In 1970 Jochen Rindt was posthumous World Champion with the Lotus 72 and Emerson Fittipaldi used a revised version of the car to win Lotus another World Championship in 1972.
The company had moved from Cheshunt to Ketteringham Hall in Norfolk in 1966 and continued to well financially as the demand for sportscars in the 1960s seemed to be endless.
Chapman was also successful at Indianapolis with the Lotus 29 almost winning the 500 at its first attempt in 1963 with Clark. The race marked the beginning of the end for the old front-engined Indianapolis roadsters. Clark was leading when he retired from the 1964 event but in 1965 he won the biggest prize in US racing.
Many of Chapman's successes came from innovation. The Lotus 25 was the first monocoque chassis in F1, the 49 was the first car of note to use the engine as a stressed member and the 72 broke new ground in aerodynamics. Chapman was also an innovator as a team boss and it was Team Lotus which first introduced commercial sponsorship to F1 at Monaco in 1968.
In the mid-1970s, however, Lotus engineers began to investigate aerodynamic ground-effect and the Lotus 79 of 1978 was extraordinarily successful with Mario Andretti winning the World Championship. Chapman was beginning work on an active-suspension development program when he died of a heart attack in December 1982 at the age of only 54.
After Chapman's death the racing team was taken over by Peter Warr but the Lotus-Renault 93T was not a success. Midway through the year the team hired French designer Gerard Ducarouge and, in five weeks, he built the 94T. A switch to Goodyear tires in 1984 and a reliable car from Ducarouge enabled Elio de Angelis to finish third in the World Championship, despite the fact that the Italian did not win a race.
When Nigel Mansell departed at the end of the year the team hired Ayrton Senna. The Lotus-Renault 97T was another sold achiever with de Angelis winning at Imola and Senna in Portugal and Belgium. Senna scored eight pole positions, but only two wins (Spain and Detroit) in 1986 but at the end of the year the team lost its JPS backing and replaced it with Camel. Senna's skills attracted the attention of the Honda Motor Company and when Lotus agreed to run Satoru Nakajima as its second driver a deal for engines was agreed. The Ducarouge-designed 99T featured active suspension but Senna only won twice: at Monaco and Detroit. The Brazilian moved to McLaren in 1988 and Lotus signed up Nelson Piquet from Williams. The Lotus-Honda 100T was not a success and Ducarouge decided in mid 1989 that he was going to return to France. Lotus hired Frank Dernie to replace him.
With the new normally-aspirated engine regulations in 1989 Lotus lost its Honda engines and had to use Judd V8 engines. In the middle of the year Warr departed and was replaced as team manager by Rupert Manwaring while Tony Rudd was brought in as chairman after the arrest of Fred Bushell on charges related to the DeLorean affair. At the end of the season Piquet went to Benetton and Nakajima to Tyrrell. A deal was organized for Lamborghini V12 engines and Derek Warwick and Martin Donnelly were hired to drive. The car was not a success and Donnelly was nearly killed in a violent accident at Jerez. At the end of the year Camel withdrew.
Former Team Lotus employees Peter Collins and Peter Wright organized a deal to take over the team from the Chapman Family and in December the new Team Lotus was launched with Mika Hakkinen and Julian Bailey being signed for the 1991 season. Bailey was soon replaced by Johnny Herbert and a deal was struck for the team to use Ford V8 engines in 1992.
The team was short on money and this affected performance but it did well, Hakkinen scoring 11 points and the team finishing fifth in the Constructors' title. Hakkinen moved to McLaren in 1993 and after his replacement Alex Zanardi crashed heavily at the Belgian GP Herbert was joined by Pedro Lamy. The team scored 12 points despite the tight budget and finished sixth in the Constructors' Championship.
Unfortunately debts were mounting and the team was unable to develop the Lotus 107, which had been designed by Chris Murphy. The team gambled on success with Mugen Honda engines. Herbert and Lamy struggled with the old car. The Portuguese driver was seriously injured in an accident in testing at Silverstone and Zanardi returned. The hope was that the new Lotus-Mugen Honda 109 would save the day. In an effort to survive the team took on pay-driver Philippe Adams at the Belgian GP. At Monza Zanardi was back in the car and the new 109 was ready. Herbert qualified fourth but at the first corner he was punted off by the Jordan of Eddie Irvine. The following day the team applied for an Administration Order to protect itself from creditors. Tom Walkinshaw pounced and bought Johnny Herbert's contract, moving him into Ligier and then Benetton.
In October the team was sold to David Hunt, brother of James. Mika Salo was hired to replace Herbert. In December, however, work on the design of a new car was halted and the staff laid off. In February 1995 Hunt announced an alliance with Pacific Grand Prix and the history of Team Lotus came to an inauspicious end.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born on 9 May, 1928, in London. He qualified as a pilot while still a student, then graduated as a civil engineer from University College London in 1948, before spending his National Service as a pilot in the Royal Air Force.
In 1952, Chapman founded the Lotus Engineering Co Ltd, using a small loan of £25 from Hazel Williams, his future wife, to buy and sell used cars. Initially Chapman modified and raced these cars himself in trials and hill climbs, selling each to finance building or converting the next, while working full-time for the British Aluminium Company. In 1954 Chapman was able to take up running Lotus Engineering as a full-time job, and to set up Team Lotus to oversee the racing.
Chapman's first car was a special build using a 1930 Austin Seven and this was entered in a series of trials. It was called a Lotus because Chapman and his friends had worn themselves out building it and they reckoned it had the same soporific effect as the lotus flower. Lotus's Formula 1 debut came in 1958. Over the next 24 years, Chapman's moustache and cloth cap (which he threw into the air whenever Team Lotus won a race) would become familiar at track sides around the world. He was a constant source of technical innovation, and it is probably fair to say that he did more than anyone else to change motor racing worldwide.
The Lotus consultancy business was always the backbone of the Lotus group. When times were hard for the road car division, the engineering division could be relied upon to provide a steady income. It is therefore perhaps ironic that it was this division that was eventually to lead to the group's collapse through its involvement with the DeLorean project.
Towards the end of his life Chapman, never one to shy away from a chance to make some money, became entangled in the DeLorean project. Lotus were approached by John DeLorean to put the finishing touches to the troublesome DeLorean DMC-12 chassis design (they scrapped it and used a customised Esprit chassis, a fact which was kept quiet at the time).
The British government welcomed the DeLorean - Chapman partnership with open arms when it offered to site the factory for DeLoreans stainless steel car in Northern Ireland, to the extent of putting up ~£54 million pounds of financing. Unfortunately several million pounds of this never made it to Northern Ireland, and there was much debate about where this money eventually ended up.
When the scandal of financial misgivings broke and Lotus' involvement became clear, a criminal investigation was focussed into Lotus’ Managing Director and other senior personnel. Fearing negative publicity, sponsors for the company dried up. With no recent racing successes to fall back on, the race team foundered, taking the other branches of the business with it.
However, due to his premature passing at the age of 54, Chapman's real part in this affair has never been completely explained.
Colin Spooner has worked extensively within the automotive industry, and was a protégé of the late Colin Chapman.
Spooner was a key man within the DeLorean project in the late seventies and early eighties, and worked alongside people such as Mike Kimberley, Jim Prentice and Mike Loasby (the DeLorean chief engineer).
After the DeLorean project, Colin Spooner was later appointed as Lotus design director, reporting to Mike Kimberley.
Colin's other Lotus projects included extensive work on the redesign of the Esprit, in which the original Giugiaro design was reworked by Stevens, based on Spooners and Kimberley's vision.
However, Colin Spooner is perhaps best credited with his work on the Elan - a car which he and Kimberley both contributed heavily to.
With the continued takeovers of Lotus, first by General Motors and later by Proton, Spooner left and continued working within the industry.
He is now a partner in a very successful automotive consultancy business, working alongside another ex-DeLorean employee Barrie Wills.
Michael Kimberley had been drafted into Lotus by Colin Chapman in 1969 to develop the Europa.
From a career in the automotive industry, Kimberley became the chief executive of Lotus, following the death of Colin Chapman. During his time as chief executive, Kimberley was involved in the development of the Lotus Elan with Colin Spooner - who was also a key figure on the DeLorean project some years before.
One of Kimberley's most distinguishing characteristics was his height. At 6 feet 5 inches, he is an exceptionally tall man - and bizarrely, this fact was fed into some of Lotus' later design decisions for cars like the Elan and the revamped Esprit. Kimberley wanted the cars more accessible for taller people like himself!
The mid 1980's were a turbulent time for Lotus, and the company was taken over by General Motors in 1986 - Kimberley being retained as chief executive.
In April 1994, Kimberley joined Automobili Lamborghini SpA in Italy as President. However, this post was short-lived, as a disagreement with fellow board member Vittorio Di Capua in August 1996 saw Kimberley resign by November of that year. Remaining a prominent figure within the automotive industry, Mike Kimberley later took a directorship with a company called Motor Vehicle Industries (MVI), who were involved in a range of services including importing and consulting. Kimberley later became chairman of MVI, before wisely leaving in April 2002, a year before the company was eventually sold.
Jim Prentice had extensive background in automotive body design, well before he become heavily involved within the DeLorean project in March of 1979.
At that time, Jim was told by his company to go to Lotus to help head up the team that was going to produce the DMC-12, effectively from scratch. After consultation with the Spooner brothers, Jim had assembled his team of engineers. Jim was instrumental throughout the development of the DeLorean pilot cars and was a major player in moving prototypes into real production.
Unfortunately Jim's contributions towards the DeLorean Motor Company have not been extensively documented, however we have been lucky enough to talk with Jim and discovered that without him, the DeLorean project might well have remained just that - a project.
PJ Grady Europe planed on incorporating a full descriptive account of Jim's work and experiences, However Jim has since passed, repects go to his family. It's also thanks to Mark Bourne - The DeLorean Owners Club (UK) technical advisor - that Jim was introduced to us. Jim was at the Pigeon Forge show in 2004, as apeared as a guest speaker at the Pheasant Run show in 2006 with stories, and recollections of his involvement in the DeLorean project.