The Lotus brand has long been synonymous with small, quick, and agile sports cars. Our Video of the Week this week features a history of the car through the 1980s via a show and rally of dedicated owners.
The company was formed as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, London, in 1952. The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
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 its early days Lotus sold cars aimed at privateer racers and trialists. Its early road cars could be bought as kits, in order to save on purchase tax. The kit car era ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Lotus Elan Plus Two being the first Lotus road car not to be offered in kit form, and the Lotus Eclat and Lotus Elite of the mid 1970s being offered only in factory built versions.
After the elegant but delicate Lotus Elite of the 1950s, Lotus found critical and sales success in the 1960s with the Lotus Elan two seater, later developed to two plus two form. Lotus was notable for its use of fibreglass bodies, backbone chassis, and twin cam engines, initially supplied by Coventry Climax but later replaced by Lotus-Ford units (Ford block, Lotus head and valve gear). Lotus worked with Ford on the Lotus Cortina, a successful sports saloon.
Another Lotus of the late 60s and early 70s was the two seater Lotus Europa, initially intended only for the European market, which paired a backbone chassis and lightweight body with a mid-mounted Renault engine, later upgraded to the Lotus-Ford twin cam unit as used in the Elan.
The Lotus Seven, originating in the 1950s as a simple, lightweight open two seater continued in production into the early 70s. Lotus then sold the rights to produce the Seven to Caterham, which has continued to produce the car since then.
By the mid 1970s, Lotus sought to move upmarket with the launch of the Elite and Eclat models, four seaters aimed at prosperous buyers, with features such as optional air conditioning and optional automatic transmissions. The mid engined line continued with the Lotus Esprit, which was to prove one of the company’s longest lived and most iconic models. Lotus developed its own series of four cylinder DOHC engines, the Lotus 900 series, and later a V8, andturbocharged versions of the engines appeared in the Esprit.
Variants of the 900 series engine were supplied for the Jensen Healey sports car and the Sunbeam Lotus “hot hatchback”. In the 1980s, Lotus collaborated with Vauxhall Motors to produce the Lotus Carlton, the fastest roadgoing Vauxhall car.