When someone asks me what kind of car I own and I say "Lotus", the response that I get back is usually "Oh, who makes Lotuses?"
Lotuses are made by Lotus in England.
Well, except for the Seven, which has been made by Caterham Cars since 1974.
Actually, this depends on what you mean by "Lotus". Here is a history of the various Lotus companies.
In 1952, the Lotus Engineering Company was formed as a partnership between Colin Chapman and Michael Allen.
Later, in 1952, the partnership broke up and the Lotus Engineering Company became a trade name for Colin Chapman.
In 1953, the Lotus Engineering Company Limited, a limited company, was formed with Colin Chapman and Hazel Williams (later Chapman) as directors.
Team Lotus split off in 1954 and eventually became Team Lotus International Limited. In late 1990, Team Lotus Limited, run by Peter Collins and Peter Wright, purchased the Team Lotus name and operated the Team until late 1994 when it went into administration and was later purchased by David Hunt under the name Team Lotus Grand Prix Limited. Hunt's organization entered into a joint operations agreement with Pacific Grand Prix to form Pacific Team Lotus.
In 1994, the Chapman family formed Classic Team Lotus to support owners of single-seater, open wheel Lotuses through the Type 102.
In 1959, the Lotus Group of Companies was formed and consisted of Lotus Cars Limited (road cars) and Lotus Components Limited (customer competition cars).
In 1969, Lotus became a publicly held company as the Group Lotus Car Companies Limited, consisting of Lotus Cars Limited, Lotus Cars (Service) Limited, Lotus Cars (Sales) Limited and Lotus Components Limited.
In 1971, Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited and subsequently ceased operation in the same year.
In 1973, Lotus stopped making the Lotus Seven and sold its right to Caterham Cars Ltd, which start making the Caterham Seven in 1974 and continues doing so.
In 1980, Lotus Engineering was formed to sell Lotus' Engineering expertise to other companies.
In 1986, General Motors acquired all shares of Group Lotus.
There was a rumor that one of the companies in Group Lotus' portfolio is called "Team Lotus" and that when GM purchased Lotus, they thought they were getting the Formula One team as well. According to Patrick Peal this is not true, although GM did talk to Hazel Chapman about buying Team Lotus at one point.
In 1993, the Bugatti Group acquired Group Lotus from GM. GM still owns the Millbrook testing facility, though.
In late 1996, after a number of rumors and near-purchases by other companies and individuals, a controlling share of Group Lotus was purchased by the Malaysian car company Proton.
A complete history of Lotus will not fit in the short space allowed here, so several highlights are presented:
The Lotus Engineering Company Ltd was formed in January, 1952 as a partnership between Colin Chapman and Michael Allen, but it really all started a few years earlier when Chapman commandeered the garage at his girlfriend's house to convert a 1930 Austin 7 fabric saloon into a Trials Special. His cars were successful enough that other people asked him to build cars for them, which eventually led to a company being formed.
Lotus started producing the Mark Six, which is very similar to the car that followed it, the Seven (still in production today as the Caterham Seven). Lotus also built some successful race cars, for example, the Lotus Eleven. Team Lotus split off in 1954 and entered Formula One at the end of the 1950s.
In the late 1950s, Lotus introduced the Elite (Type 14), which featured an all-fiberglass, monocoque chassis. They were beautiful cars but they were also expensive to produce and Lotus lost money on each car. The Elite was a closed top car powered by the Coventry Climax FWE engine.
The Elite was replaced in 1962 by the Elan, which was featured a fiberglass body on a steel backbone chassis. This would become the standard arrangement at Lotus Cars. The engine was a 4 cylinder Ford block with a Lotus-designed twin cam cylinder head. The Elan started as a convertible and a closed top version was introduced in 1965. Because of an oddity in British tax law, many Elans were sold as kits instead of assembled cars.
During the same time, Team Lotus was racing with success in Formula One with the Type 25 and Type 33 and in the Indianapolis 500 and drivers Jim Clark and Innes Ireland (and Stirling Moss, in a customer car).
The Europa was a closed top, mid-engined car introduced in 1966. It featured a Renault engine and was also available in kit form. By the time that the Europa was in production, Lotus moved from the London area to Norfolk, where they have remained since. In 1967, the 2+2 version of the Elan, called the Elan +2, was introduced. Lotus Cars closed out the 1960s with a record sales year.
Meanwhile, Team Lotus was experiencing ups and downs. The Type 49 was successful out of the box, but the next year Jim Clark was killed. The team experimented with high-mounted wings, four-wheel drive and turbine engines. Team Lotus introduced a current feature of Formula One when its cars ran with tobacco advertising in 1968.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Lotus Cars made the decision to move upmarket, including designing and building its own complete engine. As part of this decision (and tax law changes), Lotus stopped selling its cars as kits. The engine, known as the 907, was initially used in the Jensen-Healey. The new cars, introduced in the 1970s, were two 2+2 models, the Elite (Type 74) and the Eclat, and a mid-engined car, the Esprit.
At Team Lotus, the roller coaster ride continued. There were two constructor championships and the (eventually) successful Type 72, but there was also Jochen Rindt's death and the Type 76.
In light of the increasing complexities and annoyances of running a car company, Chapman let others take over running the company, Mike Kimberley, in particular. In addition to selling the Esprit, Elite and Eclat, Lotus started working with other including John DeLorean on his stainless steel sports car project and Chrysler on the Talbot Sunbeam.
And at Team Lotus, it was still up and down. The Type 77 "adjust-a-car" did not work very well, but the Type 78 and Type 79 "ground effects" cars got Lotus the championship in 1978. Sadly, Ronnie Peterson was killed during this time.
The start of the 1980s was not a very good time for Lotus, despite the introduction of the Turbo Esprit. Because of a distribution problem, no cars were being sold in the U.S. In other parts of the world, a recession caused poor sales. The creditors were getting antsy. Lotus was getting dragged into the scandal that resulted from the DeLorean project. Team Lotus was also doing poorly and its most recent innovation, a twin-chassis car, was banned by the FIA. Then, in 1982, Colin Chapman died.
In a way, this gave Lotus a chance to clean things up. A new distributor was set up in the U.S. Some new financing was arranged. David Wickins became the new chairman of Group Lotus. Lotus also became more closely tied with Toyota Cars. Many thought Toyota would take over Lotus. Wickins probably saved Lotus during this period, but he is better known for changing the Lotus nosebadge to remove Colin Chapman's initials. (This was later corrected.)
Team Lotus was not doing so well during this period, though by 1985 and the arrival of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, things were looking up.
In 1986, Lotus was purchased by GM. In the hands of GM, Lotus also buys its U.S. distributor and the Millbrook Proving Grounds. Starting in the early 1980s, Lotus was working on a new open top car, similar to the Elan in the 1960s, and that car, the M100 Elan, is introduced in 1989. Also, Lotus Cars USA, the new U.S. distributor, starts racing the Esprit Turbo in the U.S. It is so successful that it is quickly penalized to the point that it is hard for it to win races.
After several wins, including Team Lotus' last to date, Ayrton Senna left for greater fame with McLaren and Team Lotus slid downhill. No Lotuses qualified for the 1989 Belgian GP, Martin Donnelly was very seriously injured in a crash in practice for the 1990 Spanish GP and the team's name sponsor left with no replacement lined up. Rumors of Team Lotus' demise became common, but in December 1990, Team Lotus was "rescued" by Peter Collins, team manager around 1980, and Peter Wright, the man behind the ground effects cars and active suspension. They took over operation of the team, while the Chapman family maintained ownership of the team.
In 1992, for a variety of reasons too numerous to mention here, production of the Elan was shut down for 5 weeks, production was finally officially stopped on the Excel (a variant of the Eclat) and production was also stopped on the Elan (M100). Soon afterward, though, a LotusSport bicycle was used to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics. In 1993, Group Lotus was sold to the Bugatti Group, the company that revived the Bugatti name with the EB110 in 1991.
At the end of the 1994 season, the Team Lotus revival started by Collins and Wright folded. The Team went into administration (similar to bankruptcy in the U.S.) and was eventually purchased by David Hunt, brother of Formula One driver James Hunt. In January 1995, Hunt announced that Team Lotus had shut down and in February 1995 a merger with Pacific Grand Prix was announced.
Some good books on the history of Lotus are:
Story of Lotus: 1947 - 1960 Birth of a Legend by Ian Smith
Story of Lotus: 1961 - 1971 Growth of a Legend by Doug Nye
Colin Chapman's Lotus by Robin Read
Colin Chapman: Lotus Engineering by Hugh Haskell
Theme Lotus by Doug Nye
Colin Chapman is NOT a lesser known member of the comedy group Monty Python. That is Graham Chapman. Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman is the creator of Lotus cars.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born to Stanley and Mary Chapman on 19 May 1928 in Richmond, Surrey, England. When Colin was two years old, the family moved into The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London, which Colin's father operated. Later, the family moved to North Finchley, but his father continued to run The Railway Hotel.
In 1945, Colin went to University College in London to study engineering. While in college, he met Colin Dare, with whom he went into the business of selling cars. When the British government stopped issuing gas rations, the two Colins were put out of business and left with a car that Chapman converted into a trials car which eventually became the Lotus Mark 1.
After graduation, Colin Chapman joined the Royal Air Force and while earning his wings, he was working on the Lotus Mark 2. After the RAF, he took a job at the British Aluminum Company as a structural engineer and, in his off-hours, he built race cars. Later, he moved production to the stables behind The Railway Hotel and, soon afterward, formed The Lotus Engineering Company as a partnership with Michael Allen.
After the Mark 6 prototype was destroyed in an accident, Michael Allen left and Colin's girlfriend Hazel Williams stepped in. Colin and Hazel eventually married and the Lotus Engineering Company continued making racing cars. In 1955, Colin quit his day job at British Aluminum and was joined by Mike Costin. While continuing to build his own cars, he, along with Frank Costin, designed a F1 World Championship-winning Vanwall and worked on a BRM F1 car.
In late 1959, Colin moved production to a new factory in Cheshunt and started production of the Elite, which lost money, followed by the Elan, which turned Lotus into a profitable car company. In 1966-67, Lotus moved again to a new factory in Norfolk and Colin had his dream house built in East Carleton. While he was succeeding in building road cars, he was also achieving great success in Formula One. Team Lotus won three Constructor's Championships and over 30 Championship events. Team Lotus also won the Indianapolis 500.
There were hard moments, though. Many Team Lotus drivers had been killed, including Jim Clark, whom Colin was particularly close with.
After setting Lotus Cars into a program to move upmarket and getting it through the tough period that followed, Colin grew tired of the annoyances inherent in running a car company, particularly in light of new automotive regulations that were being enacted worldwide in the 1970s, and he passed control of Lotus Cars to others. Instead, he spent his time on Team Lotus, which he moved from down the road from Lotus Cars to an English country house, Ketteringham Hall, a few miles away. He also played his boats and his plane. He also got Lotus Cars involved with John DeLorean's plans to build a stainless steel sports car.
The start of the 1980s was probably the toughest period that Lotus ever encountered. In Formula One, Team Lotus was not winning races and Colin's latest creation, the twin chassis Type 88, had been banned and Colin spent a lot of time fighting the ban. Some say that this killed his interest in Formula One. At Lotus Cars, a worldwide recession hit Lotus sales hard, because of a distribution problem, there were no sales in the U.S. and Lotus' creditors were getting worried. Also, Lotus' name was being drawn into the scandal which followed the collapse of DeLorean. And, Colin Chapman died of a heart attack on 16 December, 1982 at his home in East Carleton.
Some good books on Colin Chapman's life are:
Colin Chapman: The Man and His Cars by Gerard Crombac
Theme Lotus by Doug Nye
Team Lotus was split off from the Lotus Engineering Company in 1954 in order to protect the companies from each others financial problems.
At times, Team Lotus and Lotus Cars were very closely associated with each other, for example in the mid-1980s and early 1990s when Lotus Engineering's Active Suspension technology was used in the Team Lotus Formula One cars, while, at other times, they were rather distant from each other, for example, in the 1970s, several Team Lotus and Lotus Cars models were given the same Type number.
Now that the Team Lotus name is owned by someone not associated with Group Lotus or the Chapman family, I suspect that there is no connection between Group Lotus and Team Lotus.
The real answer is known by a small number of people, including Colin Chapman's widow Hazel, but no one is telling. Of course, this does not stop people from speculating. Here are some theories from Mike Causer:
a. Lotus fruit - the Oxford Concise says "fruit represented in ancient Greek legend as inducing luxurious dreaminess and distaste for active life". Working on the car certainly had the same effect.
b. Lotus flower - a different plant to the above, used symbolically in Hinduism and Buddhism. Nice name if you're going to chose one without a specific connection to what you're doing.
c. The reverse of "Us lot", apparently a favorite phrase of Colin Chapman's.
There is some suggestion that Hazel Chapman actually came up with the name Lotus.
One theory that is usually dismissed from the days when Colin Chapman was selling cars. The British government was rationing fuel and stopped issuing gasoline rations so people weren't buying cars. Colin Chapman started his career as a car builder with one of these unsold cars. Some people think that "Lotus" came from the phrase "LOT UNSOLD" or "LOT U/S".
The following story on this topic was posted to alt.fan.colin-chapman by Nori Saitoh (email@example.com):
I found a little story about ... why "Lotus" in a non-fiction titled "Formula One: A Dream on the Earth" by Yasuhisa Ebisawa (written in Japanese). The book was about Honda's Formula One Grand Prix activities from the early 1960's to 1986. It was summer of 1963 when Honda was looking for a partner in Europe to join F1 Grand Prix Circus as an engine supplier in the 1964 season. Then Team Manager Yoshio Nakamura was visiting Cooper, Brabham and Lotus to talk about a possible partnership. After Nakamura has gone back to Japan, Colin Chapman visited Honda in Tokyo and agreed to use the Honda engine for his team's second car next year. After discussing the plan, Nakamura invited Chapman to a night club for a drink, where Chapman explained why he had named his cars "Lotus." He said he was interested in Asian Philosophy when he was in college and knew Lotus flower is a symbol for Nirvana in Buddhism. (A statue of Buddha usually sits on a Lotus flower.)
The current Group Lotus factory is located at Hethel, a former World War II bomber base near Wymondham, Norfolk.
According (as of 1997) to Patrick Peal, the specifics of the factory are as follows:
Factory covered area: Factory 1: 175,027 sq ft Factory 2: 28,800 sq ft Factory 3: 40,410 sq ft Factory 4: 31,200 sq ft Factory 5: 28,800 sq ft Factory 9: 38,295 sq ft Area of site: 5.5 acres Length of test track: 2.2 miles Length of airfield runway: 900 yds approx. (prior permission required) Thirteen computer-controlled engine test cell suites, ranging from 30 - 750 kW absorption. Emission laboratory providing full certification worldwide including Europe, Japan and USA. This facility is only one of three in the UK recognized by world authorities. NVH laboratory providing latest technology and equipment to combat Noise, Vibration and Harshness in all types of road vehicles. Semi- anechoic chamber provides state-of-the-art test facilities for whole vehicle and engine NVH analysis under all conditions of speed, load and temperature. Superbly equipped CNC machining facilities constantly being updated with the latest equipment. Lotus fabricates its own steel backbone chassis and suspension components for the Esprit and Elan, produces composite bodyshells and interior trim styled by its own styling studio, Lotus Design. Supplied of spares also maintained for most of classic Lotus models. The lightweight Lotus 16-valve all-alloy turbocharged engine built in both 2-litre and 2.2-litre capacity is machined and handbuilt on site.
Classic Team Lotus is located in the former home of Team Lotus in the buildings outside Hethel and at Ketteringham Hall.
Before the move to Norfolk, Lotus was located on Delamare Road in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire near London. That factory is now a furniture factory. Before Cheshunt, the factory was located in the stables of The Railway Hotel off Tottenham Lane, Hornsey (North London). Before that, Lotuses were built in Hazel Chapman's (when she was Hazel Williams) garage.
Brothers In Law
A 1950s British comedy that included the Lotus Mark Two.
This television series featured a Lotus Seven (registered KAR 120C) in its opening credits and in a couple episode.
This television series featured an Elan driven by the character Emma Peel and a Europa driven by the character Tara King in many episodes.
The Spy Who Loved Me
This James Bond film featured a S1 Esprit that could be converted into a submarine.
For Your Eyes Only
This James Bond film featured a couple of early Turbo Esprits. One of these Esprits was equipped with a burgular protection system that would blow up the car.
This fairy tale film featured a silver Esprit Turbo, in which the two main characters meet. Julia Roberts espouses the virtue of Lotuses in this film.
This film featured a pair of black and white Esprit Turbos, one of which ends up upside-down in a construction site in San Francisco.
If Looks Could Kill
This film featured a newer Esprit Turbo used by a spy organization.
An Esprit, painted an unappealing shade of green, is owned by one of the bad guy. The color choice gives Clint Eastwood an opportunity to insult the bad guy.
Honey I Blew Up The Kid
This film featured a M100 Elan that a child, who has grown to a very large size, uses as a toy.
Crocodile Dundee II
A white Turbo Esprit appears in the courtyard of the bad guy's home.
A "chop shop" ring steals a Series 1 Esprit to dismantle and sell the parts. The engine sounds like a V8 when the car is driven.
According to reports, there have been two episodes that used Lotuses, one using an Esprit and the other using a Europa.
There are far too many Lotus books available to try to list them all here. A very complete list of Lotus books is available.
It depends on where you live.
There is a list of Lotus clubs available.
There is an electronic mailing list for discussion of Lotus cars. To join, go to lotus-cars group, and sign up.
This is not an exhaustive list of Lotus services on the Internet.
The Lotus Cars Mailing List has a map of Britain with various Lotus sites of interest marked on it. This map can be borrowed by members of the mailing list. This map was kindly donated by Mike Causer.
Benjamin Levy currently has the map.
The preferred plural form is Lotuses.