Anyone who’s ever seen a Lotus car knows what the British car manufacturer is all about: speed and style. For them, winning on the race track is not enough, you also have to look good while doing it. Lotus cars are now the epitome of speed and maneuverability.
It’s a long way for the brand which was first established when Colin Chapman, a graduate of University College, London, built his first car in a lock-up garage behind his girlfriend’s car. The year was 1946 and the car was dubbed by its creator as the Austin Seven Special. He entered it in a couple of races in 1948 and managed to snag some victories.
The first car that he called a Lotus was built in 1949 and it had a more powerful Ford engine. While this model was powerful enough to beat a Bugatti Type 37 in the Silverstone race. After this victory Champan decided to focus on sports cars that would run in the Formula 750.
He teamed up with Michael and Nigel Allen and together they formed Lotus Engineering Company in 1952. The first production car was the Lotus Mark VI which was running on the new 1.5 Ford Consul engine. This car too proved successful on the racing circuit and by 1955, enough orders of the car had been made to allow Chapman and his team to fully dedicate themselves to the company.
That same year they entered the Lotus Mark IX at the Le Mans race but they were disqualified when Chapman reversed. Undeterred and ready for bigger things, Chapman created new Lotus models, including the updated version of the Mark VI called The Seven. This car was to achieve cult status, being in production to this day under the name Caterham Seven.
Outgrowing its facilities, Lotus was forced to move to a new facility at Chestnut in 1959.
It was at this factory that the all new Lotus Elite was to be built, with its integral glass fibre body and chassis. Lotus had already entered Formula in 1958 and by 1959 they’d already won their first grand prix with Stirling Moss at the wheel.
Lotus went on to win two world championships with Jim Clark and still had time to develop a car that is thought to be the best sports vehicle of all time - the Ford Cortina.With the introduction of Lotus Europa Chapman was ready to ditch his kit car image (for which reason he sold the Seven model to Caterham).
In the 70s, after the unsuccessful release of the Lotus 30 and 40v almost killed sports car racing for Lotus, but in the F1 circuit Lotus still managed to dominate.. Models from this period include the Eclat, the Esprit (two seat coupe) and the Sumbeam which actually won the World Rally Championship in 1981.
When Colin Chapman died in 1982 at the age of 54, for many car enthusiasts it was the end of an era. The company was bought by GM in 1986 but later sold off to A.C.B.N Holdings of Luxembourg in 1993. In 1996 the Malaysian car maker Proton bought the brand from them and is still controlling it today.
Lotus withdrew from Formula in 1995 but it still manages to maintain its reputation as a sports car builder, with the Lotus Elise, Exige (and its S variant), Europa (also with a turbocharged S variant) and the newly released Evora.