Colin Chapman


Car Designer & Builder - Lotus


"So what does attract clients to Lotus Engineering? What makes us different?"

We believe that what sets Lotus apart is our unique blend of passion and technical excellence, qualities ingrained in our culture by the company's visionary founder, Colin Chapman.

A brilliant heritage, a bright future

Colin Chapman built his first racing car in 1948 and founded the Lotus Engineering Company in 1952. Over the years iconic sports cars such as the Elan, Elite, Esprit and Elise, together with countless motor sport triumphs including Formula 1, have assured the company's prominence worldwide.

From creating the template for the modern Formula 1 car to spearheading 4-valve technology, from pioneering active suspension to bringing to production the bonded aluminium chassis, Lotus has thrust breakthrough after breakthrough into the automotive arena. Underpinning every achievement has been the relentless passion and visionary innovation for which Chapman was famous and that are now embedded in the Lotus culture.

Chapman championed performance through light weight and demanded that cars should be fun to drive.

the best way to know a man is from his friends - A story in '62 about Chapman:

FROM BACKYARD SPECIALS to the world's outstanding designer of racing cars, that's the story most often heard about Colin Chapman. The basic biographical facts of his career-age 38, Lengineering degree London University, RAF experience, formerly employed by British Aluminum have been well documented. As have the innovations he has introduced to the contemporary racing car. Not so well documented, but no less typical of A. C. B. Chapman, are the stories that illustrate other facets of his personality.

He is known, for instance, as being Cockney-shrewd in matters having to do with money. (He's never seen grabbing the check for drinks but is notorious for' carrying great wads of presumably unmarked bills and buying such things as airplanes with them.) He is also highly aggressive and has little patience with rules that other people attempt to apply to him. (His scuffle with the ,Dutch police at Zandvoort this year wasn't his first exchange with the minions of law and order by any means.) And he is a thoroughly ruthless man. (Ask Innes Ireland sometime.)

It has been generally forgotten now, however, that Chapman was a very fine racing driver in his earlier days and that his driving has led to some of the most typical tales of Chapman because they demonstrate so many of the characteristics that fit together to make up the Chapman character and personality.

Chapman is cool, for instance. On one occasion, this at a press day at Goodwood, a young lady I was escorting went for a ride with Chapman in Jack Hobbs' Elite equipped with the Hobbs Mechamatic gearbox. She had already had one narrow escape that afternoon when she talked a French journalist into dropping her off after two laps in an XK-E he was driving flat out in a sudden cloudburst. The following lap he parked it wheels uppermost, escaping with less injuries than he probably deserved. So it was with a feeling of horror that I saw my undaunted girl friend and Chapman heading for the track just as all cars were being called in for the last time.

With all the other cars quiet in the paddock, there came the scream of a Stage III Climax engine in full song on the back straight. Worried officials glanced at each other and rushed out to the pit area to flag down the truant, whoever he was. ] n a few seconds, the Elite flashed into sight, swept through Woodcote in a glorious drift, and slipped round the chicane to encounter a squad of irate track marshals. The car slowed to a walking pace, Chapman held up his hands in a gesture of protested innocence and pointed toward the exit. The marshals nodded sternly but as the car moved past them, it emitted a sudden roar and set off again.

After a narrow thing at Fordwater, when Chapman weaved between two ambulances that were perambulating back to base he and the girl completed the next circuit to find a makeshift roadblock consisting of two sedans. One was broadside and the other facing the oncoming Elite. The driver of the latter had left his door open, narrowing the gap between the car and the verge. Robin Read, then Lotus' sales manager, warned the driver to close it. Which he did. And Chapman drove squarely through the gap.

We were too far away to hear the conversation that ensued when Chapman finally stepped from the car but wild admonishments quickly turned into earnest conversation arid the group finally dispersed with smiles and handshakes. As well as being disdainful of regulations applied to other people, Chapman has charm.

Perhaps the best tale told of Chapman's driving is of an experience which happened en route to Le Mans one year. As usual, Chapman had gotten off to a late start and was driving through London in the very wee hours of the morning. Chapman was behind the wheel, with Derek Jolley, the Lotus Distributor in Australia, beside him and Mike Costin in the back.

Chapman was flat down on the loud pedal, using all the road in a delicate high speed line and chatting pleasantly an the while as they wound through the tortuous streets of the old city. All progressed nicely until they rounded a blind corner, rear end twitching slightly, to be confronted by a milkman's electric cart complete with ashen-faced operator, broadside in their path. Almost anyone else would have sent the cart to a modern art gallery and the milkman to the ferry on the Styx. But not Chapman. A fleeting glance to the right revealed an entrance to an alley. With a brief stab at the anchors he hurled the wheel over and disappeared with a fierce shriek of rubber and scarcely diminished speed the wrong way up a narrow one-way alley.

They were about half way along the alley when to cap everything else, a black Metropolitan Police Wolseley turned into the other end. On sighting this, Chapman turned to Costin in the back and affecting a very Oxford accent said; "I say, old man, pass me my faster summer motoring cap, won't you?" At the same time he flicked two wheels up onto the curb and shot past two speechless Bobbies. .

After Le Mans, Jolley returned to Australia and Chapman returned home. At the factory he was greeting by a polite butconfident sergeant. "Mr. Colin Chapman?"

"That's me." ,

The list of charges was impressive by any standards, ranging from reckless driving to failing to heed a police officer's signal. When they finally got to the end, Chapman sighed and turning to Costin said, "That wretched man Jolley." 

"Er, Jolley, sir?" interjected the sergeant.

"Yes; Jolley. He's my man in Australia. I lent him my car to take over to the Continent and you know what these Australians are. Pretty wild crew. Not much idea how to drive in built-up areas. Very little traffic in Australia, I suppose. Must have lost his head."

"You mean to say you weren't driving the car at the time?" "Of course not, Sergeant, you know me better than that." "Well, where can we get in touch with this Mr. Jolley?" "Ah, I'm afraid he's back in Australia by now. But I can give you a forwarding address there, if that would be any help."

So there the matter rested. Except that Chapman warned Jolley in a friendly little note that the next time he had a moving violation in England, it would probably be his last.

Thinks quick, does Colin Chapman.

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COLIN CHAPMAN (1928-1982) Son of a publican, engineering graduate Colin Chapman founded the Norfolk Lotus company which produced glass-fibre pocket rockets like the trend-setting Sixties Elite and Elan. Lotus won the World Championship and Constructors Championship twice running.

Author: ArchitectPage