Since 1948, Lotus has been England’s pluckiest indie automaker, putting out taught and nimble sports cars for the street and track. Famously, founder Colin Chapman’s mantra was “Simplify and add lightness.” Which has been carried into all the company’s products. From a physics standpoint, it just makes sense. Lighter components can carry more speed around a race course, and are under less stress doing. This naturally leads to quicker lap times and shorter pit stops.
Colin’s wife Hazel Chapman in the Lotus Mk. 1 Image by Lotus
Chapman came from an engineering background, and initially got into motorsport as a hobbyist. The first Lotus cars were race-modified Austin 7s. After success with those models, Chapman officially incorporated Lotus as a manufacturer in 1952, and got to designing original chassis. In ’57, the long-running Lotus 7 roadster debuted, and became the company’s biggest early success. At the same time, Lotus supplied vehicles for both Formula 1 and IndyCar, quickly taking the fight to legacy manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes.
Type 18 Race car Image by Lotus
Through the 20th century, Lotus also decided to produce mid-engine road cars that were both light and luxurious, starting with the quirky Europa, then the many iterations of the Esprit. As well as front-engine Elan roadster, which served as a main inspiration for the Mazda MX-5. Modified Esprit chassis were also supplied to create John DeLorean’s stainless DMC-12. It was around this time that Colin Chapman suddenly passed away of a heart attack at only 54. This event also sent the company into a tailspin.
Firs-Gen Esprit Image by Lotus
Soon after Chapman’s death, it was discovered that he had millions of pounds in company money tied up with DeLorean, and it was unaccounted for after that company went under. Lotus designs proceeded to be auctioned off to settle debts, and head engineer Roger Becker did a stint at Toyota, developing their new MR-2 sports car. In 1986, everything left of the company was scooped up by General Motors, who hoped to boost their performance car credentials.
AW11 MR-2 Image by Toyota
The 80’s were tumultuous for the automaker, but they pushed new versions of the Esprit as best they could, even getting one to star as Richard Gere’s hero car in Pretty Woman. The biggest thing that came of GM ownership was a collaboration on the venerable Corvette Z-R1. Lotus supplied its dual overhead cam V8 heart. The General didn’t show them much thanks, though, and sold them off in the mid-90’s.
First Gen Elise Image by Lotus
In 1996, Lotus had a new corporate overlord in Malaysian automaker Proton, and their parent resolved to turn the company back into a profitable enterprise. This endeavor began with the mid-engine compact Elise, which used a pre-existing Rover four cylinder to trim development cost. 2001 gave the Elise a refresh, along with a more potent and reliable Toyota engine. At the same time, the platform made its debut in the US.
Image by Lotus
We see this version of the car as Lotus’ most accessible and recognizable car today. The lightweight aluminum chassis provides near supercar performance, and the stout Toyota components mean maintenance won’t break the bank. In 2009, the Elise was flanked by the upmarket Evora, which featured greater cabin space and a more powerful Toyota V6. Meanwhile, Lotus supplied chassis for two electric vehicle projects. One being Tesla’s first production roadster, and the other being a Dodge EV sports car concept.
In recent years, Lotus has turned yet another new chapter, being sold by Proton to Chinese conglomerate Geely. The company has announced a new lineup, with the Elise and Evora getting sunset in 2021. They’ll both be replaced with the flagship Emira, which can either be optioned with an AMG turbo four engine or the dependable Toyota V6. Slotted above the Emira will be the fully-electric Evija supercar, combining four motors for a total of nearly 2,000 horsepower.
Image by Lotus
Despite its many changes of ownership, Lotus has been able to maintain a unique character, and we hope that essence doesn’t fade in the next decade. As long as the cars stay simple and light, all else should fall into place.
Image by Lotus