Lotus History


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Lotus has a remarkable position in the history of racing, through the last quarter of a century they are unrivalled in terms of technical innovation and in racing successes, second only to a constructor who has been in the field for many more years. Lotus was born in the first real boom period the sport enjoyed in Britain, with ingenious specials built by Colin Chapman in the late 1940s, mainly trials cars based on the Austin 7. By the Middle of the next decade his Lotus sports racing cars had gained an international reputation for the small company, for their light space frames, aerodynamic bodies, clever suspension and high performance from limited power units. 

Tiny and fragile little front engined cars typified by the lotus super 7, were soon followed by single seaters, until the rear engined 18 came in 1960 and the more important derivative the type 21 in 1961. That year Rob Walker’s independent 18 was driven to two championship victories by Moss, while Ireland scored the first championship victory for a Team Lotus car. These were space frame designs, with Coventry Climax four cylinder engines and they were followed in 1962 by the sleek Type 24, a low frontal area achieved by seating the driver in a semi reclining position and the new Coventry Climax V8, held out the promise of a long development life for the 24, yet to the chagrin of the independent entrants who chose to run it, Chapman made it obsolete within months of its first race. 

At the Dutch GP, Jim Clark gave the monocoque Lotus 25 its debut, finishing 9th, a month later he scored the first win for this milestone car, in the Belgian GP. The 25 and its 1964 successor the 33 served Lotus and Clark well; they would have scored even better if preparation had equalled the perfection of design but that was often the way of Team Lotus in those years. 

After Colin Chapman had watched the Indianapolis 500 race in 1962, he was convinced that his mid engined single-seaters could easily take on the old fashioned American 'roadsters'. Over in Europe the Formula 1 championship had quickly adapted to the mid engine layout pioneered by Cooper and Lotus, which offered superior handling over the traditional front engined racer. There is some logic in the Americans reluctance to change the layout of their racers; sheer speed and durability were the decisive factors on the oval tracks. Nevertheless Chapman further expanded his racing interests and set out to design an 'Indy racer' for 1963. Over the winter Lotus secured a deal with Ford, who would supply a Fairlane derived V8.

The engine was designed to run on pump fuel, rather than the high octane racing fuels used by the competition. This meant less power, but better fuel efficiency. Chapman figured the light weight of the car would more than make up for the power deficit. The Ford engine was installed in a highly modified Lotus 25 chassis, which was increased in size to adopt the big engine. The most striking exterior feature of the Lotus 29 was the off-set suspension, which made it suitable only to oval racing. Although the Lotus 29 was considerably larger than the contemporary Formula 1 racers, it was dwarfed by the big Offenhauser powered specials. After qualifying fifth, Jim Clark led for a number of laps, but bad luck threw the British racer back to second. Clark scored Lotus maiden oval finish a fortnight later in the Milwaukee 200 mile race.

Confident to win the following year Team Lotus returned to Europe and started work on a new car. For the 1964 race, Lotus constructed the 34 model, which was a development of the previous year's car. The biggest change was a new version of the Ford V8, which featured a quad-cam layout with four valves per cylinder. Jim Clark continued his good form and scored the pole position, beating an older Lotus 29. In the race heavy tire wear caused vibrations, which collapsed one of the suspension parts on Clark's car. As a precaution the other cars were retired. Ford was furious; they had suggested the use of different tires before the race, but Chapman relied on the British Dunlop.

Despite the disastrous 1964 Indianapolis 500 race, Ford continued their Lotus support for 1965. No expense was spared while Lotus prepared the latest evolution of the Indy racer, the 38. In its design the car was sleeker than the previous racers, and the chassis was slightly modified. Smaller radiators could be used, because the team had switched to a cooler running alcohol fuel. The carburetors previously fitted were replaced by a newly developed Hilborn Ford fuel injection, boosting the power to 500 bhp. In its third year the Lotus racer was joined by a variety of other mid-engined racers, underlining Team Lotus' big influence on the sport.

Jim Clark continued his good form and qualified his green and yellow 38 on the first row, heading four other Lotus racers. It proved to be third time lucky for Jim Clark, who led all but 10 of the 200 laps, scoring the first win at the 'Brickyard' for a mid-engined car. He continued his good form and secured the Formula 1 World Championship for Lotus as well. Lotus was quickly losing its edge, with more specialized teams adapting the mid-engined principle. In the following years a number of Indy attempts were made by the Lotus, but none proved as successful as the first three attempts.