He founded Lotus, created some world beating race cars, and loved lightness. Here’s everything you need to know about Colin Chapman.
His first Lotus was a modified Austin Seven
Chapman was, obviously, a keen engineer. He founded a sports and racing car company after all...
But his first ever racer, the Mk1, was a modified Austin Seven. He used to enter it in local events and saw decent success with it. He named it ‘Lotus’, and the legend was born.
Using his various prize pots he developed his concept in to the Lotus Mk II and beyond. The early cars were sort of proto-versions of the Lotus 7, a car that’s still in production today (in a mildly modernised form) thanks to Caterham.
The Lotus name came from his girlfriend
Rumour has it that the Lotus name came from the heart. Long before focus groups dictated new business ventures’ every move, business owners were free to be a little more whimsical.
The Lotus name apparently came from Chapman’s nickname for this girlfriend (and later wife), Hazel, who he called Lotus Blossom.
He was an engineering genius
The measure of an engineer is, usually, how long their invention is in use for. Chapman essentially changed the way race cars were constructed, pioneered aerodynamics in racing, and changed the way rear suspension worked.
Chapman’s use of monocoque construction and chassis was a huge deal – it essentially reinvented how race cars were built. His work with aerodynamics (moving radiator positions to close up frontal areas and move weight further in to the middle of the car), developing downforce-heavy cars, and more, once again changed the way race cars went quickly.
Chapman’s impact on motorsport engineering was pretty incredible all told.
He made smoking cool
When F1 advertising started looking in to the wider world for sponsors, Lotus’ John Player Special cigarette gold and black paint jobs made smoking, almost, seem cool. Can’t really see a Juul liveried car looking quite as pimp, can you?
In fact, Chapman was one of the key players in making F1 sponsorship a part of the business, pumping HUGE amounts of cash in to the sport and allowing it to grow in to a high tech, high risk, high reward industry. Without him, not only would F1 be worth a lot less than it is now, it also wouldn’t have given the world some truly iconic liveries.