“Both out of their tiny minds…”
The recent Law Courts spat between Group Lotus and Tony Fernandes’s current Lotus Racing operation has been covered very extensively in the specialist media. I was called by Group’s legal team as an allegedly ‘expert’ witness, partly because I have been around for quite a long time, I knew Colin Chapman and Fred Bushell and other principals in the story’s past, and I have also produced some books on Lotus and on Team Lotus in particular. Generally I and the other journalists recruited as witnesses David Tremayne and Karl Ludvigsen for Fernandes while John Blunsden joined me for Group seemed to be confronted
by one basic question.
It was characterised to me as, “In period, did the general public perceive Team Lotus as an individual brand, separate from the brand of Lotus Cars, or were they the same?” Well, the answer seemed to me to be a no-brainer. While Formula 1 insiders and dedicated motor racing fans would quite probably have known that Team Lotus was actually an independent Chapman family company separate from the production car entity, Lotus road cars were certainly sold as much on Team’s racing achievements as on their own attributes. And back in the 1950s or ’60s, if my Mum or Dad had been winged by a badly driven Lotus 7 or Elan, they might pick themselves up, glance aggrievedly
at that circular badge on its nose, read ‘Lotus’ and think “Aaargh those mad racing car people again!” I am confident that historically the general public did not differentiate between the two Lotus entities. Anyway, the hours spent in the witness box at the Royal Courts of Justice might as well have been spent out in the sun threading daisy chains for
all it really achieved. In his written judgement Sir Peter Smith I freely admit with some justification declared: “I did not find the gathered clan of journalists’ and authors’ evidence of much use (because) it is impossible to sift out in any relevant way fact, opinion and even urban myth in relation to such a legendary figure as Colin Chapman”. But as far as I am concerned, much less justified are the glaring factual errors in his written judgement, errors which have left several Team
Lotus old boys and myself less than impressed. Perhaps it’s understandable that Sir Peter should be unequipped to differentiate between mudplugging trials in which one merely attempted to get furthest up a hill and racing when he stated that “Mr Chapman started racing cars in 1947. He built cars for Trials initially” but when he continued “They were mostly single-seat racing cars” then something has surely gone very seriously adrift The judgement then relates how the Lotus Type 14 “…was the first on-road two-seater sports car and was sold under the name Elite” which is only partially true since many of the earlier open cars from Mark VI to Type 11 had been freely used as road-going two-seat sports cars. But what really lights a fuse is the line: “In 1961 Colin Chapman entered Formula 1 for the first time”. One of Team’s old hands has been spitting blood over this, since Team Lotus first entered Formula 1 in the May Silverstone meeting of 1958, three full seasons previously. This kind of stuff hardly fills one with confidence, and all could have been correct had he only digested the written witness statements, which on this evidence he plainly had not. I do, however stoutly support Sir Peter’s pay-off observation in which he writes: “It is unfortunate in my view that this case came before the courts and was incapable of resolution beforehand… At the end of the day I cannot help feeling that nevertheless the parties are better competing against each other on the Fl race track. Equally I cannot help avoiding the feeling that Fl followers would actually find that enhances Fl and they would be interested to see which of the two Lotus cars was more successful and which then might possibly be better placed to claim to be successors to the
Colin Chapman mantle”.
Which could be a polite version of my response to him when he asked my opinion of the case in progress and the two parties involved. It was a straight question, so after some thought I gave a straight answer: “Personally, my Lord, I think they are both out of their tiny minds.” The 40-odd people in court, nearly all of us earning from one party or the other, almost applauded…