Lotus chief Colin Chapman died at his home in Norfolk during the night of December 15th/16th at the age of 54 years, bringing to an end an era of technical imagination and innovation which he had focussed on the Grand Prix racing world for more than two decades. An original thinker, a self-made man and an engineer of rare intuitive genius, Co. Chapman built his first Austin Seven based special back in 1948 during his spare time whilst studying engineering at University. By the early 1950s he was building his spindly specials on a commercial basis, laying the foundations of a multi-million pound business which would eventually make the Lotus marque name famous on a World-wide basis.
High levels of handling and performance quickly became the hallmark of all Lotus road cars, but while Chapman’s commercial interests were well served by a succession of splendid machines such as the Seven, the Elite and the Elan, his all-absorbing passion was Grand Prix racing. After an early association re-designing the original Vanwall chassis, Chapman’s Team Lotus appeared on the F1 scene in 1958 and he quickly established a reputation as a trend-setter, his neat rear-engined Lotus 21 winning the works team its first Grand Prix triumph in the United States GP at Watkins Glen in 1961.
But it was his partnership with the mercurial Jimmy Clark that really brought Chapman’s some into the forefront of public attention. Driving a succession of Lotus Grand Prix cars, the brilliant Scottish driver won a total of 26 Grand Prix victories between 1962 and his tragic death six years later. Subsequently Lotus Formula One cars won the Constructors Championship in 1968, 70, 72, 73 and 78 with Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti amongst the many distinguished names who drove their way into the history books at the wheel of Chapman’s machines.
After developing the Lotus 72, Chapman’s next great technical breakthrough was the harnessing of ground effect and the development of the type 78 and 79 machines which re-wrote Formula One performance parameters in the late 1970s. Hand-in-hand with all this energy expended on his successful Formula One programmes, Chapman also presided over the development of the Esprit, Eclat and second generation Elite road cars which continued the early tradition of highly responsive road cars marketed under the Lotus badge. Ambitious, energetic and endowed with immense drive, Colin Chapman inspired those who worked with him to achieve great things. He once said that he hoped to be racing as long as his rival Enzo Ferrari, now in his early eighties. Sadly, that ambition was not to be realised.