Revealed: Motor Sport's Race Car of the Century


Thousands of votes have been cast by Motor Sport readers in our 100th anniversary poll, with the Lotus 49 emerging as the Race Car of the Century

Lotus 49 track shot 7

The Lotus 49 has been voted for by Motor Sport readers as the Race Car of the Century

Jayson Fong

Motor Sport readers have spoken: the Lotus 49, the ground breaking F1 car which claimed four Formula 1 world championships, has been voted by readers as the Race Car of the Century.

Announced at Motor Sport’s 100th anniversary celebration at London’s Dorchester Hotel, Colin Chapman’s innovative design saw off stern competition from the McLaren MP4/4, the Porsche 917 and others after almost 10,000 reader votes.

The Lotus team boss’s son Clive Chapman – who now runs Classic Team Lotus, its heritage arm – received the award. It was presented by Damon Hill whose father Graham won his second grand prix crown in the car.

Jim Clark, Grand Prix of Mexico

Jim Clark on his way to victory at the 1967 Mexican GP in the Lotus-Cosworth 49

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The 49 won on debut in the hands of Jim Clark at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix, before Hill lifted the team from tragedy following the Scotsman’s death by leading Lotus to a world championship double in 1968. Jochen Rindt used it to win races in his 1970 title campaign, Jo Siffert prevailed using one at Brands Hatch in 1968 and Emerson Fittipaldi got behind the wheel of a 49 in his early Lotus career.

From the archive

The car was developed in conjunction with F1’s most successful engine, the Cosworth DFV, the affordable yet competitive 3-litre V8 which became ubiquitous amongst privateer teams in the late ’60s and ’70s.

“It is just fantastic, from everyone at Classic Team Lotus who put so much effort into this car over the years,” said Clive upon receiving the award.

“Four of the greatest minds in F1 engineering – Maurice Phillipe, my father, Keith Duckworth, Mike Costin – those four extremely clever people worked together and created the Lotus 49.

“It was raced by five world champions, there’s not many cars that can claim that, and at the end of the day the reason it was successful was because it was looked after by the best F1 mechanics: Team Lotus mechanics, and Bob Dance [lead Lotus mechanic, present at the Motor Sport event that makes you the best of the best!”

Dance said he was lost for words at the award, and Damon added that the car was the embodiment of Graham and Colin’s brilliance – as well as being inextricably linked with the world’s oldest racing magazine.

Lotus 49 track shot

49 was involved in four world championship titles and 12 championship race wins

Jayson Fong

“My dad would be 95 if he was alive today – not quite as old as the magazine – but he would be tickled pink to think, and it would be the same with Colin, that their togetherness would produce a car that has been recognised in this way. So thank you very much to everyone who voted.

“The line-up of cars that the readers were voting for was pretty spectacular, and for the 49 to come out on top… Adrian Newey didn’t design this one, but he has got one, which goes into the argument for just how great it is,” added Clive.

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Newey, whose Red Bull RB9 was also nominated, said it was the “elegance and simplicity” of the 49 that appealed to him, before highlighting the success of the integral Cosworth DFV engine which was developed in conjunction with the car.

“The real thing about the DFV is now how many races it won, but in fact F1 owes itself today to that engine.

“If you go back to 1967 the garagistas – the English teams – typically didn’t have the best of engines. Then along came the DFV and they were able to take on the ‘grandees’ of Ferrari, BRM, Maserati. It changed the nature of motor sport.”

Le Mans winner and former Arrows team boss Jackie Oliver was one of the key test drivers on the car, and he paid tribute at the celebration to the car’s creative driving force.

“That car was about one man: Colin Chapman,” he said. “The car was competitive because of Colin’s innovations. It opened up a whole new vista for where F1 design could go.”

In a closely run vote, the Lotus 49 just beat the Porsche 917, which was followed by in turn by the McLaren MP4/4 and Subarua Impreza.