Sunday, Dec. 16 was the 30th anniversary of the death of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. While his sports cars were dramatic-looking and successful, and his forays to Indy were dramatic or successful, the core of his business lay in Formula 1.
Here, RACER Editor David Malsher pays homage to the most significant Team Lotus F1 cars. Not all of them are great, but they each marked an important milestone in the Norfolk, UK, team's history. And the great ones…well, they just prove that Chapman was one of motorsports' true geniuses.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus single-seater and the first car that Team Lotus entered into a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the F1 first points-scoring car for Team Lotus.
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman, aero by Frank Costin
ENGINE: 2.0/2.2-liter, 4-cyl, 175/195hp, Coventry Climax
Originally designed for Formula 2's 1.5-liter formula, Cliff Allison and rookie Graham Hill also had to the Lotus 12 in F1, briefly, as its successor, the Lotus 16, was not ready in time for the start of the 1958 F1 season. Allison scored a handful of points, the high-water mark being fourth place at Spa (pictured). Incidentally, all three cars ahead of him broke on the slowing down lap, so had the race been just one lap longer….
It would be followed by the Lotus 16, which was maybe the most aerodynamically efficient front-engined F1 car ever, but rarely troubled the scorers due to reliability issues.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus to score a F1 Grand Prix victory, the first rear-engined Lotus single-seater
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: (1960) 2.5-liter, 4-cyl, 237hp Coventry Climax; (1961) 1.5-liter, 4-cyl, 155hp Coventry Climax
When Innes Ireland's Lotus 18 beat Stirling Moss's Rob Walker-entered Cooper at a non-championship F1 race at Goodwood, Walker switched allegiance to Lotus virtually on the spot! At Monaco (pictured), Moss duly took pole by a second, and dominated the race, and there was a virtual repeat performance in the U.S. Grand Prix at Riverside.
The following year Moss's Walker-run Lotus 18 – now fitted with the 1.5-liter engine in accordance to the FIA's new F1 regs, beat the Ferraris to the checkered flag at both Monaco and the Nurburgring, the latter performance aided by both a damp track and the sleeker body from the Lotus 21…
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus to score a F1 Grand Prix victory for the works team
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, 4-cyl, 155hp Coventry Climax
F1's dramatic cut to 1.5-liter engines had added 2-2.5sec to the lap times of F1 cars and the Dino V6 units in the lovely Sharknose Ferrari 156s had a good 30hp advantage on any cars powered by Coventry Climax 4-cylinder engines. But the aerodynamic body sheathing the Lotus 21 – note how much less boxy it appears than the 18 – aided the cause, and Innes Ireland led the second half of the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen (pictured) to give Colin Chapman the first win for Team Lotus. However, this wasn't enough for Ireland to retain his ride on the team, for Chapman was convinced that another Scotsman, Jimmy Clark, would be the future of Team Lotus.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first-ever F1 car of monocoque design, the car that provided Lotus with its first World Champion driver, and its first Constructors' championship.
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, V8-cyl, 200hp Coventry Climax
No more tubular spaceframe, instead a fully-stressed monocoque which was vastly more rigid and yet significantly lighter than its rivals, with its driver sitting between the sides of the backbone, and in a near prone position. The significantly reduced frontal area ensured the 25 slipped through the air better than any of its rivals, and it was only mechanical failures that prevented Jimmy Clark and Lotus from claiming F1's Drivers' and Constructors' Championships respectively.
This was rectified in 1963, when seven of the 10 grands prix fell to the Clark/25 combination, and it wasn't until the sixth round of the '64 season that the champion switched to the Lotus 33. Even then, the legendary 25 wasn't yet done. Used as a spare, it was pressed into service at the 1965 French Grand Prix and the result was a pole/fastest lap/victory for Clark. That brought this beautiful car's tally to 14 wins and 17 poles spread over four seasons. Pictured is Clark heading to victory in the 1963 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
SIGNIFICANCE: Took Clark and Lotus to their respective World Championships in 1965.
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Len Terry
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, V8-cyl, 205hp Coventry Climax
The Lotus 33 was supposed to be campaigned throughout the 1964 season, but when Clark was wrongfooted by a backmarker in a non-championship F1 race at the start of the year, he crashed heavily and reverted to the 25. With four rounds to go in the '64 season, the 33 was ready again, but mechanical problems in the remaining rounds cost Clark and Lotus the championships.
However, the 33 contributed five of Clark's six wins in '65 and so confident were he and Chapman in their ability to clinch their F1 crowns that they skipped the Monaco race to compete in the Indy 500 in the gorgeous Lotus 38. (That was totally worth it: at the third time of asking at The Brickyard, they won.)
The 33 was pressed into service again in 1966 when F1 changed its regs to 3-liter. Lotus were meant to use the 3-liter BRM unit in the Lotus 43, but that engine wasn't ready, and so a Coventry Climax bored out to 2-liters was the best Lotus could manage in the interim. Remarkably, Clark took pole at both Monaco and the Nurburgring, his last F1 race in a Lotus 33.