Mr Chapman starts out by modifying a 1928 Austin Seven for local trials races and his small 15-hp car wins a number races, essentially funding Chapman’s next car. Doing this a few times, Chapman starts Lotus Engineering Company to build race cars, the first of which is the Mark IV trials car.
Essentially a formula car for the road, the lightweight, quick, and responsive Mark VII—known today simply as the 7—starts production in 1957 and continues on today as the Caterham 7.
To make enough money to keep racing, Chapman develops his first dedicated production car, the Elite, which features a lightweight fiberglass body and structure. Powered by a single-overhead-cam Coventry Climax 1.2-liter engine making 102 hp, the fiberglass Elite weighs in at 1705 pounds.
Next was the Lotus Elan, an instant classic. The two-seat roadster mounts a fiberglass body onto a steel backbone with a small four-cylinder engine. Lotus continues development, adding larger (more powerful) engines over time. This simple formula is what makes Lotus cars unique and loved by enthusiasts.
In 1976 Lotus launches the mid-engine Lotus Esprit. With a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 140 hp the futuristic wedge-shaped Esprit runs from 0 to 60 in 9.6 seconds.
It wasn't till the Esprit S2 that performance improved but we had to wait till 1980 and the turbocharged Esprit with its 210 hp engine to really enjoy the sweet chassis.
More recently, Lotus went back to basics and starts building the mid-engine, lightweight, two-seat Elise. Underpinned by a novel tub made of aluminum sections glued together, the Elise weighs a scant 1500 pounds. A love-fest starts and the Elise and later on the Exige are the track day choice for serious amateur racers.
The company was formed in 1952 as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, London, but had earlier origins in 1948 when Chapman built his first racing car in a garage. The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. When the logo was created, Colin Chapman's original partners Michael and Nigel Allen were led to believe that the letters stood for Colin Chapman and the Allen Brothers.
The first factory was situated in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994. The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959. This was made up of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited, which focused on road cars and customer competition car production, respectively. Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971 but the newly renamed entity ceased operation in the same year.
The company moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt in 1959 and since 1966 the company has occupied a modern factory and road test facility at Hethel, near Wymondham in Norfolk. The site is a former World War II airfield, RAF Hethel, and the test track uses sections of the old runway.