Lotus 25: Colin Chapman's first Queen

  • 28 October 2023
  • 3 min read
  • 5 images
Lotus 25: Colin Chapman's first Queen image

Photo credit: Lotus Cars, Wheelsage

Who. Colin Chapman, even more than Enzo Ferrari, embodied the companies he created: Lotus Cars and Lotus Racing. While Ferrari relied on a team of engineers to build his cars, drawing on his previous experience as a driver and founder of the Scuderia that brought him worldwide fame, Chapman had a singular focus from the outset in 1948: the pursuit of lightness. This relentless focus occasionally led to structural failures, some with tragic outcomes.

Chapman's journey began by converting popular Austin 7s into competition cars, but his genius emerged in 1952 when he created and sold the MK4, a car stripped of all non-essential elements, including paint.

The unbeatable lightness of the Lotus 25 and Jim Clark - 1Colin Chapman in the pits at Monza during the Italian GP together with his wife Hazel who, according to many, was the inspiration behind the name Lotus.

Where. In England, at Hethel, on a former airbase from the recent war, after graduating in mechanical engineering in London. These abandoned sites, with landing and take-off runways, facilitated the spread of motoring in England. One name alone is enough to sum up the transformation of military fields into racetracks: Silverstone.

The unbeatable lightness of the Lotus 25 and Jim Clark - 2The Lotus 25 was the car that made Jim Clark famous, so much so as to sometimes be called the Jim 25.

What. The increasingly convincing results obtained by Colin Chapman's Lotus cars always derived from his ability to look at the ideas of competitors and go beyond, applying his mantra of lightness and function. In 1957, his Lotus 12 Formula 1 car was light and aerodynamically effective but had a front engine like all its rivals. Or rather, all but one: the Cooper T43, which had a rear-mid engine (placed behind the driver but ahead of the rear axle). Cooper, thanks to the tradition of John Cooper and his father Charles to produce small 500cc single-seaters with rear-mounted motorcycle engines, simply scaled this model up to create a revolutionary and winning Formula 1 single-seater. Chapman quickly adapted and took another step forward by placing the driver in an almost lying-down position to reduce the frontal section. These were the first steps to reach the top.

The unbeatable lightness of the Lotus 25 and Jim Clark - 3The genius who was Colin Chapman achieved lightness, only 495kg, by concentrating on the structure. He abandoned the tubular frame and created a monocoque chassis that was structurally stronger than typical F1 cars of the period.

When. The Lotus 25, introduced in 1962, was a culmination of Chapman's very best ideas. It was sleek, incredibly lightweight, and bore no resemblance to its predecessor, the Lotus 18. This was made possible by Chapman's introduction of a riveted aluminium monocoque chassis that also served as part of the car's bodywork. Despite being equipped with a small 1500 cc Coventry Climax FWMV engine – due to Formula 1 regulations at the time – it outperformed its rivals and dominated the 1963 season with Jim Clark behind the wheel, clinching the World Championship. The car's success was further solidified when a reinforced version, fitted with a 375-horsepower Ford V8 engine, won the Indianapolis 500.

The unbeatable lightness of the Lotus 25 and Jim Clark - 4The victory at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza gives Jim Clark the 1963 Formula 1 World Championship title.

Why. The victory at Indianapolis demonstrates why Lotus was so successful in those years: Chapman, with the monocoque chassis and the rear engine placement with the driver almost lying down, had ushered in a new era of motor racing. Driving the Lotus 25 on the Roarington simulators on circuits like Spa and Monaco, it’s easy to understand how lightness and handling made the Lotus 25 the first modern single-seater race car.

The unbeatable lightness of the Lotus 25 and Jim Clark - 5Chapman and Clark on the podium in Silverstone. The year was 1963, at the end of the season Lotus and the Scotsman will be World Champions.