How Chapman obsessions lifted and limited Lotus post-Clark
Gifted, driven, obsessive – Colin Chapman’s ambition drove Lotus to soaring heights, but also into baffling technological cul-de-sacs as his business empire grew and his focus slipped. In the third part of our history of Lotus, DAMIEN SMITH considers the peaks and troughs of the 1970s
Colin Chapman was the (John Player) Special One of grand prix racing in the 1970s. Just not all of the time. For certain generations black and gold fag-packet Lotus racing cars distil the essence of Formula 1 – either in full-scale or Corgi toy form. But the decade in which Lotus clinched four world championships and its drivers three more for themselves was a frustratingly inconsistent one, coloured by golden heights to match the glory days of Jimmy Clark, and offset against the deepest blackspots of mediocrity, misfires and failure.
That was all Chapman: often inspired, always alive to the next big thing, but at times distracted by the burning ambition of a rapidly growing empire. Under a tamer chief, Team Lotus would have churned out a string of solid, conservative F1 cars to level out those peaks and troughs and consolidate the company’s standing as the archetype of British F1 expertise. But conservative simply wasn’t the Colin Chapman way. So it wasn’t Lotus’s either.
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