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A4. Who was Colin Chapman?




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This article is from the Lotus Cars FAQ, by esprit@netcom.com (Alan F. Perry) with numerous contributions by others.

A4. Who was Colin Chapman?

Colin Chapman is NOT a lesser known member of the comedy group Monty
Python. That is Graham Chapman. Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman is the
creator of Lotus cars.

Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born to Stanley and Mary Chapman on
19 May 1928 in Richmond, Surrey, England. When Colin was two years
old, the family moved into The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North
London, which Colin's father operated. Later, the family moved to
North Finchley, but his father continued to run The Railway Hotel.

In 1945, Colin went to University College in London to study
engineering. While in college, he met Colin Dare, with whom he went
into the business of selling cars. When the British government
stopped issuing gas rations, the two Colins were put out of business
and left with a car that Chapman converted into a trials car which
eventually became the Lotus Mark 1.

After graduation, Colin Chapman joined the Royal Air Force and while
earning his wings, he was working on the Lotus Mark 2. After the
RAF, he took a job at the British Aluminum Company as a structural
engineer and, in his off-hours, he built race cars. Later, he moved
production to the stables behind The Railway Hotel and, soon afterward,
formed The Lotus Engineering Company as a partnership with Michael
Allen.

After the Mark 6 prototype was destroyed in an accident, Michael Allen
left and Colin's girlfriend Hazel Williams stepped in. Colin and
Hazel eventually married and the Lotus Engineering Company continued
making racing cars. In 1955, Colin quit his day job at British
Aluminum and was joined by Mike Costin. While continuing to build
his own cars, he, along with Frank Costin, designed a F1 World
Championship-winning Vanwall and worked on a BRM F1 car.

In late 1959, Colin moved production to a new factory in Cheshunt and
started production of the Elite, which lost money, followed by the
Elan, which turned Lotus into a profitable car company. In 1966-67,
Lotus moved again to a new factory in Norfolk and Colin had his dream
house built in East Carleton. While he was succeeding in building
road cars, he was also achieving great success in Formula One. Team
Lotus won three Constructor's Championships and over 30 Championship
events. Team Lotus also won the Indianapolis 500.

There were hard moments, though. Many Team Lotus drivers had been
killed, including Jim Clark, whom Colin was particularly close with.

After setting Lotus Cars into a program to move upmarket and getting
it through the tough period that followed, Colin grew tired of the
annoyances inherent in running a car company, particularly in light
of new automotive regulations that were being enacted worldwide in
the 1970s, and he passed control of Lotus Cars to others. Instead,
he spent his time on Team Lotus, which he moved from down the road
from Lotus Cars to an English country house, Ketteringham Hall, a
few miles away. He also played his boats and his plane. He also
got Lotus Cars involved with John DeLorean's plans to build a
stainless steel sports car.

The start of the 1980s was probably the toughest period that Lotus
ever encountered. In Formula One, Team Lotus was not winning races
and Colin's latest creation, the twin chassis Type 88, had been
banned and Colin spent a lot of time fighting the ban. Some say that
this killed his interest in Formula One. At Lotus Cars, a worldwide
recession hit Lotus sales hard, because of a distribution problem,
there were no sales in the U.S. and Lotus' creditors were getting
worried. Also, Lotus' name was being drawn into the scandal which
followed the collapse of DeLorean. And, Colin Chapman died of a heart
attack on 16 December, 1982 at his home in East Carleton.

Some good books on Colin Chapman's life are:

"Colin Chapman: The Man and His Cars" by Gerard Crombac
"Theme Lotus" by Doug Nye


 

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