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Lotus: Engineered to Win

By Jarah Weinreich

The National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's latest theme display, Lotus: Engineered to Win, celebrates the Lotus marque, which for over sixty years has been linked to a special breed of nimble, lightweight sports car. On roads and racetracks across the world, Lotus cars have gained a formidable reputation for performance and innovation. The qualities inherent in Lotus products past and present came largely from the unique mind of company founder Colin Chapman.

Chapman, along with his university contemporaries Colin Dare and Michael and Nigel Allen, formed Lotus Engineering Limited in 1952. Chapman had been experimenting with cars since his teenage years, and had been running a modified Austin Seven nicknamed 'Lotus' since 1948. The company was headed by Chapman, and was initially based in a disused stable block in North London. In 1954, Team Lotus was formed as a subsidiary of the engineering company, to focus purely on competition. From 1958, Team Lotus was active in Formula One, while Lotus Engineering built on the reputation with road cars.

The display features a variety of both road and competition machines, each of which has played its part in the company's success, starting in 1962 with the Elite. The Lotus Elite was unveiled in 1957, initially available both ready-built and in kit form. The Elite pioneered the fibreglass monocoque construction, and its elegant shape won it many admirers.

The Elite was replaced by the Elan in 1962, which again used a fibreglass construction, this time over a steel frame. A beautifully restored 1967 Elan SE is featured in the display, along with its four-seater cousin, the stunning Elan +2 coupe.

Meanwhile, the company's competition endeavors are well represented. The Lotus 51A was a pioneering Formula Ford open-wheeler, while the Westfield Lotus 11 is a faithful replica of the original Lotus 11 of the 1950s.

The Europa was first suggested as a concept car in 1962, although the production version was not unveiled until 1966. The John Player Special on display is an especially collectable example, being one of a limited series built to commemorate Team Lotus's victory in the 1972 F1 World Championship.

With the Lotus Seven, the company created an icon. Fast, lightweight and unlike almost anything else on the road, the Seven was produced for sixteen years, and inspired a generation of replicas and derivatives. The display features an original Lotus Seven Series 4, the last incarnation of the concept.

Building on a successful partnership, Ford's competition department introduced the Lotus-powered 110bhp Escort Twin Cam, which went on to claim many race and rally victories. A superb original example forms an important part of the display.

The Lotus Esprit was launched in 1976, and remained in production in various forms for almost thirty years. A starring role in 1977's James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me brought international fame to the Esprit and the Lotus marque. A striking 1989 Esprit is featured in the display.

With the death of its tenacious founder Colin Chapman in 1982, some feared that the company might lose its way. The way in which Lotus has combined its traditional ideals with modern technology is easily illustrated in the 2002 Elise. Introduced in 1996, the Elise featured a fibreglass shell over a bonded aluminium frame, and was capable of 240 km/h.

Today, Lotus continues to produce road and racing cars, while Lotus Engineering has established a reputation as a leading design consultancy with bases across the globe. For anyone with an interest in design and engineering Lotus: Engineered to Win is certain to impress.