Colin Bruce Chapman,
an engineer, inventor and businessman is considered one of the greatest all
time in motorsport and in the automotive world as a whole. Chapman who died on December 16, 1982 was a
genius and his ideas and inventions have great relevance even in today’s
revolutionary and controversial ideas changed the car industry with his ground
breaking ideas. Chapman founded Lotus cars and Lotus engineering from which he
produced road cars and race cars. Chapman even raced in Formula One and was as
fast as a driver in a free practice as the reigning champions and best racers
of the time. After an incident on track
at the French grand prix which was his first outing on a grand prix weekend in
1956, it was also his last. Chapman then decided to work in the garage for his
Cooper’s rear engine racing car innovations, Chapman took it much further.
Chapman realised the lighter the car the faster it will be. So he removed the
chassis all together, mounted the engine onto the driver’s tub and linked the
suspension directly to the engine. That formula is being used to build every
single racing car and road cars even today. Chapman’s key objective in building
a fast racing car was “lightweight and simplicity”. This was the brief given to
the engineers in Lotus. The car has to be simple and light. “Elegant
Simplicity” was the philosophy he used to funnel down the throats of his
engineers at Lotus.
In his time
Chapman created a legacy that still lives today and it’s a timeless formula.
Chapman literally shaped the future of road and race cars--the Lotus 25 to the
Lotus 77 race cars to the highly controversial Lotus 88. This car was so
advanced and ahead of its time due to clever engineering from Lotus that the FIA
was forced to ban it from racing as the other teams protested that the car was too
sophisticated. The iconic roads cars, to name a few, were the Lotus Elan, Elite
and the Esprit, which was even featured as James Bond’s amphibious car of
choice in “The spy who loved me” in 1977. Another car worth a mention is the
Lotus 7 that is still in production with no more changes than simple styling
updates and performance enhancements made to since Chapman’s 1957 design. It is
now produced under the name Caterham 7 by Caterham.
quoted saying "Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting
weight makes you faster everywhere". So Chapman went about rewriting the
rule book and history with the thought of the century "Simplify, then add lightness”. He invented the monocoque chassis which he used in his racing
cars. This revolutionised the entire car industry across the world. The unique innovation
from Chapman’s Chassis was that it was extremely light and it was where the
driver sat. Chapman and his engineers bolted the engine directly on to the tub
behind of the driver. The rear suspension bolted directly onto the engine to
make the Lotus 25. This gave birth to the first ever mid-engined car. Driven by
Chapman’s best friend Jim Clark, Lotus used this formula to annihilate
competition and take the first world championship with Clark in 1963.
development of his race cars evolved, Lotus was also the first company to make
a car from composite materials, develop a new type of suspension, change the
positions of the radiators to the sides instead of the front and to understand
and use aerodynamics. While under Chapman’s reign, Lotus won 6 more titles with
this evolving formula in 1965, ‘68, ‘70, ‘72, ‘73 and the last one in 1978.
Lotus also won 6 driver’s title in the same corresponding years apart from
1973. In total, of the 73 Grand Prix victories, Lotus got 102 pole positions and 65 fastest laps.
Some of the
greatest Formula one Champions like Jim Clarkand and Jochen Rindt lost their
lives in a Lotus racing car. Rindt is the only driver to date to have won the
title posthumous in 1970. The there are racers like Sterling Moss, Graham Hill,
Mika Hakkinen, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti, Nelson Piquet
and most notably, Ayrton Senna who started their career in F1 with Team Lotus.
engineering, Chapman brought other revolutionary business ideas into
motorsports when he swapped the British racing green for his Lotus 49 and
painted it in the colours of the packaging of a tobacco company which were
sponsoring Team Lotus. It was the first time anyone had ever used a car as a
billboard. Chapman acted like it was the most obvious thing to do. But the
irony was that Chapman hated cigarettes, and smoking at Lotus was forbidden.
Another aspect of Chapman was that he argued with people that tax evasion was a
crime but he would justify that his Swiss bank accounts were okay and that he didn’t
evade taxes. He claimed he had merely “avoided” taxes. He had an off shore
account under the name of Grand Prix Drivers where he kept his money to pay the
drivers and to run his business. This would come back to haunt Chapman in the
later stages of his life.
also known for finding loop holes in the regulations. He would sit for hours
and hours trying to find them. This
trend has been used by Formula One teams and every one across the globe.
Chapman was a huge believer and supporter of his designs and innovations and he
would give everything to defend his company that he arguably named the team
after his lover. During an outburst of safety regulations, he even tried to
convince the officials that paper was fire proof. So in a way he was also a lawyer.
downfall of Chapman was when he was begged into an offer with DeLorean to help
build a car against his will. A huge controversy broke out in 1978 which
accused Chapman of using British tax payer’s money which was given to DeLorean
to develop the car, that was used in the “Back to the Future” movie franchise,
and put the money to his off-shore bank account. The DeLorean scandal was one
of the biggest scandals of the time. With the fear of possible prison time if
convicted, Chapman’s health gradually started to slump. He withdrew himself
from the racing tracks and then the public world all together. Then on December
16th, 1982, Chapman died of a heart attack, before the final verdict
of the DeLorean scandal.
final verdict years later, the accountant at the time for the company was
sentenced to prison. The judge who oversaw the DeLorean case reckoned that if
Chapman was alive, he would have received a 10 year sentence.
still one of the remaining British sportscar companies to have survived this
long and even today is alive and brings out brilliant little cars like the
Evora, the Elise and the Exige. These cars are not very popular in the world as
compared to the German or Italian cars or even other British car makers like
Aston Martin or Jaguar Land Rover. But all of the sports car manufacturers owe
something to Lotus and Colin Chapman. Because almost every car manufacturer
from the miniscule Tata Nano to the Swedish God powered Koenigsegg One:1 follow
the same principles that was laid out by Chapman many years ago. Even today the cars made by Lotus using the
same philosophy of light and simplicity has given us some of the greatest
modern ground breaking cars of the 21st century use modern Lotus
chassis like the Hennessey Venom GT and the Tesla Roadster, to name a few. When
talking about India, Lotus had designed the chassis of the Mahindra Scorpio,
which is so popular in India, so that it is stable at high speeds.
a design of Formula One car whose basic principles remain the same 32 years
after his death. If you want to know why your car is as light as it is, or how
you get high fuel economy, or how your car corners the way it does, remember
the name Colin Chapman and remember the Logo of Lotus with Chapman’s ‘ACB’ initials.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman will always be immortal thanks to the legacy he
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