For over 40 years, Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus stood at the top of innovation in racing technology, simultaneously creating some of the world’s most striking and iconic F1 cars that captivated generations. From popularizing the use of the monocoque chassis, to being among the first teams to make their cars into high-speed billboards, and utilizing the art of aerodynamics, it would be an understatement to say that the team has played an important role in the history of not just Formula 1, but motor racing altogether.
Now known as Classic Team Lotus, the spirit of the original team continues under the guidance of Clive Chapman with the aim to promote and preserve the brand’s history with some of the most significant and valuable Lotus from the past. Today I find myself standing outside their workshop in Hethel, England: the team’s original home during the 1960s and 70s. My visit allowed a chance to see what goes on inside this famous site in the modern era, but just before stepping through the appropriately green doorway, I am reminded that a man who worked behind a red one in Fiorano once criticized the “garagistas” who worked here for not building “proper racing cars.” History would prove quite the contrary.
“You’ve come at a good time,” I’m told by Sapphire, events coordinator for the team, and as I’m lead to the workshop floor, I realize what she means as an impressive assembly of some of the rarest Lotus Formula One cars come into view. Feeling more like I’ve stepped into someone’s model collection of Lotus F1 cars than into the nest of the real thing, I have to remind myself that the cars are as real as it gets as I step past an ex-Jim Clark Lotus 25, a pair of JPS Lotus 72s, the infamous Lotus 88, plus the lone March in the building. Far from museum pieces, many of the cars here continue to live part of their lives on the track and are campaigned during the season in the FIA Master’s Historic Formula One Championship along with various high speed demonstration runs, returning the spectacular sight of these cars at the limit to circuits and fans around the world.
However, it’s not just the cars that have caught my attention inside, it’s the entire space, which looks and feels like a time capsule, that intrigues me the most. Without a laptop plugged into an ECU in sight—just tools and mechanics in green lab coats—the workshop is a refreshing throwback to motorsport in its purest form.
Reminiscent of a family home, the team is watched on by framed photographs of their predecessors, and are surrounded by relics placed throughout the workshop as they tinker away. They also have a space for the family heirlooms—in this case, a special set of drawers that house the original technical drawings of each monoposto Lotus, allowing the team to consult and reproduce cars and parts to exact specifications. Full of character and soul, this is what all workshops should feel like.
With an environment that inspires a feeling of connection to the roots like this place does, it’s not that much of a surprise that I bump into one of the team’s greatest ambassadors, Bob Dance, working on the fuel tanks of the ex-Jim Clark Lotus 25. Twice Team Lotus’ chief mechanic during the 1960s, and then again from 1976 to 1994, Colin Champan had once tried to dissuade Bob from joining the F1 Team and Bob recalls “I asked him if I could switch from the components and developments department at Lotus to the race team, but Colin said ‘Don’t do that. It’s a dead end job.’ ”
“He was right because here I am all these years later still doing it!”
With such a tale of loyalty, it’s evident that there must be something very special about the Team Lotus spirit.
As I finally depart, having stayed far longer than intended, I can’t help but feel that I must not be the only person thinking that I was born an era or two, and then some, too late. Having missed the golden age of Formula One and the opportunity to see my driving heroes in their prime, their teams and cars at full tilt at the circuit, I find myself constantly in a state of wonder and awe at their achievements and the environment they raced in—a world away from today’s. However, luckily for those like me and for enthusiasts looking to revisit memories, the Classic Team Lotus family is at the forefront of making sure the legacy continues, and what better team to do so than one that helped shape history?