Lo­tus 70th-an­niver­sary meet

Lo­tus cel­e­brated its 70th birth­day in style with an evoca­tive mega-meet at the mar­que’s Hethel head­quar­ters

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS MATT BIRD

For any car man­u­fac­turer to reach 70 years old is a ma­jor achieve­ment, but for Lo­tus to now be en­ter­ing its eighth decade of man­u­fac­tur­ing, fol­low­ing its var­i­ous tribu­la­tions both re­cent and more dis­tant, is noth­ing short of re­mark­able. To mark seven decades since Colin Chapman built his first MKI – which is still to be tracked down, but the hunt is on – back in 1948, Lo­tus brought out the bunt­ing at its Nor­folk head­quar­ters on 29 Septem­ber for a lav­ish 70th-birth­day cel­e­bra­tion.

The plan? As de­light­fully simple as you would hope from a mar­que for which min­i­mal­ism is ev­ery­thing: bring as many people (some 8000 all told) and cars sig­nif­i­cant to the brand (a record turnout of 1600, from all eras) back to the home of Lo­tus, for a day of rem­i­nisc­ing about the past, dis­cussing the fu­ture and shar­ing a pas­sion that reaches across the globe.

You could have stayed in the car park and still had a fan­tas­tic day, with some 14 Lo­tus own­ers’ clubs putting on static dis­plays cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from the MKVI to the lat­est range. Un­be­known to those own­ers, a judge was prowl­ing their ranks dur­ing the day for a ‘se­cret con­cours’, with the top prize fi­nally go­ing to the ex-guy Fréquelin/ Jean Todt Sun­beam Lo­tus.

It was hard to think of a Lo­tus production model that wasn’t on show, from ev­ery Europa, Es­prit, Éclat, Ex­cel, Elan and Elise vari­ant to a plethora of Carl­tons,tal­bot Sun­beams and Lo­tus Corti­nas, all ac­com­pa­nied by own­ers of unerring ded­i­ca­tion and seem­ingly bound­less knowl­edge.

Ac­tiv­ity on the Hethel test track be­gan with a demon­stra­tion of ve­hi­cles that per­fectly en­cap­su­lated the mar­que’s mantra: light­weight, ground­break­ing, in­no­va­tive and highly suc­cess­ful. No, not Sev­ens but mem­bers of the Lo­tus 110 Bike Club, with a group com­pris­ing rid­ers of Type 108, 110 and 112 bi­cy­cles, in­clud­ing the Type 108 used by Chris Board­man to win gold in the Track Pur­suit at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

The rally-pre­pared Sun­beams pro­vided yet more en­ter­tain­ment in a fash­ion not typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with Lo­tus: rau­cous, wild and seem­ingly in a per­ma­nent state of over­steer, these com­pe­ti­tion cars re­minded vis­i­tors why the rear­wheel-drive hatch­backs have such a fear­some rep­u­ta­tion on the rally stages. As for the Cortina, there’s lit­tle more eu­lo­gis­ing to be done – even more than 50 years af­ter the model’s in­tro­duc­tion, and from such hum­ble ori­gins, it con­tin­ues to be a reg­u­lar win­ner in his­torics.

The demon­stra­tion was brought bang up to date by a tyre-smok­ing ‘Dy­nam­ics Dis­play’ from the cur­rent range of cars and Lo­tus’ crack team of test driv­ers.

Those cars were merely a warmup, how­ever, to the main event that so many en­thu­si­asts had driven to Hethel to see: the Clas­sic Team Lo­tus dis­play, fea­tur­ing racewin­ning For­mula One cars from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. With even the most re­cent Lo­tus F1 ti­tle suc­cess now 40 years ago, the ap­petite for the cars shows no sign of abat­ing as the test track once again echoed to the evoca­tive sound of the howl­ing Cos­worth DFV.

High­lights in­cluded the 1966 43 and the iconic 49, de­signed by Colin Chapman and Mau­rice Philippe for the 1967 sea­son, and the highly suc­cess­ful 1978 Lo­tus 79, the first F1 car to take full ad­van­tage of ground ef­fects.

‘The Hethel test track once again echoed to the evoca­tive sound of the howl­ing Cos­worth DFV’

While the fo­cus was in­evitably on the mar­que’s achieve­ments over the past seven decades, the im­mi­nent fu­ture of Lo­tus was also dis­cussed. Plans were un­veiled dur­ing the week­end for fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the Nor­folk site, com­pris­ing a Cus­tomer Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre, a Her­itage Cen­tre and a mu­seum. “Hethel is, and will al­ways be, the heart of Lo­tus,” said new CEO Feng Qingfeng. “Our plans are the first step in ready­ing the site for the next 50 years.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY LO­TUS CARS/MATT BIRD

A 700-strong an­niver­sary pa­rade, the largest ever at Hethel, was led by cur­rent Lo­tus CEO Feng Qingfeng. Below: ex-colin Chapman Eleven on the test track

From top: ex-satoru Naka­jima 1981 Lo­tus 101 F1 con­tender on track; 1600 cars marked the brand’s 70th an­niver­sary in an epic pa­rade; smok­ing Sun­beam Lo­tus; own­ers’ Sun­beams in­cluded sev­eral com­pe­ti­tion cars

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