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