The 56B was yet another 'envelope-pusher' from Lotus boss Colin Chapman. Powered by a turbine engine - supplied by Pratt and Whitney - it was to be a new departure for F1. The car had its beginnings in Indianapolis, America. Chapman entered the STP-Paxton turbo car in the '67 Indy 500. It performed well. Driver Parnelli Jones would have won the famous race - had he not broken down, just yards before the chequered flag. Nothing daunted, Chapman returned to Indy in '68. With backing from STP's Andy Granatelli, Chapman hired Maurice Phillipe to design the '56' car. Sadly, Chapman was to experience an unpleasant case of déja vu. Pilot Joe Leonard also broke down, with victory as good as in the bag.
With luck like that, maybe it was time to try another race series! In any event, the American powers that be then banned turbine-powered cars. Chapman decided to move to F1. Sticking with the turbine power the Lotus 56 had pioneered, the 56B was ready for the start of the '71 season. It would have appeared the previous year - but for the death of driver Jochen Rindt, at Monza. Understandably, that threw a spanner in the works of the 56B's development schedule. But - with Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel - Chapman's latest creation duly rolled onto the grid for the Race of Champions, at England's Brands Hatch circuit. Things did not go well. The 56B bottomed out so much it snapped its suspension. It then crashed out at Oulton Park. Next stop Silverstone - where the 56B started on the front row, for the International Trophy. The first heat did for the suspension again. Fittipaldi, though, finished third second time out.
These initial outings were non-World Championship events. F1 'friendlies', as it were. The 56B's first race that mattered was the '71 Dutch GP. Driver Dave Walker started from the back of the grid - and on a wet track. By the fifth lap, though, he was up to tenth ... notwithstanding turbine throttle lag. Chapman - and the rest of the Lotus team - must have been cock-a-hoop! Unfortunately, it was not to last. Walker subsequently slid off the track - at the Tarzan hairpin. At Monza - a year on from Rindt's fatal accident - the 56B ended up eighth. At Hockenheim - in another non-championship race - Fittipaldi placed second. And that was pretty much it for the Lotus 56B. Ultimately, interest in it lay more in the technical elements of its fabled '70s 'turbo car' power delivery, than in its F1 points tally.