Showing posts with label Lotus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lotus. Show all posts

Lotus Elan Sprint

Lotus Elan Sprint 1970s British classic sports car

The Elan was launched in '62. Lotus - based at Hethel, in Norfolk, England - instantly joined the ranks of quality sports car manufacturers. Petite though it was, it packed plenty of muscle. Beneath its lightweight glass-fibre skin, both engine and chassis were rock-solid. Acceleration was searing, handling supple, the ride comfortable. In short, Lotus had hit the automotive jackpot!

The Elan's power was produced by a twin-cam in-line four. The Ford motor made 105bhp. Top speed for the Elan was 115mph. It was fitted with a 4-speed 'box - also sourced from Ford. That all sat within a taut and tidy Lotus chassis. The frame was steel backbone. Suspension featured coils and wishbones up front - with Chapman struts and lower wishbones at the rear. Triumph provided the steering rack. Steel wheels were centre-locking. All four were stopped by Girling disc brakes.

Lotus' Elan Sprint arrived in '71. As its name suggested, it took the standard Elan's performance up a gear. Key to that was the Sprint's big-valve cylinder head. It had been expertly fettled by Tony Rudd. He and his team upped the output by 25% - to 126bhp. The new motor was more oil-tight, too - and quieter. It was attached to a set of Weber carburettors. The Sprint marked a turning-point. From then on, Lotus began to move more up-market. In so doing, it slid ever further from its kit-car roots. The Elan remained in production for ten or so years. During that time, it helped turn Lotus into a serious player in the sports car business!

Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite 1950s British classic sports car

The Lotus Elite is widely regarded as one of the most stylish cars the firm made. Primarily, that was down to Peter Kirwan Taylor. Though not a leading light in the automotive design field at the time, Lotus put their faith in him - and it was rewarded. Launched in '59 - along with the Mini and Jaguar MKII - the Elite was produced for four years. In the course of that time, it became one of the iconic British sports cars. As always - with Colin Chapman at the helm - light weight was key. With that in mind, the Elite was the first car to be built on a glass-fibre monocoque chassis. That helped it reach a top speed of 130mph. Aerodynamic lines assisted. The Elite was agile, too. Few sports cars could hold a candle to it through corners!

Power was provided by an overhead-cam Coventry Climax motor. When kitted out with a single carburettor, it delivered 71bhp. A twin-carb set-up increased that to 83bhp. A 4-speed gearbox came courtesy of BMC. The SE version would be fitted with a close-ratio, 5-speed ZF 'box. Power increased to 105bhp. The Elite was economical, though - as a result of its light weight. As impressive as the Elite's straight-line speed, was its handling. The car was suspended by coil-spring dampers at the front - and Chapman struts (modified MacPherson struts) at the rear. Steering was by rack-and-pinion. The full complement of high-grade disc brakes came as standard. Of more questionable quality were the windows. While pleasing on the eye, their unique profile meant they were difficult to wind down fully. Not what you wanted, on a hot summer's day!

Generally speaking, though, the Elite did its name justice. In styling terms, it was from the top drawer. The Elite's dashboard, for example, echoed its chic low profile. Nevertheless, there were faults - other than the wind-down windows issue. The car's monocoque - cutting edge, though it was - was prone to noisy vibration. Also, interior décor was somewhat sparse. All things considered, however, the Lotus Elite was a fine example of a top-flight British sports car!

Lotus 79

Lotus 79 1970s classic F1 car

The Lotus 79 was yet another product of Colin Chapman's fertile mind. This time, the legendary Lotus boss trained his sights on 'ground-effect' - the process of aerodynamically 'pressing' the car to the race-track. In theory, it is said, an F1 car could be driven upside-down - so strong is the 'downforce' it generates. It was that kind of handling, then, that Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus.

Lotus had started their ground-effect quest with the 78 - or, 'wing car'. Each side-pod housed an inverted aerofoil. 'Skirts' below the side-pods ducted air through a venturi. That created a vacuum - by slowing down, and then speeding up air through a bottle-neck. The skirt sealed in the air - which the aerofoil then used to 'suction-clamp' the car to the tarmac. The upshot was that the Lotus 78 had been the fastest car on F1's grid. The 78's speed advantage, however, had been offset by reliability issues. The 79 would sort them - or so Lotus hoped. The best parts of the 78 car were retained. Lotus then added a couple of updates. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - which was increasing the downforce. The side-pod skirts, too, had been upgraded. They now moved up and down, as required - providing a surer seal.

The net result of these changes was precisely as Lotus had planned. The 79 car was streets ahead, in the '78 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five F1 wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. And Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship, at a canter. Chapman - and the Norfolk-based team - were ecstatic. But - as is so often the case in F1 - it was not to last. From the start of the '79 season, it was clear Lotus' competition had come prepared. Almost to a team, they were armed with their own takes on the ground-effect phenomenon. Indeed, some of the engineers had twigged that yet more downforce could be served up - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus was duly outstripped by its beefed-up rivals. But, that would never obscure the fact that - during its brief season in the F1 sun - the Lotus 79 had put the opposition well and truly in the shade!

Lotus Europa

Lotus Europa 1960s British classic sports car

For all its power, the Lotus Europa was a sports car - not an F1 car! Yet - at least, up to a point - that was its raison d'être. Colin Chapman - head man at Lotus - wanted a roadster that handled like a racer. At any rate, he sought to simulate the mid-engined layout - now de rigueur in F1. Certainly, at just 42″ tall - and with a drag coefficient of only 0.29 - the Europa's aerodynamic credentials were never in doubt.

The new car started out as the Lotus Europe. Trademark problems led to it being re-named the Europa. Handling-wise, the car was everything Chapman had hoped for. Road-test reviews were upbeat - at least as far as cornering was concerned. Steering was light - and the Europa perfectly poised. Key to the stability was rear suspension. It was comprised of lower wishbones and transverse top links. The Europa's laid-back driving position made sweeping through bends a breeze. Brakes were suitably solid.

But, the Europa was not without flaws. Creature comforts were in short supply. And, with a heavy clutch - and jarring ride - the Europa was far from user-friendly. Side-window gremlins did not help. Rear vision - or lack of it - was not exactly a selling-point. To be fair, Lotus did address the issues. The Europa was given a mini-makeover. Built in Hethel, Norfolk, the car stayed in production until '75. Almost 10,000 Europas were built - in a nine-year run. Its goal, then, was to bring F1-style handling to the roads of the UK. And - while that was, for a sports car, an impossible dream - it came as close to living it as any!

Lotus 56B

Lotus 56B 1970s classic British F1 car

The 56B was another example of Lotus pushing motor racing's technical envelope. Saying that, boss Colin Chapman knew no other way. Powered by a turbine engine, it was a new first for F1. Said motor was supplied by Pratt and Whitney. The car had its genesis in Indianapolis, America. Lotus had entered the STP-Paxton turbo car in the '67 Indy 500. It performed well. Driver Parnelli Jones would have won the iconic race - had he not broken down, just yards from the flag. Nothing daunted, Chapman returned to Indy in '68. With backing from STP's Andy Granatelli, Chapman hired Maurice Phillipe to design the Lotus 56. Sadly, Chapman was to experience an unpleasant case of déja vu. Pilot Joe Leonard again broke down, with victory as good as in the bag.

Shortly after Lotus' streak of bad luck, American motorsport banned turbine-powered cars. Chapman decided it was time for F1. Sticking with the turbine power the 56 had pioneered, the 56B was readied for the '71 season. Lotus had intended to unveil the new car the previous year. Tragically, the death of driver Jochen Rindt - at Monza - upset the 56B's development schedule. In due course, however, it rolled onto the grid at Brands Hatch - for the Race of Champions. Emerson Fittipaldi was at the wheel. It did not go well. The 56B bottomed out so much, the suspension snapped. Subsequently, it crashed out at Oulton Park. Next stop Silverstone - and the International Trophy. The 56B started on the front row. In the first heat, the suspension again gave up the ghost. Second time out, though, Fittipaldi finished third. Things were finally looking up, it seemed!

Thankfully, these early outings were non-World Championship events. F1 'friendlies', so to speak. The 56B's first race that mattered was the '71 Dutch GP. Driver Dave Walker started from the back of the grid - on a wet track. By the fifth lap he was up to tenth - notwithstanding turbine throttle lag. Sadly, it was not to last. Walker slid off the track - at the Tarzan hairpin. Next, to Monza - a year on from Rindt's fatal accident. The 56B placed eighth. At Hockenheim - albeit in another non-championship race - Fittipaldi finished second. And that was pretty much it for the Lotus 56B. In truth, its points tally was unremarkable. What fascinates aficionados, though, is that it was the first of F1's fabled 'turbo cars'!

Lotus 72

Lotus 72 1970s F1 car

The Lotus 72 had a legendary engine. Lotus had led the way with the Cosworth DFV. Its winning streak started in '67 - when it was fitted in the Lotus 49. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were the first drivers to reap the rewards. The 'Double Four Valve' V8 would go on to become the gold standard Formula One engine. Unfortunately for Lotus, their rivals were quick to seize upon the source of their success. Not exactly unknown in F1! By the end of the '60s, it seemed like every car in the paddock had a DFV engine. That was great for the sport - since it fostered close, competitive racing. But it was not entirely to Lotus' liking. They had acquired a taste for leading GPs. The ubiquity of the DFV was eroding that lead.

Cometh the hour, cometh the F1 car! Hitting the grid with the 1970 season already underway, there was much that was new about the Lotus 72. Most obviously, cigar-shaped bodywork - previously de rigueur - had morphed into a wedge. Inboard suspension and brakes made the 72 more aerodynamic than its predecessors. They also served to reduce unsprung weight. Suspension was via torsion-bar. Oil and water radiators were laterally placed - centralising weight distribution. The result of all this innovation was higher grip levels. F1 handling had come on leaps and bounds.

Lotus had their lead back! Driver Jochen Rindt duly won four races on the spin. He then crashed in qualifying for the Italian GP, at Monza. He was fatally injured. Remarkably, Rindt still went on to win the 1970 World Championship. That is how dominant he had been, up to that point! Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi likewise took a drivers' title - in '72. Indeed, he was the youngest driver to do so, at the time. He was just 25 years of age. In '73, Ronnie Peterson - also in a 72 - amassed a record nine pole positions in a season. From 1970 to '75, then, Lotus ruled the F1 roost. Their early adoption of the Cosworth DFV had paid huge dividends. The Lotus 72 was the chief beneficiary!

Lotus Esprit S1

Lotus Esprit S1 1970s British classic supercar

The Lotus Esprit S1 was the product of a more than fertile mind. 'Genius' is not a word bandied about in the car world so much as in certain other sectors. Most notably, Art and Science. But, automotive design straddles both disciplines. Someone in motoring to whom the tag has been applied is Colin Chapman - founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman was as enigmatic as they come. He could also be controversial - in a way only the seriously single-minded can be. What was never in doubt was that Chapman lived for Lotus. And for cars like the Esprit.

The Esprit S1 prototype was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was a futuristic fantasy … albeit, one built in rural Norfolk! Hethel has long been the home of Lotus - both physically and spiritually. Technologically, the Esprit was impressive. Its 2-litre 4-cylinder engine produced 160bhp in European spec. Its central location spread out the mass loads - helping the car handle. A Lotus maxim was 'Performance through light weight'. To that end, its bodywork 'wedge' was made from glass-fibre.

Chapman's mission statement was to create cars he himself would want to own. A supercar of its day, the Esprit was nothing if not head-turning. Styling-wise, it summed up the Seventies ... teetering, as it did, on the brink of kitsch - but backing up in the nick of time. The Lotus Esprit S1 was glamorous, mercurial - and an all-round class act. Just like Colin Chapman, in fact!