The company was formed as Lotus Engineering Limited in 1952 by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College London. The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, though Chapman’s original partners Michael and Nigel Allen were led to believe that the letters stood for Colin Chapman and the Allen Brothers. Additionally, the name Lotus is reputed to have been derived from the words “Lot Unsold”.
The first factory was located unpromisingly in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. In 1959, the company moved to a purpose-built factory at Cheshunt and since 1966, the company has occupied a modern factory and road test facility at the former RAF base at Hethel near Wymondham in Norfolk.
Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994. The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959 comprising of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited, which focussed on road cars and customer competition, respectively. Lotus Components Limited briefly became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971, but the newly renamed entity ceased operation in the same year.
In its early years, Lotus sold cars aimed at privateer racers and trialists and which were available in kit form to save on purchase tax. Early models included the Lotus Seven (still produced by Caterham), the Lotus Elite, the Lotus Elan and the Lotus Europa.
Lotus was notable for its use of fibre glass bodies, backbone chassis and twin cam engines, initially supplied by Coventry Climax, but later replaced by Lotus-Ford units.
By the 1970’s, Lotus sought to move upmarket with the launch of the Elite, Eclat and the iconic Esprit models.
Group Lotus was in serious trouble by 1980 largely due to a worldwide economic recession, which saw production fall from 1,200 units per annum to just 383. In 1982, Chapman came to an agreement with Toyota to exchange intellectual property and expertise.
However, Chapman’s early death on 16 December 1982 at the age of 54 marked the end of a chapter for Lotus. At the time of his death, both Chapman and Lotus were linked to the Delorean Motor Company scandal over the misuse of UK Government subsidies and for which Lotus had designed the chassis.
Group Lotus was close to bankruptcy in 1983 when English accountant and entrepreneur David Wickins became the new chairman. In January 1986, Wickins oversaw the majority sale of the Group Lotus companies to General Motors with co-owners Toyota selling out to GM four months later. Then, on 27 August 1993, GM sold the company for £30 million to A.C.B.N. Holdings S.A. of Luxembourg. In 1996, a majority share in Lotus was sold to Proton, a Malaysian car company.
The Lotus Exige S and the Lotus Evora are the latest models to be produced under the company’s current ownership.
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