Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman 1928 - 1982
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born on 19 May, 1928 in Richmond, Surrey
where his father owned the Orange Tree Public House. He grew up living at
the Railway Hotel, Hornsey, which his father managed. One of the first
significant events of Chapman's life occurred in March of 1944 when he met
his future wife, Hazel Williams, at a dance at Hornsey Town Hall. He
allways attend the Hornsey dances, for the very good reason that he good
get in free as his father was in charge of the catering. Even prior to
their marriage ten years later Hazel was to be instrumental in helping
Chapman make a name for himself in racing and car building, among other
things putting up the initial 25 pounds sterling to get Lotus Engineering
Co., Ltd., started in 1952.
Chapman learned to fly at university, and, after earning a degree in civil
engineering in 1948, he was for a short time a flying officer with the
RAF. Aviation was to remain a lifelong passion. When he got into car
building he soon began to compete. He became determined to achieve great
things as a driver. His approach to covering the financial requirements
was to build a car for himself, demonstrate its qualities on the course,
and then sell his innovations and services, and later copies (not always
exact) of the cars themselves, to other enthusiasts in post-war England.
The very first one-off he built was a modification of a 1930 Austin Seven
saloon. The car was housed and worked on in one of the lock-ups belonging
to Hazels'father. It was completed in 1948 and Colin wanted to call it
something different from just another 'Austin Special" and decided it
should be called a Lotus Mk I.
The original registration number of PK 3493 became OX 9292.
It was only as an afterthought that he decided to enter it in trials
races. He had never even been to a motor race before. From there he was
off on a tenacious hunt for loopholes in regulations that would give him
an edge. Many of these were of the very small variety, and allowed him to
exercise and hone his novel engineering approach to the maximum. In 1949,
the year in which Colin did quilify for his 'wings', the Mk II was
constructed. He entered the car in circuit racing and enjoyed himself so
much that he gave up car trials.
Lotus Mk II
Early on he held a position with The British Aluminium Company and relied
on long hours, volunteer help and barter arrangements (in consideration
for assistance he gave to BRM with their F1 suspension design he received
a converted Ford Zephyr) to keep his car building operation afloat. It was
tough going even after Lotus cars became well known as winners. At the end of 1954 he was able to quit his day job and
devote himself entirely to Lotus Engineering and Team Lotus, the
newly-formed competition arm of the business. He was also able to take on
paid employees, among whom were names such as Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth
and Graham Hill. Lotus Engineering built both road and competition sports
cars for customers, and eventually Formula 2 and, in 1958, Formula 1 cars
as well. Although single-seaters originally gave Lotus fits due to their
having to adapt their fragile chassis to very high power to weight ratios,
Team Lotus continued its on-track success in sports cars as Chapman
continued to develop his engineering magic.
Lotus cars, though intentionally built sparingly, were not gimcracks.
Chapman, above all, wanted his cars to win. Their notorious frailty was
no accident. Chapman was unswerving in his devotion to minimalist design
philosophy. Each part had to do as many jobs as it was possible to
squeeze out of it. Although this trade-off was not always adequate, when
it did pay off it was dynamite.
Chapman's motivation for this approach was apparently not parsimony,
but something more deeply-seated in his personality. It is tempting to
relate it to his tendency to treat superficially many of the people he had
dealings with, but more likely it was just a manifestation of his
extraordinary talents. What Chapman left out in material substance he
replaced with cleverness. It was as if automobiles were to him ephemeral
things, spirits of his own creation, or rather spirits formed by the act
of their creation. Their physical existence seemed to have little
importance. Only their performance was meaningful. It took great urging
from friends and family before, late in life, he would make even belated
efforts to preserve examples of some of his historically significant
Although his early cars were based on the space frame chassis (done up,
as usual, better than the original), the chassis development that he is
most famous for was the full monocoque that made its debut in the Lotus
25. The 25 was the first of Chapman's F1 world-beaters and carried Jim
Clark to his 1963 championship. It was to be followed in due course by,
among others, the 49, the 72 and the 79. The 49, a winner its first time
out, popularized the engine as a stressed chassis member, and was
Chapman's masterpiece and the epitome of his insistence on extreme economy
of design; the 72 sported novel features such as a wedge shape, torsion
bar springing and inboard brakes; and the 79 was the pinnacle of ground
effects, an ingenious madness of which Chapman was, again, a major
innovator. He did not, of course, conceive all of these cars by himself.
Others including Duckworth and Maurice Phillippe made indispensable
contributions. Chapman, in the best engineering tradition, was quick to
borrow ideas from other sources including the aerospace industry. But his
finger prints were all over the design and engineering of every Lotus
while he was alive. As a matter of fact, news of Chapman's untimely death
was brought to Team Lotus while they were breaking in the 92 with its
active suspension, the master's last great technical revolution.
Colin Chapman's story remains half told until Jim Clark is brought into
it. Several Lotus drivers won races only because they were in a Chapman
car. But many Lotuses won races only because Clark was driving them.
Chapman and Clark were an odd couple to say the least - Chapman the
brilliant and charming engineer cum salesman; Clark the reserved,
thoughtful farmer from the Scottish Border country, and the driver that
Chapman at one time had wished to be. That they were close nonetheless was
due almost certainly to the fact that each recognized the talents of the
other in his particular sphere of motor racing, an enterprise they both
loved. Both were known for parting with a pound reluctantly, although
Chapman was significantly more sophisticated in money matters than was
Clark, perhaps, as it turned out, too sophisticated for his own good (he
even managed eventually to get Clark to pay his expenses from his
Indianapolis expeditions out of his retainers). Chapman showed no
prescience in signing up Clark since by that time the Scotsman's abilities
were becoming general knowledge. He got Clark and hung on to him because
he built winning cars. The fruitful relationship between the two, probably
approached only by that between Tyrrell and Stewart, was as much a result
of each adapting to the other's natural shortcomings as anything else.
Clark was too down-to-earth to be shined up by Chapman's hard sell, and
Chapman was too savvy to be over awed by the driving ability of which
Clark was justifiably, and obviously, proud. Chapman was genuinely
devastated by Clark's death in 1968 in a Lotus 48 F2 car.
Chapman achieved his greatest fame in the U.S. by forcing the rear-engined
concept on the technologically stagnant Indianapolis 500. Dan Gurney was
the one who, after seeing the Lotus 25, persuaded Chapman that Indy would
be worth a look. That look revealed, to Chapman's glee, an obscene amount
of money that, considering the competition, looked ripe for picking.
Gurney set up a deal between Ford and Chapman, and Clark did indeed nearly
take the prize on the first try in 1963 in a controversial finish. The
Lotus-Ford missed again in 1964, but by its 1965 victory the majority of
the cars in the field were rear-engined. There was no great pioneering in
the first Lotus Indy cars, not even the engine placement since Brabham had
been there and done that. The Lotus 29's combination of many 25 features
plus a solid big block Ford engine was so far ahead of the traditional
roadsters that it made the whole thing akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
Lotus did break new ground in 1968 with a turbine powered car. It showed
such promise in that race that turbine cars were promptly banned by USAC.
It is difficult to overstate the influence, in so many different ways,
that Chapman had on F1 as we know it today, what might be called "Big
Formula 1." At the end of 1967 Esso pulled its support for motor racing.
The CSI, which at the time oversaw the sporting aspects of the FIA,
recognizing the need for expanded financial opportunities for an expanding
F1, withdrew the restriction on advertisements on racing cars. Chapman was
characteristically first in exploiting this opportunity, signing up
Imperial Tobacco as the Team Lotus sponsor for 1968, in the process
setting F1 on the road to a financial addiction to tobacco which has
proved as difficult to shake as the real thing. English racing green gave
way to Gold Leaf livery, and later to the stunning black and gold of the
John Player Specials. There can be no argument about the monetary
advantages that motor racing realized from tobacco sponsorship. It was
inevitable that so much money floating around would attract attention, but
curiously it was not Chapman but Lotus driver Jochen Rindt's former
manager, Bernie Ecclestone, via his Formula One Constructors Association,
who got control of it.
Chapman did have a shot at running the money part of the F1 circus.
During the great FISA-FOCA war of 1979 - 1981 a conspiracy was hatched by
Jean-Marie Balestre to have Chapman replace Bernie Ecclestone as head of
FOCA. It came to naught, but one both delights and shudders at the thought
of what F1 might be today had this coup d'etat been carried off.
One of the casualties of the 1979-1981 unrest in the F1 world was
another Chapman engineering marvel. In order to reduce chassis movement
the suspensions of ground effects cars were so stiff that they were
physically very hard on the driver. Enter the Lotus 86 and 88
incorporating aerodynamics and body work sprung separately from the
cockpit. The 86 fell victim to the concession FOCA made in its truce with
Balestre that did away with ground effects skirts. The 88 was ganged-up on
and eliminated by assorted constructors and race organizers watching out
for their wallets. Thereafter, ground effects itself was gradually all but
legislated away. These triumphs of politics over progress was
disheartening to Chapman for whom F1 had always been synonymous with the
highest level of technical achievement. He seemed to lose much of his
interest in the sport.
Towards the end of his life Chapman, never one to shy away from a
chance to make some money, became entangled in the John DeLorean scandal.
The British government welcomed the DeLorean - Chapman partnership with
open arms when it offered to site the factory for DeLorean's stainless
steel wonder car in depressed Belfast, to the extent of putting up 54
million pounds of financing. Unfortunately several million pounds of this
never made it to Northern Ireland. Rumor had it that its ultimate
destinations were the pockets of DeLorean, Chapman and others. DeLorean's
arrest for allegedly dealing in a controlled substance and the
simultaneous collapse of the DeLorean car business left behind a nasty
mess indeed. Due to his premature passing, Chapman's real part in this sad
affair has never been completely explained.
Chapman tossed his cap in the air in celebration of an F1 victory for
the last time at the Austrian race in 1982, which Elio De Angelis took in
a squeaker from Keke Rosberg. Chapman's death from a heart attack in
December of that year was shockingly sudden and a surprise to everyone
who had followed his unparalleled career. Some of these were legal
authorities looking into the DeLorean fiasco, but the great majority were
friends and family of motor racing who knew they had lost an irreplaceable
part of their sport.
Source: Grand Prix History and Colin Chapman, the man and