Adding Lightness

Inside Classic Team Lotus’ 2019 move to its new workshop

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It was 25 years ago that Clive Chapman set up Classic Team Lotus in the workshops once occupied by his father Colin’s original Team Lotus.

The place, next to the Lotus factory in Hethel, Norfolk, UK, was steeped in history, and excited visitors would inhale the heady scent of countless chassis welds, engine builds and glassfibre lay-ups. Now it’s empty, left literally in the shadow of its purpose-built replacement. Surely Clive must have found it difficult to leave the old place behind?

The new workshop is currently dominated by John Player Special livery: 1972 Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus 72 (Clive Chapman’s favourite car) closest to the camera, then the 1983 Nigel Mansell 94T and the 1985 carbonfibre 97T driven by Ayrton Senna to his first grand prix win at Estoril in 1985. In the background is new apprentice Aaron Buck.
There’s serious history stuck to this metal cabinet in the fabrication shop. Steve Jest, pictured, had been working for another company making parts for Classic Team Lotus for 25 years, but became a full-time employee in 2017.

“Not at all,” he says wryly. “For the past ten years at least we’ve been coping with inadequate facilities. It was a dreadful working environment. Freezing cold in winter, stinking hot in summer, and no room to work.” Others in the 19-strong team agree, including Bob Dance, Team Lotus mechanic from 1960-1969 and again from 1977-1994, team manager Chris Dinnage, who started at Team Lotus in 1982 and has driven more Formula 1 Lotus cars than anyone else on the planet, and Steve Allen, accountant since the Fittipaldi days.

Stacks of the iconic ‘Wobbly Web’ Lotus wheels, set for new shelving on the mezzanine above the car storage area – the first time they’ve had a proper home.
Stacks of the iconic ‘Wobbly Web’ Lotus wheels, set for new shelving on the mezzanine above the car storage area – the first time they’ve had a proper home.

So, yes, here we are naively forgetting the practicalities of running a successful historic race outfit. In 2018, cars managed by Classic Team Lotus made 142 starts (and 125 finishes) at meetings around the world. One of its cars won the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship. Typically the team will attend 25 to 30 events a year, and in 2018 alone some 35 cars went through the raceshop, several for full restoration. The new HQ was essential.

The core of the new building is the ground-floor raceshop, with windows through to the offices and merchandise shop in one direction, and the fabrication shops at the other end. Upstairs is all about storage of cars, spares and memorabilia, relieving the nearby Piggery, Barn and Hangar of their repository duties.

This is the rear of the premises, where all the action happens – and it shows the neat simplicity of the design. Cars are fired up under the canopy, and the lift to the storage area operates externally from here.

As for the old workshop, it’s likely to eventually become a Team Lotus museum. Meanwhile, tours of the new HQ can be booked on the Classic Team Lotus website for just £45 per person.

The upstairs storage area, with cars from customers and the Chapman family collection. The Gold Leaf F2 car (minus bodywork) is the Lotus 58 with De Dion front and rear suspension, shelved in 1968. The JPS-livery car in the centre is a T125 track-day car, which Clive says lapped Dijon more than ten seconds faster than an F1 Lotus 72.
This is the cockpit of Graham Hill’s Lotus 49B – the only car ever to have won the Monaco GP twice, in 1968 and ’69. To see it in the metal is simply breathtaking.
1971 Lotus 56B in restoration, its Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine on the bench behind.
On the right is the Essex-livery chassis 81/2 monocoque, as driven by Mario Andretti, Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell.
Company founder Clive Chapman in Chris Dinnage’s artfully arranged bodywork storage area. Clive’s mother (Colin’s widow) Hazel is also a director of Classic Team Lotus.
Steve Jest fettles Lotus 77/1, winner of the 2018 FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship. In the foreground, Lotus 25 R4 – the main car for Jim Clark’s 1963 World Championship-winning season.