9 MAY 2011

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Article from BTNews 9 MAY 2011

COMMENT: The Caterham Formula One car

For the second week of each month AERBT offers a special motoring supplement.  COMMENT is therefore justified in submitting an observation on an item of news from last week, whilst not strictly business travel, does involve transport.  In any event your Editor in Chief was Press and Publicity Manager for Group Lotus Plc, from 1968 until 1972.

Conspiracy theorists involved in the world of motoring might find the acquisition of Caterham Cars Ltd by Tony Fernandes, owner of Team Lotus and Air Asia, of great interest.  Is Mr Fernandes interested in developing Caterham’s sole product – a car with direct ancestry to the original Colin Chapman's Lotus Seven of the 1960s?  Or is he in some way conniving to use the Lotus brand which is the subject of controversy?  Or is there another motive?

If he just wanted a quality name Bristol Cars Ltd was available from the liquidator of a motor manufacturer who first sought the light of day in 1945.  In recent years output was thought to be about a car a fortnight.

In 1973 Caterham Cars, then under the control of the late Graham Nearn, purchased the production rights for the Lotus 7 from Lotus Components Ltd including the ill-fated (plastic) Lotus Seven series 4.  However it is the Series 3 which continues in very much developed form to this day.  Caterham’s idea of a developed Seven met with even less success than the Lotus product itself, only 48 of the Model 21 being put together.

Lotus built just under 2,500 original Seven, Caterham 15,000.  The Lotus successor to the Seven, the original Elan, was brought back to life as the Mazda MX5, with 900,000 built to date and still going strong.  Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman would be very proud of his legacy.

The original Team Lotus was an offspring of Lotus Cars Ltd.  It won its first Formula One (F1) race, the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, in October 1961, with Innes Ireland the driver.  A year earlier Stirling Moss had recorded the first victory for a Lotus car at Monaco in his Lotus 18 entered by the independent Rob Walker Racing Team. 

Team Lotus won six drivers World Championships, seven constructors titles and 73 race victories out of 489 starts.  The last race for the first Team Lotus was the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.

Colin Chapman’s son Clive has successfully over the years developed Classic Team Lotus, dedicated to his father’s memory and the drivers and engineers of Britain’s most successful motoring racing team. 

In 2010 the Lotus name in motor racing terms was resurrected in a contentious manner. 

Lotus Cars Ltd based at Hethel, Norfolk, has been owned by the Malaysian car manufacturer Proton since 1994.  With their backing, and the support of Colin Chapman’s widow Hazel, Lotus Renault GP was created last year and is taking part in the 2011 F1 race series with cars originally developed by Benetton and powered by Renault engines. 

Following the collapse of the original Team Lotus the brand was acquired by David Hunt.  He in turn sold it to Malaysian interests headed by Tony Fernandes who last year resurrected the name in F1 with an entirely new but experienced operation, sited just 10 miles from Hethel.  As a name this was challenged by the Chapman family and is now the subject of litigation. 

On 27 April 2011, Fernandes announced that Team Lotus had purchased car manufacturer Caterham.

What happens now?

If the Courts declare that Mr Fernandes cannot use the Lotus name will he call his F1 team Caterham?  Or will Caterham suddenly go up-market.  With the F1 team and its manufacturing experience it could do a McLaren and produce a real supercar.

Colin, Graham and even Bruce must be watching from above with interest, as will all those who have followed over the years the exploits of one of the most curiously named businesses in the history of motoring, Lotus.

Caterham for Formula One?  Maybe.  There have been many even more curiously named motor racing teams over the years with Red Bull to start with!

Malcolm Ginsberg

www.grouplotus.com www.lotusrenaultgp.com www.caterham.co.uk www.teamlotus.co.uk

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