I was fortunate to discover Lotus cars while I was in college. After I graduated I bought a Lotus Europa and used if for my daily car for years, eventually accumulating over 100,000 miles on it. It was an education in the benefit of low mass and efficient design.

Colin Chapman, the founder and guiding spirit of Lotus, was my inspiration as a car designer. Watching Lotus in Formula 1 racing and road car design was fascinating as Chapman was always creatively pushing into new directions with innovations. It was always exciting to see what Chapman and Lotus would come up with next. Lotus won their last F1 World Championship in 1978 with Mario Andretti, and Chapman died young in 1982. In recent times the Elise has revived the spirit of Chapman and Lotus.

I had the opportunity to visit Lotus with several other Lotus enthuisasts. The tour was organized by Richard Parramint, a local Lotus enthusiast in Norwich, who was a fantastic host and tour guide. The factory is in Hethel in Norwich and is remotely located from the city in the beautiful countyside.

  • Here Richard Parramint, our Boy Scout leader, comes with our badges after paying off the security guards with crumpets I reckon.
  • Because Lotus does a lot of contract engineering and development for other OEM clients, security is very tight.
  • Elise's and an Esprit sit outside the factory.
  • The production of the Esprit was in it's final days at this time and these cars were being hand built in the original factory in a relatively small area.
  • The Elise is built in a new modern factory that shows the influence of GM during it's period of ownership.
  • Most of the orignal building houses the engineering facilities for Lotus consulting business. These areas were understandably and unfortunately not available for viewing.
  • That stuff on the ground is UK sunshine.
  • The factory is located on the site of an old RAF airfield which Lotus selected for being able to convert the runways into a test track.
  • In addition to vehicle development, the track is used for a driving school.
  • We spent one day at the school driving new Elises - RHD of course, to completely befuddle your jet-lagged brain.
  • Here I am standing on the "nearside wing" of the Elise with a case of helmet-hair.
  • Alastair McQueen, one of the longtime Lotus vehicle development drivers, was there to help.
  • Across the street from the Lotus factory grounds is Classic Team Lotus which restores and maintains old Lotus racercars for vintage racing.
  • This is an ex-Fittipaldi Lotus 72 which was being prepared for a vintage race.
  • Classic Team Lotus is run by Clive Chapman, the son of Colin, who is a great enthusiast and ambassador of Lotus cars and history.
  • Also in the shop for repairs is one of the first Lotus F1 cars to use a carbon fiber chassis.
  • Classic Team Lotus keeps on site a large inventory of parts. They also have all of the drawings and specifications of the old cars.
  • I wandered into a back room and was able to open drawer and look at some of the original drawings of the Lotus 25 - an absolute thrill for me. SECURITY!
  • Nearby the factory is Ketteringham Hall. This building and site was used by Chapman for his office and racing team. Road car production was boring to him and he preferred to be offsite.
  • The Chapman home is nearby in the area too, but it's impossible to see from the road because of the surrounding foliage.
  • On the way up to Norwich from London we stopped at the famous Donnington Museum.
  • The Donnington reportedly has the largest collection of Formula 1 cars - fascinating.
  • On the track on the grounds cars were wizzing by - I couldn't see them over the banking. These were locals testing their racing cars.
  • At a nearby dealership....Bond, James Bond.............
  • Here's a Series 1 Elise parked on the street in London.
  • I actually prefer the look of the original Elise compared with the newest ones - I guess I'm old school.
  • While in London I searched out the original Lotus factory. I only had descriptions and a photo of it from some of my Lotus books, but with that and the underground (subway) map, I was able to find it.
  • The Lotus building is on the right. It's now occupied by a building supply company.
  • The building on the left is the old Railway Hotel which was owned and operated by Chapman's father. He also owned the Lotus building which Colin took over.
  • This was the site used in the 50's during the days of the Lotus, 7's, 11',s, LeMans victories, Elite, etc.
  • This is a shot of the factory in the day from a book. A Lotus 7 sits outside.
  • This plaque is on the side of the building, installed by Club Lotus after Chapman's death.
  • I went into the old Railway Hotel bar and got a soda. I talked to the kids behind the bar and they didn't know anything about Lotus or the building next door - kids!!
  • Nothing like being in London on a Sunday afternoon when Brazil wins the Soccer World Championship. The Brazilians, after being in the pubs all afternoon, went crazy! They paraded in the streets, singing and dancing, horns blairing, the noise was unbelievable. Traffic stopped. Three or four guys had climbed the fountain in Trafalgar Square and were dancing in the shower. It was a memorable scene!
  • Nearby my London hotel: "Now we know how many holes it takes to fill the....."
  • Contact Ron Jones at 949-637-6067 or