In September 1949, Chapman qualified for his ‘wings’ and was offered a permanent commission in the RAF. This did not suit him, though, and he joined The British Aluminium Company in a technical sales role instead. He relied on long hours, volunteer help and barter arrangements to keep his car-building operation afloat. In 1952 Chapman, with the help of Hazel who apparently lent him £25, founded Lotus Engineering Ltd, followed by Team Lotus two years later. (Team Lotus began competing in Formula One in 1958 and went on to become one of the most innovative and successful teams in history.) By the end of 1954, Chapman was able to resign from his job and focus solely on Lotus, producing racing cars and road-going machines in workshops which had been set up in old stables behind the Railway Hotel. He was also able to take on paid employees such as Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Graham Hill.
Lotuses were intentionally built sparingly because Chapman was unwavering in his focus on minimalist design philosophy. Each part had to be as multi-functional as was possible. Sometimes this did not work but oh, when it did! He once said: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” And this was the Lotus philosophy.
But back to the second hero of our story: the Lotus Seven.
By the end of 1955 there had been enough Lotuses sold and enough success on the racetrack for a club to be formed for those supporting the marque, and the inaugural meeting was held at on 15 November. The MkVI, Lotus’s first production car, had been very successful – both in sales and racing. By the end of 1955, over one hundred had been made and demand for cheap, light and competitive sports cars was higher than ever.
It was, however, apparently Hazel who decided that a more basic, cost-effective successor to the Mark VI was needed, and so the Seven was born. The Lotus Seven actually had its first customer lined up before it was even designed – one Edward Lewis, who owned a racing footwear manufacturing business. Lewis was already a well-known Lotus racer but reckoned he was getting a bit old for serious racing and was looking at creating a car of his own specification for hillclimbs.