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The company was formed as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, London, in 1952. The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
The first factory was in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994. The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959. This was made up of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited, which focused on road cars and customer competition car production, respectively. Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971 but the newly renamed entity ceased operation in the same year.
The company moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt in 1959 and since 1966 the company has occupied a modern factory and road test facility at Hethel, near Wymondham. This site is the former RAF Hethel base and the test track uses sections of the old runway.
Financial troubles, death of Chapman By 1980, Group Lotus was in serious financial trouble. Production had dropped from 1,200 units per year to a mere 383. The combined reasons were that the world was in the middle of an economic recession, sales in the key United States market had virtually collapsed and, as none of the original model range had been redesigned or replaced, the cars were seen as boring and technically behind the times by potential customers.
In early 1982, Chapman came to an agreement with Toyota over an exchange on intellectual property and applied expertise. This initially resulted in Lotus Engineering helping to develop the Mk2 Toyota Supra, also known as the Toyota Celica XX. Secondly it allowed Lotus to launch the new Lotus Excel to replace the aging Lotus Eclat, which using chassis components from the Toyota parts bin enabled the Excel to be sold for £1,109 less than the outgoing Eclat.
Looking to re-enter the North American market, Chapman was approached by young law professor and investment banking consultant, Joe Bianco, who proposed a new and separate United States sales company for Lotus. By creating an unprecedented tax-incentived mechanism (wherein each investor received a specially personalized Lotus Turbo Esprit), the new American company, Lotus Performance Cars Inc. (LPCI), was able to provide fresh capital to the Group Lotus in the United Kingdom. Former Ferrari North America general manager John Spiech was brought in to run LPCI, which imported the remarkable Giugiaro-designed Turbo Esprit for the first time. US sales began to quickly jump into triple digits annually.
Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 54, having begun life an innkeeper's son and ended a multi-millionaire industrialist in post-war Britain. At the time of his death, the car maker had built tens of thousands of successful racing and road cars, and won the Formula One World Championship seven times.
At the time of his death, both Chapman and Lotus were linked with the DeLorean Motor Company scandal over the use of UK Government subsidies for the production of the DeLorean DMC-12, for which Lotus had designed the chassis. Chasing large sums of money which had disappeared from the DeLorean company, Lotus was besieged by Inland Revenue inspectors, who imposed an £84 million legal "protective assessment" around the company and all of its assets.
With Group Lotus near bankruptcy in 1983, through an introduction from his friend Mark Thatcher, English accountant and entrepreneur David Wickins, the founder of the worlds largest vehicle remarketing business British Car Auctions, agreed to become the new company chairman. Taking a combined 29% BCA/personal stake in Group Lotus, Wickins negotiated with the Inland Revenue, and then brought in new investors: merchant bank Schroeder-Wagg (14%);Michael Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft's Bermudan operating company Benor (14%); Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB (12%). Wickins oversaw a complete turnaround in the companies' fortunes, which resulted in him being called "The saviour of Lotus".