On Monday 18 September, Club members visited Hethel in Norfolk, the epicentre of Lotus Cars, where they were treated to a behind-the-scenes factory tour. The private event provided a fascinating insight into the production of Lotus Cars, plus a visit to Classic Team Lotus, where they met Clive Chapman, son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman.
The tour started with a welcome drink in the clubhouse – a former RAF WWII control tower overlooking the test track – where visitors were given an introduction to the history of Lotus, how Colin Chapman acquired the airfield in 1966 and its evolution. The unique factory currently covers 55 acres of the former airfield and uses 2.5 miles of runway as its test track.
The facilities combine precision manufacturing with innovative engineering. Its highly-skilled workforce of 800 staff produce approximately 2,000 to 2,500 bespoke vehicles a year. Unlike mass producers, all Lotus cars are handmade, built to order and personalised to customer specification.
The factory tour led visitors through several original WWII aircraft hangars that house the manufacturing process for the lightweight performance sports cars. Departments included the engine dress, body and paint preparation, in which, guests followed the entire build process from interior, body bonding and trim shop through to the final assembly line, rolling road and quality inspection, before reaching the final assessment area for vehicle sign-off.
After enjoying a tour of the modern facility where every Lotus has been hand built since 1966, the tour concluded with a pit stop in the Classic Team Lotus garage, to see where it all began. Classic Team Lotus is housed in the original garages and still owned by the Chapman family. It houses a plethora of historic Lotus F1 cars, which they continue to restore and maintain between events – the group was even afforded a rare glimpse into their underpinnings.
On display in the workshop were the iconic Jim Clark, Rob Walker and Sir Stirling Moss race cars. To be introduced to such historically-significant race cars by Clive Chapman was a highlight of the day. It was a marvellous tour that enveloped members in the rich history and heritage of Lotus, from one man’s vision to the automotive thoroughbred it has become today.