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Lotus is back and blooming: UK car firm looks to its 80th anniversary

Amidst a typically British summer downpour, legendary UK car-maker Lotus this week launched its latest sports car to the world: the Emira.

Former F1 racing driver Jenson Button was on hand to take one for its first test drive at the recently revamped 2.2 mile factory-side test-track at the firm’s headquarters at Hethel, near Norwich — and become its first customer.

As the company puts its plans for a battery-powered future into action, the new Emira is described as an everyday ‘junior supercar’ and ‘last hurrah’ for the firm’s 70-years of petrol-engined sports cars.

‘Everyday supercar’: The new Lotus Emira is a ‘last hurrah’ for the firm’s 70-years of petrol-engined sports cars

It’s an affordable sub-£60,000 sibling of the Evija, an exclusive new £2 million 200mph-plus all-electric hypercar — also just launched.

But while the Evija is designed to highlight the company’s ambitions, the Emira is set to be a mass seller around the world.

Accelerating from 0 to 62mph in under 4.5 seconds up to a top speed of 180 mph, the Emira is also the first all-new Lotus sports car delivered under the brand’s ‘Vision80’ strategic plan for transformation as it moves towards its 80th anniversary in 2028. 

Also in the pipeline is a collaboration with Renault-owned Alpine for an all-electric small sports car. There’s also unconfirmed speculation about a Lotus SUV.

Former F1 racing driver Jenson Button puts an Emira through its paces at the recently revamped 2.2 mile factory-side test-track at the firm's headquarters at Hethel, near Norwich

Former F1 racing driver Jenson Button puts an Emira through its paces at the recently revamped 2.2 mile factory-side test-track at the firm’s headquarters at Hethel, near Norwich

Performance: The Emira can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in under 4.5 seconds up to a top speed of 180 mph

Performance: The Emira can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in under 4.5 seconds up to a top speed of 180 mph

While the Evija is designed to highlight the company's ambitions, the Emira (pictured)  is set to be a mass seller around the world

While the Evija is designed to highlight the company’s ambitions, the Emira (pictured)  is set to be a mass seller around the world

The existing Elise, Exige and Evora models are on ‘final edition’ run out this year.

So the new Emira and the Evija mark the beginning of a brave and exciting new chapter in the history of this British brand. 

Lotus’s origins hark back to 1948, when a charming, ambitious, talented and somewhat maverick young university engineering graduate from a relatively humble background borrowed £50 from his girlfriend Hazel — later his wife — to start making sports cars. 

The first was an adapted Austin 7 which became the Lotus Mk 1 which he raced in trials.

Colin Chapman — hailed as an automotive genius — was brought up in Muswell Hill, North London. 

Chapman studied structural engineering at University College London, briefly joined the RAF and worked for British Aluminium. But his passion was cars.

Two petrol engines are available for the new Emira - a 400 horse-power 3.5-litre supercharged V6 and from summer 2022, a frugal but punchy 2.0-litre 360hp turbocharged 'i4'

Two petrol engines are available for the new Emira – a 400 horse-power 3.5-litre supercharged V6 and from summer 2022, a frugal but punchy 2.0-litre 360hp turbocharged ‘i4’

The Emira is also the first all-new Lotus sports car delivered under the brand's 'Vision80' strategic plan for transformation as it moves towards its 80th anniversary in 2028

The Emira is also the first all-new Lotus sports car delivered under the brand’s ‘Vision80’ strategic plan for transformation as it moves towards its 80th anniversary in 2028

Four years later in 1952, smooth and dapper Chapman, with a pencil-thin moustache, set up Lotus Cars and began a rollercoaster ride of adventures with classic sports-cars and race-cars.

Rumour is that he took the Lotus name from a nickname he used for Hazel — ‘Lotus blossom.’

Fast forward seven decades and a number of ownership changes, and Lotus has since 2017 been part of fast-expanding Chinese car conglomerate Geely, which also owns Volvo, Polestar, Coventry-based London black cab and van company LEVC, and Lynk&Co.

It has just spent £100 million to revitalise its Hethel headquarters for the 21st century — creating a new factory which uses computerised robot pods to move parts and cars around during construction. 

But much of the basic design, engineering and driving philosophy and DNA that Chapman created with Lotus remains to this day. He is famously quoted saying: ‘Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere’. 

Founder: Colin Chapman started building sports cars in 1948 after borrowing £50 from his girlfriend Hazel who later became his wife

Founder: Colin Chapman started building sports cars in 1948 after borrowing £50 from his girlfriend Hazel who later became his wife 

Generations of fans celebrated Lotus’s motorsport success — from the Le Mans 24 hours to F1 — as his smaller, lightweight and often less powerful cars beat rivals from Ferrari and Maserati.

In the early days, Chapman’s shrewd business and commercial acumen also helped shape F1, transforming it ‘from a pastime of the playboy rich to the multi-billion pound high-tech enterprise it is today’.

According to Lotus, ‘Chapman was instrumental in allowing corporate sponsors to influence race car liveries. The Lotus colours of John Player Special and Gold Leaf are among the most iconic and best-remembered of the era’.

With Scottish driver Jim Clark at the wheel, Team Lotus won its first F1 World Championship in 1963, repeating the feat in 1965.

Under Chapman’s stewardship, the British marque went on to win seven Formula 1 constructors’ championships, six drivers’ championships and the U.S. Indianapolis 500, with legendary drivers including Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti.

There was shock when Lotus founder Chapman died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack aged just 54 in December 1982. But Lotus, the firm he founded, carried on.

At the Emira launch, Lotus head of manufacturing Barbara Garcia said: ‘This is the realisation of everything we have been investing in.

‘The people who build our cars are as passionate about them as the customers who buy them. Yes, we have the technology. But there are still parts we handcraft.

‘People coming to the business bring new knowledge and expertise. But we are maintaining our heritage and Lotus DNA.’

Dream machine: The Lotus Evija, an exclusive new £2 million 200mph-plus all-electric hypercar, has also just launched

Two petrol engines are available for the new Emira. At launch, the range-topping ‘First Edition’ is offering a 400 horse-power 3.5-litre supercharged V6 from the Exige and Evora.

From summer 2022, a frugal but punchy 2.0-litre 360hp turbocharged ‘i4’ — the first new Lotus sports car engine for more than a decade — makes its debut from Lotus’s technical partner AMG, the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz.

After taking the Emira for some hot laps at the Lotus test track at Hethel, former F1 driver Jenson Button said: ‘The engine just roars. It sounds wonderful. It just holds the road so well and puts a smile on your face.’

Contrasting it with the no-frills Elise he drove at 17, he added: ‘It’s so plush. It’s a big step forward for Lotus. It’s exceptional — I’m a big fan.’

Lotus celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018 — when measured from the creation of Colin Chapman’s very first Lotus Mk 1 car in 1948.

By the time it celebrates its 80th anniversary in seven years’ time, the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars will be just two years away.

And Lotus’s last ‘hurrah’ to petrol really will be a big ‘Hello’ to a fully electric future.

From stars of the screen to multi-million pound hypercars… seven decades of Lotus 

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