The Truth About Cars » Lotus The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lotus Mk I Lotus Cortina – The Original Lotus Tuned Car Fri, 23 May 2014 12:00:19 +0000 image (16)

Photo: Bonhams

TTAC contributor Abraham Drimmer has a fine piece over at Road & Track about his favorite cars that resulted from collaborations between Lotus and other, usually much larger, automobile manufacturers. Each of Abe’s five choices are worthy of note in their own way: the Isuzu Impulse, the C4 Corvette ZR-1, the Lotus Sunbeam, the Lotus Carlton, and the DeLorean DMC-12, but Mr. Drimmer is a relative youngun, so I wasn’t surprised that left off of his R&T list was the original ‘tuned by Lotus but sold by another company’ car. It’s the Lotus tuned car that Lotus purists are most likely consider to be a genuine Lotus and not an Isuzu, Chevy, Chrysler, Vauxhall or DeLorean. In some cases it fetches prices north of its contemporary Elans. It has a pedigree that includes some of the greatest luminaries of British motordom and it helped to establish the foundation of a relationship that would eventually revolutionize motorsports. According to Lotus’ factory nomenclature, it’s a Type 28, according to the sales brochures it was the Ford Cortina Lotus and according to just about everybody else who knows about it, it’s called the Lotus Cortina.

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The Lotus Cortina grew out of the development of the Lotus Elan, first introduced in 1962. The first Lotus developed primarily as a road car was the revolutionary Elite that featured a fiberglass monocoque and was powered by a Coventry Climax engine. Though it was a technical success, finding a vendor that could reliably supply bodies of sufficient quality made from the then new composite material drove up costs, as did the pricey all-aluminum racing engine. As a result, economies of scale were not achieved and Lotus lost money on every Elite they sold. Colin Chapman was resolved that Lotus’ next road car would cost less to make and that it would be powered by something based on a mass produced engine. The young Cosworth company had shown some success tuning Ford’s “Kent” four cylinder engine, developed for the Anglia in the late 1950s. Using modern casting techniques Ford was able to make a cast iron engine block that didn’t weigh much more than one made of aluminum, however its potential was limited by the head design. Chapman decided that giving the Kent block a double overhead cam aluminum head with hemispherical combustion chambers, like that on the Jaguar XJ engine, would make sufficient power for his new road car as well as being the basis for a racing engine. He hired Harry Mundy, who with Walter Hassan had designed that same Jaguar engine, offering him a one pound sterling per engine royalty fee or 1,000 pounds up front. Since Lotus was a bit of a hand to mouth enterprise in those days, Mundy took the money, which he would later regret as eventually about 40,000 Lotus Twin Cam engines were made.

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The cross flow Twin Cam head has two valves per cylinder set at a narrow 27 degree angle to each other. Mundy used such a narrow angle to prevent interference with less expensive, conventional (i.e. non wedge) pistons. In development it was discovered that the theoretically non-ideal valve angle fortuitously resulted in more turbulence and more complete combustion. Cast into the head were intake runners that carried the fuel/air mixture from two two-barrel sidedraft 40DCOE Weber carburetors with short velocity stacks mounted inside an airbox connected to the air cleaner. When introduced, the Twin Cam had 105 horsepower, while later versions would have as much as 140. It’s a highly tunable engine that breathes and revs freely. Race versions can have 180 hp or more, but 165 hp is usually considered the limit for a streetable car.


By the time the Elan started production, the Kent block had been developed into the 116E version with 1,499 cc displacement and five main bearings. Chapman acquired one of the earliest 116E castings, put the DOHC head on it and sent Jim Clark out to race a Lotus 23 with it in a FIA Group 4 event. It was determined that some production blocks had thicker cylinder walls than others, allowing slightly larger bores. Those were bored out to 1,557 cc for production Elans. The most robust blocks were given another millimeter of bore, increasing displacement to 1,598 cc, perfect for the then new Group 2 production car racing rules.

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In the early 1960s the Ford Motor Company, under the slogan of “Total Performance”, embarked on a broad motorsports agenda that would eventually lead to great success at LeMans, Indianapolis and in Formula 1. Those big Ford wins would start in 1965, when Jim Clark won the Indy 500 at the wheel of a Lotus 38 powered by a Ford V8. Ford didn’t just decide to fund Lotus’ Indy effort out of thin air, the huge Dearborn automaker and the tiny British specialist already had success working together in Group 2 with a Lotus powered Cortina.

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Walter Hayes was a British journalist who went to work doing public relations for Ford and was instrumental in the Total Performance program. In time Colin Chapman would convince Hayes to commit 100,000 pounds of Ford’s money to fund the development of the landmark Cosworth Ford DFV engine that went on to great success in F1, but in 1962, it was Hayes who commissioned Chapman for Lotus to develop Ford’s Group 2 racing effort, to be based on the upcoming Cortina sedan, which was going to be launched in 1963.

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Hayes was in charge of the UK part of Ford’s 5 year plan to dominate auto racing and by mid 1962 he had heard of what Chapman and his boffins were doing with a Ford block and their own heads. Lotus has almost always existed in precarious financial circumstance, all the more so in the early days. Chapman saw the deal with Ford as a possible lifesaver for his company and in many ways it allowed the company to get established as a legitimate, albeit small, manufacturer of road cars. Ultimately, the deal with Ford made Lotus a household name among auto and racing enthusiasts.

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To go racing in Group 2, rules required 1,000 production cars to be made for homologation purposes. Final assembly was assigned to Lotus, which partly explains why the model is considered by brand enthusiasts to be a Lotus, not a Ford. It really was a deal that Chapman couldn’t refuse since the cars would be sold as Fords, by Ford dealers, with the huge automaker promoting the Lotus brand. Part of the relationship between the two companies also involved Ford supplying Lotus with components. In addition to the Ford engine block, the Elan used a Cortina based transmission and while the Elan’s differential housing is a custom aluminum Lotus casting, the internal parts are also sourced from the Cortina. That deal would incidentally benefit owners of Lotus cars and later Lotus restorers because many Lotus parts from that era also have a Ford part number, including everything that goes into making the Twin Cam engine.

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Lotus’ revisions to the Cortina were extensive and went far beyond just an engine swap. Bodies were pulled off the regular Dagenham production line to be modified on a dedicated line per Lotus designs and then installed with parts common with regular Cortinas like glass, heaters, lights and locks before they were shipped to Lotus’ factory in Cheshunt for final assembly.

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The 105 horsepower Twin Cam was given a cold air intake in the nose of the car and a larger capacity radiator than was used in the regular Cortina was installed. The Elan’s close ratio gearbox was used and it had an aluminum tailpiece and bell housing. A single piece driveshaft ran to the rear end.

The original coil spring A-frame rear suspension for the Lotus Cortina was too fragile. Custom leaf springs and radius arms proved to work just as well, and were cheaper to build.

The original coil spring A-frame rear suspension for the Lotus Cortina was too fragile. Custom leaf springs and radius arms proved to work just as well, and were cheaper to build.

Early Mk I Lotus Cortinas had a trick rear suspension that replaced the leaf springs with coils and located the solid rear axle with radius arms and a wide A frame member, similar to one of the rear suspensions used in the Lotus Seven. When that suspension proved to be fragile, Lotus reverted to leaf springs with reversed mounting eyes, along with the radius arms. The simpler suspension proved to handle just as well in competition.

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To match the lowered rear suspension, up front the springs were shortened and the McPherson struts were calibrated for stiffer damping. Longer, forged control arms were installed to eliminate wheel camber changes and a thicker anti-roll bar with longer ends was installed to reduce castor. A high geared steering box and different steering arms were used to increase the effective steering ratio while reducing the Ackermann angle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Girling supplied the brakes with 9.5″ discs up front and 9″ drums in the back. A vacuum booster provided braking assist. The Lotus variant was the first Cortina model with power assisted disk brakes. Tires were originally bias ply, later switched to radials as they became available, and were size 6.00″ X 13″ mounted on 5.5″ wide steel wheels featuring chromed “dog dish” hubcaps (standard Cortina tires were 5.20″ X 13″ on 4″ rims).

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Inside, a 15″ wooden rim Lotus steering wheel was installed as were special seats with better lateral support, more rake and greater comfort.  A center console was installed featuring a elbow rest and a storage cubby. A custom aluminum faced cluster featured full instrumentation including a 140 mph speedo and an 8,000 rpm tach. Completing Lotus’ spec on the inside was a pear shaped wooden Lotus gear shift knob.

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The reason why the Ford factory did the body mods is that they were too extensive to be done post production. The battery tray was moved to the trunk/boot for better weight distribution. Reinforcing tubes were welded in between the top rear shock absorber mounts and the spring shackle mounts on each side of the trunk to stiffen the structure. The trunk floor was modified to restore clearance over the differential after the suspension was lowered. Early models had brackets welded in for mounting the rear suspension’s A frame, while later Lotus Cortinas had mounting brackets for the radius arms. The rear frame rails were reinforced. The hood, trunk lid and door skins were made of aluminium. Before shipment to Cheshunt, the bodies in white were in fact painted in Ermine White by Ford. Lotus added the signature Sherwood Green side stripes and rear valence. The green was presumably chosen because Lotus’ traditional racing colors were green and yellow. Lotus badges were painted on the rear flanks and a cloisonne badge was mounted on the right hand side of the front grille. The bodywork behind the grille was blacked out. The rear quarter bumpers from a Ford Anglia van were repurposed for the Lotus Cortina’s front end.

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The result was a car with an aggressive, purposeful stance, accentuated by the arrow shaped stripes. In the UK, because of the green stripe and lowered suspension, Lotus Cortinas were immediately identifiable from more mundane Cortinas. The car got rave reviews in both the UK and the United States. I haven’t been able to determine just how many of the 2,894 Mk I Lotus Cortinas made it to these shores, but Ford dealers here did sell the car in a left hand drive version.


The well known image of Jim Clark cornering hard, lifting a wheel.

Production began in early 1963 and Chapman and the Lotus racing team spent much of the year preparing racing versions. The Lotus Cortina’s competition debut was in September 1963 at Oulton Park, where Jack Sears won his class in a works car. It was only the first win in an impressive competition career. In 1964 Jim Clark, who was used as a development driver for the car and who used a Lotus Cortina as his personal car, won the overall British Touring Car Championship for the Lotus works team. Clark cornering his Cortina on three wheels, with the inner front wheel a half foot off of the ground, a serene look on Clark’s face, has become such an iconic image that more than one artist has been inspired by it.

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Artist Chris Dugan’s rendering of Jim Clark and his Lotus Cortina

The Lotus Cortina went on to dominate the 2 liter class in saloon road racing, often competing for outright wins. Factory cars were raced by Clark, Graham Hill, Peter Arundell and Jackie Ickx to considerable success and Sir John Whitmore won the 1965 European Touring Car Championship in a privately owned Lotus Cortina. The Lotus-Ford sedan just about owned saloon racing in 1965, with Jack Sears winning the C class in the British Saloon Car Championship, Jackie Ickx winning the Belgian Saloon Car Championship, and a Lotus-Cortina winning the Gold Star Saloon Car Championship in New Zealand. Other notable wins in 1965 were at the Nuburgring Six-Hour race, the Swedish National Track Championship, and the Snetterton 500.

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Jim Clark may have gotten a wheel off of the ground but Bengt Soderstrom got all four wheels of his Lotus Cortina rally car airborne

Once the rear suspension was changed to the more durable leaf spring setup, the Lotus Cortina also proved to be a competitive rally car with factory driver Bengt Soderstrom winning the Acropolis and Royal Automobile Club rallies in 1966.

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When the second generation Cortina was introduced in 1966, a Lotus version of that car was also manufactured and sold, but it wasn’t as hardcore as the Mk I Lotus Cortina and while it has its enthusiasts today, the Mk II isn’t nearly as collectible as the original.


What’s it like to drive? A complete blast. How do I know? Not too long after I got my driver’s license in the early 1970s, my older brother Jeff decided to replace his 1965 Buick Special convertible with a 1966 Lotus Cortina. Jeff taught me how to drive a stick shift in that car and when he spent a year servicing machinery on a kibbutz in Israel, I used the Cortina to drive home from college in Ann Arbor. Yes, it had all of the flaws of British cars of that era, we called it the “Gorktina”, the starter motors were particularly unreliable, however it jump started easily and once it was running it drove flawlessly. Fast, comfortable and it could carry your whole crew. Think of a BMW 2002, a tuned Datsun 510, or the 190E “Cosworth” Mercedes-Benz that our Editor in Chief pro tem so loves, before such cars existed. The handling was as you’d expect from Lotus, in fact it inspired a friend of our to buy an Europa and me to buy my Elan. We all knew that Jeff’s car was special. We’re not the only ones. Fifth Gear calls it a “performance car icon” and “the daddy of all super saloons”.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Chapman’s philosophy of soft springs and stiff shocks gave it a reasonably comfortable ride. Plus, it was quick. While 110 hp may not seem like much today, the car weighed less than 2,000 lbs and the Twin Cam pulls from idle and revs well enough that they came with governors in the distributor to keep things below 6,000 rpm.

Sir Jack Brabham, who recently passed away, leads Jim Clark's Lotus Cortina with a Mustang. Oulton Park, 1965

Sir Jack Brabham, who recently passed away, leads Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina with a Mustang. Oulton Park, 1965. Competing in the 2 liter class, the Lotus Cortina challenged cars with much bigger engines.

Though in the UK the distinctive livery and stance made the Lotus Cortina highly visible, in the United States, particularly driving around Detroit where we lived, it was just an obscure British Ford. Since it was a small European sedan nobody driving a America muscle car with a small block or bigger V8 would think it was some kind of performance car. Of course, in the 1960s the measure of performance in Detroit’s car culture was straight line speed, measured stoplight to stoplight on Woodward or Gratiot. If things went well, and they usually did, at the next light, when the Mustang or Mopar driver would ask “Whachu got in that thing?!”, replying “A 96 cubic inch four cylinder” came with a certain amount of satisfaction (and pride in high specific output motors).

Click here to view the embedded video.

As mentioned, today Mk I Lotus Cortinas are highly collectible. With less than 3,000 made, they are far rarer than the Elans and Europas of similar vintage and while Elans have significantly appreciated, as folks like Jay Leno and Gordon Murray sing their praises, a nice Lotus Cortina can sell for more than the nicest Elan. A superb Elan today might sell for as much as $40,000. Last September at a Bonhams auction held in conjunction with the Goodwood Revival a ’66 Mk I Lotus Cortina sold for the equivalent of $73,703 and a month earlier at the Quail Lodge sale Bonhams hammered off a one owner, 6,200 mile barn find 1966 Lotus Cortina that sold for $115,000. The Lotus team car in the famous Jim Clark photo above sold in 2007 for £136,800 (US$ 230,723) including the auctioneers’ fee. Not bad for a funny looking English car with a 96 cubic inch four. If you’d like one for yourself, Bonhams will be selling a race prepped ’65 with 170 hp and a limited slip rear end this fall at Goodwood.

Modern photos courtesy of Bonhams.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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There’s A New Lotus For America – And You Can’t Drive It! Fri, 22 Nov 2013 17:14:23 +0000 lotus-exige-s-la-auto-show-03

With the demise of the Lotus Elise and Exige, the lineup is looking pretty barren these days. Only the Evora exists for those looking to simplify and add lightness. The Los Angeles Auto Show saw the introduction of the formerly-forbidden Exige V6 Cup, but unlike our world market friends, this one is not street legal.

With a 345 horsepower supercharged V6 and a curb weight of just under 2,500 lbs, the Exige V6 has the kind of power to weight ratio that would give modern supercars a fright. But the only place you’ll be able to drive it is on a racetrack. The Exige V6 Cup will be sold only as a trackday car not intended for road use. Our own EIC pro tem has driven the car, and will be back to contribute his thoughts in the near future.

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Project M1-11: The Story Of The Lotus Elise Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:47:56 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Michael Banovsky of RM Auctions has been on a MK1 Lotus Elise kick. And why not? Canada’s more relaxed importation laws mean that owning a MK1 is a legal proposition, and the lucky guy has got the resources of one of the world’s best auction houses at his disposal.


Banovsky decided to pass on this documentary, which outlines the history of the Elise’s development in the aftermath of the Elan M100, which saw Lotus eliminated 300 jobs and lose a substantial amount of money. The end result was a monumental sports car that came to define Lotus for the next two decades and served as the unofficial benchmark for the segment.

The doc itself is also a nice look back at a bygone era – there was little concern for scale or volume, the word “brand” is not uttered even once, and there’s only a passing reference to emissions or the environment. The development team is largely concerned with making a car for a “really cool bloke” who might be a Ducati or a mechanical watch. That mentality would never exist today - nor would it be feasible. The current stasis that Lotus finds itself mired in makes it all the more interesting

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Elon Musk Buys 007 Submarine, Will Attempt To Make It Functional Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:42:45 +0000 800px-TSWLM-LotusEsprit

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark of our times, has quite the extensive résumé: Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; billionaire investor of projects and businesses such as SolarCity and the preservation of Nikola Tesla’s lab; inventor of the Hyperloop rapid mass transit concept; 007 cosplayer…

Yes, you read that right: Musk is a huge fan of the man who loves his martinis shaken and his women to have double entendre naming schemes. So much so, in fact, that he now has one of Bond’s most awesome vehicles ever conceived.

In a double exclusive with our friends over at Jalopnik, the secret buyer of the Lotus Esprit Mk I-cum-submarine from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Musk himself, who paid nearly $900,000 for the privilege of owning one of the most famous vehicles in the history of film, beating out another bidder in a duel worthy of a Bond film (or so we would hope). The star car — or, rather, the star submarine — was originally lost in storage limbo, then discovered, spruced up, and put up for auction by Canadian auction house RM Auctions in early September of this year.

Alas, Musk was a bit disappointed that all the Esprit did was look pretty and float, but since this is Musk we’re talking about (via Tesla’s PR department)…

It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

If his SpaceX can successfully dock with the International Space Station, and his Tesla can make EVs cool (the first was based off the Lotus Elise, no less), then Musk can make this impossible dream possible. We look forward to seeing his car arrive at San Diego Comic Con 2014 via Pacific Beach in all of its glory.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Justification for Higher Education, the Erosion of the Enthusiast Market, and Wholesome Whoring Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:10:49 +0000  


I still remember the day my parents bought me a copy of the iconic Justification for Higher Education poster.  I had been nagging them for a while, and when I finally got the poster, it took immediate pride of place in my childhood bedroom.  Having matured, I recognize now that the imagery depicts a lifestyle unlikely to be the preserve of the highly educated, but instead that of a lottery winner.  Didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter today; the now ratty old poster followed me to college and again to my grown-up domicile.

In retrospect it’s a bit strange that I had the poster in college; residing in the middle of nowhere with no meaningful income, afflicted by terrible weather, and living under the thumb of an overzealous local police force due to strained town-gown relations, it was a bit difficult for me to maintain my passionate appreciation for automobiles during my tenure in Lexington, Virginia.  About halfway through my collegiate career, the majority of which constituted pre-sinecure studies under the auspices of a liberal arts education, I had the opportunity to take an economics elective entitled “Economics of the Automotive Industry.”  Although the professor had an intimidating reputation – an uncanny resemblance to Larry Ellison, a brace of Ivy League degrees, a fearsome ability to decimate GPAs, and remarkable loquaciousness during office hours, ensuring that every visit did indeed last for hours – I decided to take the course anyway.

Besides, I probably already knew everything we’d cover anyway, right?  In a word, no.

I came into the course in the spring of 2009 with an essentially encyclopedic knowledge of every sliver of ink spilled over the past decade in any automotive publication available at Barnes & Noble, and most ones and zeros dedicated to the subject, as well.  I faced a sudden realization that this “knowledge” would be a hindrance rather than a leg up, and that I needed to start thinking critically and reading Automotive News instead of Evo if I wanted to do well in the course.

I learned, begrudgingly, that the car business is just that, a business.  Rather than altruistic benefactors pumping out titillating metal to thrill internet fanboi bench racers who are only occasional purchasers, automakers exist to provide a return on their owners’ invested capital, period.  In the wake of the financial crisis, the business case for vanity projects with a tenuous, at best, connection to the remainder of an OEM’s model line is still somewhat problematic.

In addition to the high visibility, high name recognition manufacturers, the industry – when broadly construed – has tentacles encompassing a major portion of the domestic economy, including suppliers and distributors, with far-reaching labor market consequences.  My classmates and I were forced to confront the conundrum of vertical coordination, the difficulties of product planning given exceptionally lengthy lead and development timelines – not to mention evolving regulatory, safety, and emissions targets – as well as the economies of scale characteristic of a global durable goods industry.

Consider all of these factors in light of dynamic exchange rates and the boom-bust business cycle, and it’s no wonder that automakers seem unconcerned about appeasing the peanut gallery of enthusiasts.  My parents paid lots of money for me to receive this wisdom, but you can acquire it relatively cheaply if you’re willing to learn some basic economics, read a little, and disavow your personal sacred cows – just like this guy; I suppose it may be somewhat difficult to, uh, justify this particular aspect of my education.

The traditionally “enthusiast” manufacturers face even more difficulties; they have the option to adapt, evolve, expand, and grow, with the caveat of potentially enraging the existing, enthusiastic customer base and exposing themselves to more mainstream competition, or they can opt toward stubborn stagnation, arresting forward progress while the proverbial doting family calls the hospice.

Although there are several successful practitioners, the former strategy is exemplified by – of course – Porsche; but for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 986 Boxster and 996 911, as well as the Cayenne and Panamera, the company probably wouldn’t exist anymore.  The latter strategy is probably best exhibited by Lotus, whose slow-motion snuff film has recently been protracted once more.  Despite the best efforts of now-deposed CEO Dany Bahar to jump-start the company, broaden the product offerings, and make the Lotus badge a viable economic contender for the 21st century, alleged expense indiscretions left him persona non grata in Hethel.  Now all of his ambitious plans have been scrapped, and Lotus remains a paragon of purity, with plans to produce only sporting, enthusiast-oriented cars for the foreseeable future.  Any perceived moral victories will also be Pyrrhic; nothing fundamental about the company has changed, but the marketplace in which it competes has.

So what can Lotus do?  Can they sell out just a little bit and not compromise the brand’s ideals?  Perhaps Lotus can move toward survival by whoring itself wholesomely while not tarnishing its existing reputation.  The engineering arm of Lotus has enjoyed many associations over the years, some more favorable than others.  Tinkerers as diverse as Hennessey and Tesla have borrowed liberally from Lotus’s chassis cookie jar in recent years, and there is a long list of ordinary cars that sought to import a bit of cachet, touting “Handling by Lotus.”


To ensure its long-term survival, Lotus has to find a viable business plan somewhere between pinch-hitting for other sports car manufacturers and pimping its name out on  work-a-day sleds.  Best of luck.

A special thanks to Mike Smitka, one of my favorite collegiate professors, for forcing me to examine my hobby dispassionately and rationally.  I am fortunate to have had his guidance in conducting an atypical senior year project, as well as his continued input on my career and my passions as an alumnus.  His musings about the automotive industry and related topics can be found here.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University.  Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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Lotus Gets Three Year Reprieve From Owner DRB-Hicom But New Esprit Dead Tue, 23 Jul 2013 12:30:58 +0000 120307-Final-assembly-at-Lotus-Cars-factory-Hethel-Norfolk-credit-Brian-Snelson-from-Flickr-560x315

Final assembly at Lotus’ Hethel plant

DRB-HICOM, which owns the Proton car company in Malaysia and Lotus in the UK, announced at the Jakarta launch of the Proton Preve that the British specialist sports car maker and engineering firm has been “cleaned up” and is proceeding with a three year product plan based on variants of the Elise, Exige and Evora cars, starting with the £52,900 Exige S roadster.

It was thought that the proposed Esprit supercar might survive but now all five of the proposed new Lotus cars former Lotus CEO Dany Bahar introduced with a lot of celebrity glitz at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show are now dead. Lotus, though, appears to be very much alive. It’s still a very small company but it’s produced 80 cars in the first five months of 2013 compared to just 70 in all of 2012. Production at Lotus’ Hethel plant is being increased to 40 cars a month, 85% of them for export.

DRB-HICOM managing director Tan Sri Mohd Khamil Jamil said that Lotus’ financial affairs have been straightened out. “We have cleaned up and we are moving ahead… We are coming out with the variants based on existing products — variants with improved technology, improved performance, improved quality as well as improved costing,” Jamil said.

Autocar says that it has confirmed that DRB-HICOM has already invested over £100 million ($153.5 million USD) keeping Lotus in business. The fact that sales have started to increase convinced Lotus’ owner that it was worth further investment. Those improvements have also apparently been the reason why UK business secretary Vince Cable approved a £10 million investment in Lotus through the Regional Growth Fund, earmarked for jobs, new training and R&D. Financial crisis is nothing new at Lotus. Since the death of founder Colin Chapman, Lotus has changed corporate hands numerous times and was on shaky financial ground more than once during the Chapman era.

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Caterham Seven Turns 40 Tue, 28 May 2013 14:47:25 +0000 Engine-2013-4_2

The iconic Caterham Seven is on the cusp of celebrating four decades of uninterrupted production and sales; hard to imagine that one of Colin Chapman’s first attempts at a sports car would outlast everything he produced in the post-F1 era of Lotus – hell, it may even outlast Lotus itself.

Britain’s Autocar magazine managed to procure a brand new Caterham Supersport R, considered to be the top-spec Caterham available, as well as a 1981 model – not quite 40 years old, but basically the same spec as the car that was sold in the early days by Graham Nearn when he purchased the rights to the Seven from Colin Chapman.

Both versions still have the same basic look, a spartan interior and a Ford powertrain. But that’s where the similarities end. The changes made in the last few decades have apparently had subtle but noticeable impacts on the way the later cars behave – though the essence of the lightweight, sporty roadster is still there. In many ways, it’s a familiar story that’s played out with a number of cars available Stateside. The Miata, the Volkswagen GTI and the BMW 3-Series come to mind, though some have strayed farther from the ideal than others.

I’d be happy with any of them. Since I’d never daily drive one, an older version with a carburetted Kent engine and a crude 5-speed gearbox would then allow me to be happy with commuting in one of the $18,000 Dodge Journey Canada Value Packages being advertised in the newspaper right now. Then again, an FM Westfield is a pretty enticing package, and I wouldn’t have to tinker with carbs either.

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Dreamweaver – Living The Dream With His Feet Planted Firmly In The Real World Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:02:09 +0000

I’m not a reporter. I don’t even pretend to be one. What I do is tell stories and sometimes, if I am fortunate, they resonate with people. So when guy name Joe here in Buffalo contacted me and offered me a ride in his 1995 Lotus Esprit I was torn. Naturally, I wanted a ride, who wouldn’t? Still, I had to tell him up-front that I didn’t know if that a ride would generate a story good enough for the illustrious readership here at TTAC. Luckily for me, he invited me over anyhow and I got my ride, but in the end it turns out I was right. A ride, no matter how exhilarating, really wasn’t enough for me to create an entire story. That’s fortunate though, because Joe’s story about his almost lifelong connection to this one specific car is better than anything I could have invented.

To an ordinary guy like myself, the Lotus Esprit is one of those legendary cars that only live in posters on the walls of kids’ bedrooms. It is a low wedge of a car built for speed and handling and the car I found waiting for me in the driveway next to Joe’s house looked painfully out-of-place in the working class Buffalo neighborhood. The fact that it occupied a space next to a Renault Alliance, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year back in 1983, blew my mind, but the truth is that both cars are perfectly representative of the amazing person that their owner is. The Lotus is what Joe aspired to when he was a child and the Renault is where he comes from. The fact that he has both says something good about the man.

The car was low and difficult for me to clamber into, but once inside it felt surprisingly roomy and comfortable. The engine behind me hummed with pure energy as Joe put the car out onto the main road near his house, the pop off valve hissing impressively every time he switched gears. “This is one of those cars that gets a bad rep,” said Joe, “I don’t think that reputation is deserved though. A lot of guys take them out, flog them before they get fully warmed up, don’t rev match when they downshift and they generally beat on them. It’s a hand-built car, after all, I mean back in 1995 they only built 46 of them. TThese things need a little more TLC than your average sports car, but they are damn good cars” We continued up the rutted street, Joe using the car’s superior handling to dodge manhole covers and, as we drove, Joe’s amazing story trickled out.

When he was a kid, Joe was fascinated with the Esprit. He studied the specs in the magazines, read about them in books, admired them in film and photo and decided that one day he would own one. So intense was his desire that as a 14 year old riding with his mother, when he saw one on the road he forced her to turn around and chase after it. “I believe in the code of exotic car ownership, “Joe told me as he grabbed third gear, “One of the rules is that when kids come up and ask about your car that you encourage their interest. I know exactly what that means.“ The owner, it turned out was of a similar opinion and he encouraged the boy’s interest. The two soon became friends.

Eventually the cost of speeding tickets and insurance became too much and Joe’s friend sold the Lotus. Joe mourned the loss of the car, but continued his friendship. Flash forward almost a decade when Joe, a recent college graduate, decided to make his lifelong dream of Esprit ownership come true. “I got on-line and looked at dozens of ads for used cars.” He told me, “I knew exactly what I wanted, a 95 Esprit S4 like my friend’s and it took a long time to find one. On the very last page of the classifieds I finally found the perfect one. It was in Texas but I knew right away that this was the car. There was only one made in this color combination, it was my friend’s – the same Esprit I first saw when I was 14.” Joe contacted his friend and flew him out to Texas to check out the car. It turned out his suspicions were right. “I sent a check and had my friend drive it back to Buffalo. I have had it ever since and I’ll never sell it.”

As we headed home we passed an old steel mill, now shuttered and dark. “My dad worked In that building for 38 years.” Joe said over the growl of the super car’s engine. “Buffalo is changing and those changes have taken a lot of jobs with them. This town has been on a downward spiral for a lot of years but I think we’re past the worst of it, though.” He said hopefully, “The industry is gone but the people have always been what made this town special. They still do, Buffalo is the city of good neighbors, you know?”

Back at home the Lotus slipped into its spot next to its polar opposite, the battered Renault. “I always wanted this,” said Joe from the seat of the Lotus, “But I grew up in that.” He said waving to the small car. “My dad was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and I got that so we have something to work on together when he gets better. I had to spend a lot of time finding one like he had, but I finally got it. I think we’re going to have a good time with it.”

The childhood dreams that most of us have fade away over the years as we grow into adulthood so it’s nice to know that sometimes people make those dreams a reality. It’s nicer still, to know someone who lives those dreams but remains firmly grounded. Joe knows who he is, where he is from and what is really important in life. It was my honor to meet him and to tell some of his story. That’s all I can do, I hope it resonates.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Revived Detroit Electric Brand to Open HQ in Detroit and Sell Electrified Exiges Tue, 19 Mar 2013 21:57:29 +0000

Until the modern day revival of electric vehicles like the Teslas, Nissan’s Leaf or the Chevy Volt, the best selling electric car ever was the Detroit Electric, produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them (1914 was the high water mark with ~4,500 produced). Among the people who drove Detroit Electrics were electricity pioneers Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz and the wives of automotive industrialists  Henry Ford and Henry Joy (he ran Packard). Interestingly, John D. Rockefeller, who made his enormous fortune from petroleum products like gasoline, owned a pair of Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters. Now, not only has the electric car industry been revived, but also the Detroit Electric company, which says it will start producing battery electric sports cars in a Michigan facility by the end of this summer. Following Tesla’s example, their first car will be based on a Lotus, in this case an Exige coupe, and the company promises two other “high performance” models in 2014.

Teaser of the Lotus Exige based Detroit Electric sports car

Using a Lotus glider as the basis of an EV, as mentioned, isn’t a particularly original idea. Besides the Tesla Roadster if you remember, before their bankruptcy, Chrysler showed a raft of electric powered concept cars including the Circuit EV based on the Elise derived Europa. With aluminum superstructures and composite bodies, Lotus cars are light enough to still have good performance after being fitted with heavy electric battery packs. The choice of the Exige is an interesting one since that car is not sold in the United States – apparently because of a regulatory issue with its airbags. Perhaps Detroit Electric’s chairman and CEO, Albert Lam, who used to run Lotus, will use his connections with the British firm to get the gliders federalized.

John D. Rockefeller had two Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters, like this one for sale at RM’s 2012 St. John’s auction

In addition to announcing that Detroit Electric is going to be more than just a placeholding website that’s been around since Lam acquired the rights to the brand and logo in 2008, the company has signed a lease for its headquarters to be located in Detroit’s historic and automotively connected Fisher Building. The new car will have a press launch in Detroit early next month, followed by a global reveal at the Shanghai auto show later in April. In addition to signing the lease on their HQ, Detroit Electric has selected what they call a “dedicated production facility” in Michigan that will have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars a year. Since they’re working with the quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corporation, most likely it will be a facility that has formerly been used to build relatively short production runs of specialty cars. My WAG would be either the facility in Troy where Saleen did final assembly of the Ford GTs, or the former GM Lansing Craft Centre that built the Chevy SSR. Between the offices in Detroit and the production plant, Detroit Electric hopes to create 180 new jobs in Michigan over the next year.

Detroit Electric logo on the aluminum running board of Helen Newberry Joy’s 1914 Detroit Electric. Note the broken shoe scraper.

Apparently that production facility will not be owned by Detroit Electric. Before working at Lotus, Lam’s resume includes stints in Asia with Apple and Sun Microsystems, and Detroit Electric will be following an “asset light” business model, focusing on R&D and marketing and jobbing out production.

When the new Detroit Electric sports car is first revealed next month we’ll have coverage of the event. Press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Rebadge Chaos: A Look Back Wed, 23 Jan 2013 14:55:04 +0000

Today, we’re going to talk rebadges.  I know what you’re thinking: a TTAC post about rebadges.  Here comes an assault on General Motors.  You can almost hear the GM PR department groaning, except for the recently departed Joel Ewanick, who doesn’t have time to groan because he’s too busy putting out a garage fire.  But I’m going to leave GM out of this.  Mostly.  Instead, I’m going to focus on some of the more obscure rebadges from the last few decades.  They were all badly conceived.  Most were poorly executed.  And none of them should’ve happened.

I have to start with my all-time favorite rebadge, which is the first-generation Honda Crossroad.  I say the first generation because there’s a second-gen out there now and it looks like the love child of a Nissan Cube and a bulldog.  But the first-gen instead resembled a Series I Land Rover Discovery, because it was a Series I Land Rover Discovery, just with the square Honda emblems quite literally placed in the Land Rover oval’s round pegs.

It would be cool to have go-anywhere Land Rover cachet with Honda reliability, right?  Well, this was the exact opposite: Honda badging, which carries little cachet outside a reputation for reliability, and Land Rover construction, which is generally a good place to start a garage fire investigation.  Unless you’re at Joel Ewanick’s house.  The Crossroad went on sale in Japan and a few other unlucky countries in 1993 before being cancelled in 1998, presumably due to embarrassment.

But the Crossroad wasn’t the only embarrassing car to emerge from Honda’s alliance with Rover.  You can still see rebadged Honda Civics driving around Europe as the Rover 400, though maybe only in Swindon.  Honda also lent the Ballade and Concerto to Rover for the 200, while the Euro Accord became the 600. That meant during the 1990s, virtually every Rover driving (slowly) around Britain was actually a Honda underneath.  Despite the quality this implied, sales remained confined to old-age pensioners who would’ve bought a car made of wood if it had a windshield, a motor, and came from Mother England.  Hell, they actually do this: it’s called Morgan.

There’s still more from Honda.  Most Americans are unaware that the Acura EL (and later, the CSX) is an upscale Honda Civic that’s been available in Canada since 1997.  Naturally, the car is mediocre, though it included major changes from the Civic like different taillights and a larger center console.  Nothing says luxury like a larger center console.  I have a theory that Acura has been moderately successful with the car simply because Canadians are too polite to refuse it.  And some are so polite they actually buy it, but only so Honda’s feelings aren’t hurt.

Of course, many of us know about some of Honda’s more widely publicized rebadge flops – but if you don’t, I suggest putting “Isuzu Oasis,” “Acura SLX,” and “Honda Passport” into Google Images.  Sales were so poor, you certainly won’t find any on the road.

Speaking of Passport, we now must follow the lead set by every other rebadge article and introduce General Motors.  But in a rare twist, I won’t mention the Cadillac Cimarron.  Except just now.  Instead, I’m calling out Passport International Automobiles.

Named like the kind of thing Malcolm Bricklin would’ve attempted to force on America, Passport was actually a GM brand in Canada.  Passport dealers sold Saab and Isuzu, but also the Passport Optima – a rebadged Opel Kadett E, sold in the states as the Pontiac LeMans.  Not the LeMans that underpinned the GTO, mind you, but the front-drive 1980s subcompact later sold in Southeast Asia as the Daewoo Heaven.  Yes, the Heaven.  I swear this is true.

As expected, Passport was a flop.  Also as expected, GM learned from its mistake by trying the same thing again, except on a grander scale.  It jettisoned Passport in favor of Asüna, complete with an umlaut, apparently in deference to GM’s favorite heavy metal bands.  Or maybe it was a Häagen-Dazs-style attempt to sell the brand as an exotic European automaker – a plot that failed to convince even the most polite Canadians, who apparently have no qualms about hurting GM’s feelings.

Asüna died in 1995 along with all three of its products: another Kadett rebadge called the SE or GT depending on bodystyle; the Asüna Sunrunner, better known as the Geo Tracker or Suzuki Sidekick; and the Asüna Sunfire, which was not – as you may expect – a Pontiac Sunfire twin, but rather a rebadged Isuzu Impulse.

The Impulse also factors into our next bizarre rebadge story, which entangles Detroit, Seoul, and … Hethel.  You see, in the midst of all this rebadging, GM somehow found the time to buy Lotus, then a fledgling British underdog untainted by Malaysians and Dany Bahar’s four-figure haircuts.

Deciding a little cost-cutting was in order, GM commissioned an all-new Elan, powered by the Impulse’s four-cylinder Isuzu motor.  After the Elan’s run, which resulted in a record half the cars leaving Hethel in working order, Kia rebadged the car in South Korea as the Kia Elan.  Aside from new badging and wheels, Kia’s only change was to add the words “Ultra Power” in capital letters on the engine block.  Really.  I can only assume the ensuing electrical problems and leaking roofs scarred Kia for life, as they haven’t returned to the sports car market since. (Cue angry e-mails from the Forte Koup forum.)

Probably inspired by Oliver North, Kia was buying rebadged sports cars from Lotus just as they were selling subcompact hatchbacks to Ford.  Remember the Festiva and the Aspire?  Both were rebadged Kia Prides.  Ford took its Asian fetish well beyond Korea, snagging a huge interest in Mazda by the mid-1990s.  The most (un)forgettable rebadge to come out of that kinship was the Mazda Navajo, a two-door Ford Explorer clone released at the height of demand for the four-door Ford Explorer.

Of course, you can’t discuss Japanese-American auto relations without a shout-out to the “mediocre mashup,” which is the only possible way of describing the union of Chrysler and Mitsubishi.  Like a couple D students working together on a school project while sharing a bowl, virtually everything these two made was an instant failure.  We’ll start with two products called Raider.  The first was a 1980s Mitsubishi Montero sold as the Dodge Raider, which loudly announced its owners weren’t buying American with badging that read “Imported for Dodge.”

Payback came in the form of the Dodge Dakota-clone Mitsubishi Raider, which debuted for 2006.  Taking its cue from the earlier Raider, or possibly the Oakland Raiders, the Mitsubishi version was also a failure.  This was in spite of massive incentives Mitsubishi had on the truck, which included “zero percent forever” and “buy two, become the dealer principal.”

Aside from the DSM cars, the only thing Chryslerbishi got right was the Starion, a sports car that preceded the Mitsubishi 3000GT. But Chrysler even managed to screw that up thanks to a naming strategy that gave every one of its brands a turn.  The Plymouth Conquest and Dodge Conquest were first, while the Chrysler Conquest later replaced both.  I’d like to tell you this is the only nameplate ever sold by three brands, but Chrysler actually repeated its feat with the Neon, also sold with Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth badging.

So there you have it, folks: a little obscure rebadge history.  Maybe you learned something, maybe you had a chuckle, maybe you’re Joel Ewanick and you want me dead.  But no matter what, I’m sure the comments will be littered with tales of even more obscure rebadges.  Bring ‘em on.

Doug DeMuro has owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta.  One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer.  His parents are very disappointed.


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SHO Powered Lotus Is All Go Thu, 08 Nov 2012 17:05:55 +0000

In honor of Skyfall‘s opening tomorrow, we bring you one of the better Frankensteins we’ve seen in some time; a white Lotus Esprit, in the same hue as Roger Moore’s own ride in The Spy Who Loved Me, with a heart transplant from a Taurus SHO.

The later era BBS wheels are a little incongruous, but the swap itself appears to be nicely executed, and the gleaming chrome intake plumbing is a lot more attractive than the turbo 4 previously in there. The downside? Whether you use the Esprit’s Renault gearbox or the MTX from the Taurus, both choices aren’t exactly the last word in refinement or shift quality. Check it out over at Bring A Trailer.

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Saab Outselling Lotus Nearly 2:1 In UK Tue, 06 Nov 2012 17:42:47 +0000

Timothy Cain’s sales numbers for the UK provide a pretty sobering snapshot of Lotus and its quest for survival. Year-to-date, the brand is dead last in the UK sales rankings, outsold by such luminaries as Perodua, Ssangyong and Proton.

Even now-defunct Saab is handily beating Lotus. In October, 16 Saabs were sold, versus 2 Lotus cars. YTD, 231 Saabs have been sold versus 122 Lotus cars. Time for some drastic action, no?

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Automobile Magazine’s Must-Read Essay On The Future Of Lotus Thu, 01 Nov 2012 17:30:09 +0000

Ben Oliver’s essay in Automobile Magazine might be the best one I’ve read on Lotus and their existential predicament. While my own pieces are full of vitriol and cursing, Ben’s eloquent prose outlines the brand’s biggest problem; lacking the necessary volumes, they need to take advantage of economies of scale and high margins to survive as an auto maker. Sports cars that compete in the Porsche Cayman’s price range and performance envelope aren’t popular with buyers nor do they generate the volumes or profits necessary to keep an independent sports car maker afloat. The proposed option, a series of high-end sports cars built off a modular platform (similar to the Lotus-derived Aston Martin VH architecture) was met with little fanfare. The economic principles were sound, but the proposal alienated the faithful. Over to you, Best & Brightest.

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Lotus Owes Suppliers Nearly $37 Million Tue, 09 Oct 2012 17:55:10 +0000

A report in The Independent revealed that Lotus owes supplies nearly $37 million and has even asked for tax payment deferments to help manage its cash flow.

The Independent paints a picture of parent company DRB-Hicom having to clean up the mess left by the former management team employed by Lotus.

“DRB-Hicom, the owner of the Norfolk sports car maker, was not available for comment, but sources close to the company said many of the outstanding issues – including payments to suppliers – relate to the previous management. They added that in some cases DRB-Hicom is challenging some of the arrangements with suppliers over previous contracts where there are concerns over quality control. But they also repeated that DRB remains fully committed to the plant at Hethel, its workforce and turning Lotus around into a self-reliant and global brand.”

The Independent does cite internal financial statements view by the paper as confirming that Lotus does owe the $37 million. The report also listed revenues of $72 million, and overhead costs totaling nearly $56 million.

Irrespective of the direction that Lotus is headed in product-wise, their financial situation is precarious at best. While everyone is out arguing over the heritage and authenticity of the brand, the flimsiness of their balance sheet appears to be something that everyone can agree on.

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This Week In Auto “Journalism”: Reports Of The Esprit’s Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated Fri, 05 Oct 2012 15:01:49 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

With no less than three outlets reporting on the supposed death of the Lotus Esprit yesterday, one could be forgiven in thinking that Lotus was jettisoning the last of the Danny Bahar era and returning back to its roots as a maker of pure, uncompromising sports cars. It turns out that the reputable news outlets that reported on the matter failed to do any fact checking with Lotus. Also, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The story was disseminated by Romanian auto site AutoEvolution, with just a blurb of text and no citation. Even the greenest auto “journalist” knows that a story like this is great if all you want to do is get clicks for your site utterly worthless. That didn’t stop multiple outlets from running with the story, until Lotus put a stop to the stupidity by releasing a statement clarifying that this is a baseless rumor.

The best part? The blogs in question get to run another story clarifying the matter, and get even more pageviews and clicks. Ain’t the blogosphere grand? Of course, any of the bloggers could have told you that at this point, the development of the car is past the point of no return, and that the need for economies of scale means that the Esprit is going forward and it will underpin everything else in the Lotus pipeline, but that would require industry knowledge that interferes with important tasks like posting pictures of press cars on Facebook.

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Kids Tue, 18 Sep 2012 12:17:18 +0000

She is twenty-seven or perhaps thirty-one, long-limbed and lithe with clean blond hair pulled straight back – though not in a severe way – from a fine-boned, small-nosed face. That which is not honed by either Pilates or Bikram is flattered by the lycra of her Lululemon yoga capris, the fabric caressing as it flexes. As she bends over to soothe an adorable tow-headed toddler in a six-hundred-dollar ergonomic jogging stroller, I have just one thing on my mind.


That is a really nice stroller.

Congratulate me: I’m a new father! And so, after a bloody, protracted labour that’d make the UFC look like a competitive backrub league, my priorities have changed somewhat. I have a child now. A daughter.

It’s the oddest sensation, to hear the first cry of a child and feel the poles of your life suddenly shift; to be handed a squalling life and feel the unimaginable weight of all that potential joy and heartbreak as it falls asleep in your arms. There was a Then, but this is the Now, and no matter how many platitudes or warnings you’ve absorbed over the years, you are utterly unprepared for the emotional gut-punch.

On the other hand, some things never change. Let’s go buy her a Hot Wheels.

What better sled to go toy-car hunting in than this, the Boss 302 Mustang? TTAC loves the ‘Stang with an – ahem – unbridled passion, and the Boss is perhaps best of breed, though it would certainly be eaten alive by the how-is-this-legal Shelby.

When I was not-yet four, I went on a similar shopping expedition with my Dad, just prior to meeting my little brother for the first time. I remember agonizing over what to buy my new playmate (a tank? a bull-dozer?), finally settling on a semi-trailer dump-truck which is now safely tucked away in some dusty box of old report cards and baby shoes.

In the same hospital where my daughter will be born some thirty years later, four-year-old-me scrubs up with strawberry-scented hand soap and waits patiently to meet another small boy with whom I will spend countless hours devising sandbox highways and vinyl-floor racetracks.

If only I could travel back in time, pull that small boy version of me aside, show him a picture of the school-bus yellow Pony and say, “Guess what? You get to drive one of these eventually.”

Really though, I’d have to bring a recording along as well, because half the charm of the Boss is in the simply outstanding racket it produces, bellowing away from the side-pipes in a glorious snarl that relaxes to the throaty grumble of a jungle cat when tooling around in the lower gears. No electronic exhaust baffles. No “ActiveSoundDesign” pants-stuffing.

As much fun as I’m having driving this thing, it could be argued that playing to an audience is half the enjoyment. Kids love this car – it’s what the Pied Piper of Hammelin would drive.

Adults don’t always turn to look, wrapped up in their own concerns and worries; when they do, you might get a grin, you might get a sneer for the skittle-shaded muscle-car. Not so with anyone under the age of ten – eyes widen, jaws drop, a little girl claps her hands over her ears. When I pull up in front of Granville Island Kid’s Market, a rubber-necking boy of about six or so has to be collared by his mother before he walks into a pole.

It’s magic, magic of the sort I first felt staring into a window like this one. The Boss is good at many things, but best of all is the way in which it mentally puts you back on the sidewalk, three-foot-tall and clutching a metal, wheeled talisman in a grubby fist as it rolls by and captures your imagination.

You tend to forget this feeling, alive for only the briefest of moments; the lifespan of morning dew on a summer’s day. Later on, you might see the car as freedom from teenage angst, a way to assert your dominance over your fellow motorist on the street or racetrack, an escape from the suffocating weight of adult responsibility, a badge of worldly success. The wonder is gone, lost in the everyday fog of speed traps and traffic and depreciation and fuel-costs and all the other little voices clamouring for your attention.

I don’t find exactly what I’m looking for here, so on to the next stop.

Given the modern electronic assault on imagination, it’s heartening to find two entire walls dedicated to Hot Wheels and Matchboxes inside the Toys R Us big-box. I’ve seen an exasperated father hand his boisterous sixteen-month-old an iPhone, and watched her swipe, tap and expand her way into a YouTube clip of Cookie Monster. You’d think toy cars couldn’t compete with gizmos, and yet here they are.

Remember the joy of rummaging through the pile of discards at the bottom of the rack, or flicking through endless repeats to find to one model that you’re after? I know what I’m looking for: I saw it hanging in a grocery store display months-back, but it’s not here.

My brother got married this summer, on the deck of the house where I grew up. In the interim between the ceremony and the reception, I wandered around the grounds, bemused at the change wrought by my dad’s unending landscaping projects.

On the top of a rack he’d built for drying firewood, I found this broken, soil-packed Majorette that dad must have dug up at some point; archeological relic of my childhood. Turning it over in my hands made me realize how few of these artifacts have survived the years.

With that in mind, when I finally find the right car, I buy three, one for now, one to go on my desk as a reminder and one to be tucked away safely for the future.

And here it is.

While facebook wags were quick to inquire if the choice of a Lotus Europa was some way of preparing my daughter for failure and disappointment (and unexplained fires), nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, it’s perfect because it’s a bit odd, and bright-pink, and – as it turns out – somewhat hard to find. Special.

So too, is this machine.

By the time 2028 rolls around, it’s hard to imagine anything like it will still be around. Communal motoring, choked freeways, electronically-surveilliance (mandatory and otherwise) – it’ll be a different driving world for her.

And maybe she won’t care. Likely she’ll have learned to just tolerate her father’s idiosyncrasies, will have matured into her own person with her own passions.

This morning though, I lift her out of her bed-side crib and she opens up her eyes to smile at me, briefly, for the first time. I understand that for a short time we will share everything, but that she will gradually grow away from me; it’ll happen sooner than I can imagine.

But I also know, that sometime far off in the future, if I’m lucky, she’ll pull down a cardboard box off a shelf, perhaps fishing for an old photograph, and she’ll find this little pink car, chipped and battered by the years. As she holds it in her hand, I hope the years melt away, and she is once again wrapped in her father’s arms, snug and safe, loved and loved and loved.

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Junkyard Find: 1978 Lotus Esprit Tue, 11 Sep 2012 13:00:46 +0000 In all my years of crawling around in high-turnover self-service wrecking yards, not to mention old-timey slow-turnover wrecking yards, this is the first Lotus I’ve found. And it’s not just some boring Eclat— it’s a genuine mid-engined Elite! Granted, it’s been picked over pretty thoroughly…
Someone with a Sawzall got most of the fiberglass body, but you can see hints of Lotus-ness here and there.
Thanks to all the valueless Jensen-Healeys out there, the Lotus 907 engine isn’t difficult to find these days. However, the transaxle in this car might be worth pulling.
Veglia gauges with what I assume are Lucas Electrics components— such a reliable combination!

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Bahar Bites Back, Sues Lotus For $10 Million Tue, 28 Aug 2012 12:19:00 +0000 Dany Bahar, the disgraced former CEO of the money-losing British sportscar maker Lotus, sued Lotus and its Malaysian parent DRB-Hicom for wrongful dismissal. According to Bloomberg, Bahar wants 6.7 million pounds ($10.6 million) from Lotus for alleged unlawful early termination of his employment. The media got wind of the lawsuit after  DRB-Hicom made a filing at the Kuala Lumpur Bursa.

In the stock exchange filing, DRB-Hicom said that  “Dany Bahar was dismissed after an investigation into his stewardship of Lotus.” No specifics were given.  When Bahar was fired on June 7, “the decision was made by the board of Group Lotus plc following the results of an investigation into a complaint made against him by the company’s penultimate holding company, DRB-HICOM Berhad,” an official statement said.

DRB, controlled by billionaire Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, inherited Lotus  through its purchase of Malaysian carmaker Proton. The “handsome” and “flamboyant” (The Independent) Bahar was hired from Ferrari three year ago.  He was supposed to turn the company around. Instead, it burned through all available cash.

In the business, CEOs and top level executives can afford all kinds of improprieties – as long as they are successful. If they fall from grace, corporate auditors usually find something that otherwise would be overlooked.

According to the filing, DRB and Lotus will file counter-claims.


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Dany Bahar’s Lotus Esprit For Sale Fri, 24 Aug 2012 16:21:02 +0000

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the Dany Bahar-era of Lotus; the company is auctioning off his 2003 Esprit, which was restored with a fresh engine, paint job and interior. A Brembo/AP braking system, a center exit exhaust and a bigger spoiler are among the unique touches on this 36,000 mile cream puff. For a man with such questionable judgement in business, his taste in cars is quite good.

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Für Elise: Volkswagen Interested In Lotus And All Of Proton While They are At It Thu, 26 Jul 2012 18:47:38 +0000

As you read this, an old friend of mine is probably packing. Who knows, he could already be in the air. He was Volkswagen’s boots on the ground in Malaysia, the many times VW wanted to get its boots on the ground in Malaysia. Last time they tried in 2007, they disrupted Dirk’s retirement and sent him to Kuala Lumpur, where dealers of fake watches greeted him as the old friend he was by that time.  German media says, Volkswagen did not give up and they are trying again.

Volkswagen is said to be talking (again) to Malaysia’s Proton, owned by Malaysian automotive and property conglomerate DRB-HICOM. Now is a good time to buy. Lotus, owned by Proton, has burned through all of a loan facility made available.  DRB-Hicom pumped another $300 million into Lotus this year and is looking at pumping more.  The departure of the flamboyant, but unimportant Dany Bahar from the flamboyant, but unimportant Lotus made bigger headlines than the fact that this is yet another supercar pipedream going up in smoke, but that’s the way it is. Three days ago, it was reported that Proton rejected an offer of one British pound for Lotus. That’s how much the brand is worth now.

Proton, a brainchild of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was supposed to propel Malaysia as much into the future as its electronics industry. It did not happen. Mitsubishi pulled out a few years ago. Lotus, the maker of lightweight sports cars, was no replacement for a heavyweight international partner. Proton only survived, more or less, due to protectionist laws in Malaysia. In the meantime, Malays begin to rebel against high priced low tech cars. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement exposes Proton to the increasingly rough winds of competition.

Volkswagen probably would not mind adding yet another brand to its growing collection, especially when it means that they can invest the very important South East Asian market with Volkswagen’s bread and butter cars. Volkswagen already contracted Proton for CKD production of the Passat. Jetta and Polo are planned to follow, says Reuters. Germany’s Manager Magazin said last week that Volkswagen could be interested yet again in Proton. Today, two inside sources told Reuters that Volkswagen might “seek either a minority holding in the owner of UK sports-car manufacturer Lotus or a controlling stake.”

I tried calling my friend in Germany, but nobody is picking up.


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Lotus Scales Back New Model Development Amid Bahar Departure Thu, 26 Jul 2012 16:38:54 +0000

Lotus’ new owner, Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom, has revised their future model plans, reducing the scale of former CEO Dany Bahar’s ambitious 5-car lineup.

According to an investment analyst interviewed by Malaysian media outlet The Star, Lotus will cut back their new model plans from 5 nameplates to 3, but that the strategy was still being worked out. The analyst, working for Malaysian firm RHB Research, met with DRB-Hicom officials to discuss future plans.

According to RHB, there is healthy demand in China for Lotus cars, and the company is producing as many cars as possible based on a single shift work schedule. RHB claims that DRB-Hicom plans to hang on to Lotus, and see through the introduction of new vehicles, based on a common platform. No specifics were given regarding the nature of the vehicles.


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Swizz Beats Buys A Morgan, British Car Fans Weep Wed, 25 Jul 2012 14:31:42 +0000

British car fans upset over Swizz Beats‘ involvement with Lotus Cars will be beside themselves when they learn that the rapper/producer is now the owner of the last bastion of Brit-snob motoring – a Morgan Aero Coupe.

Celebrity Cars Blog is showing photos of Beats with his new Morgan Aero Coupe – leaving British car enthusiasts in a tizzy over what obscure brand they can hitch their wagon to next.

Beats, real name Kasseem Dean, is a pretty accomplished fellow – married to Alicia Keys, renowned hip-hop producer, and composer of one of the most recognizable hip-hop anthems at the age of 17. Swizzy has also referenced obscure cars in some of his hit songs (Spyker, anyone), so his car guy cred isn’t exactly in doubt.

What makes the whole thing so deliciously ironic is that once Lotus had been “commoditized”, the cap-and-driving-gloves crowd, too young to have ever lived the horror stories that came with the purchase of a brand new British car, began to migrate to Morgan as the last hope for cars that had “”soul” or whatever code-word is in vogue to justify the fatal flaws and systemic crapiness of boutique sports cars from The Empire.

No doubt Swizz Beats will be lecturing his fellow rappers on how much better the Morgan is than their 458 Italia, how much “character” it has, how rewarding of an ownership experience is involved when taking it to the dealer multiple times per week and how his wood grain is in the frame, rather than on the dash.

Just remember: nothing is safe anymore.

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Lotus Pulls Out Of Paris Auto Show Sun, 15 Jul 2012 18:21:21 +0000

Two years after Lotus presented a grandiose, multi-car lineup at the 2010 Paris Auto Show, the company will not be participating in this years festivities at the Porte De Versailles.

The absence of Lotus at the Paris show isn’t necessarily a sign of their downfall in the post-Bahar era. Lotus put on a large exhibit at the Goodwood Festival of Speed – Britain’s de facto national motor show, now that the London show is gone – with vehicles from their past, present and future.

Lotus is going to be evaluating their direction in the coming months, now that Dany Bahar is gone. The six car lineup may not survive intact, but there are elements worth saving. A resurgence at, say, the Shanghai Auto Show wouldn’t be out of the question.

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Generation Why: ICONs And Morgans Fri, 08 Jun 2012 18:44:46 +0000

Previous editions of Generation Why have explored one of the last glimmers of automotive affection that the “carless generation” still holds on to- the love of classic cars.

Modern cars are better than they’ve ever been in every qualitative aspect, but they have embraced a stifling homogeneity as a result. Consolidation will only exacerbate that – who would have thought that one day, Mazda would be doing the legwork for the next Alfa Romeo Spider. Personally, I think the marriage of Italian aesthetics with Japanese guts is the perfect union, but it’s also indicative of the epoch we live in; there is little room for sentimentality, romance and narrative if you are a mainstream manufacturer, because it’s very easy for the lights to be turned off and your dinner to be snatched away.

On the fringes, free from pedestrian crash test regulations, expectations of 432 airbags and Facebook integration, creativity and originality still exists. Somewhere in my piles of EVO back issues, there is a quote from an unnamed Honda executive stating “In the end, there will be three car companies. One of them will be Morgan.”

Morgan, as well all know, uses wood as a key construction element for their cars, and recently launched a new 3-Wheeler that uses a motorcycle-style V-Twin engine. Car and Driver’s Justin Berkowitz recently interviewed company head Charles Morgan (yes, it’s a family business), and Morgan’s eloquent dissection of the modern sports car, his realistic outlook on the industry (“…everybody has to have collaboration if they’re going to build a viable car…” and most importantly, his recognition of the desire for as he calls it “quality and individualism”. Morgan’s small size and overflowing order books often translate into wait lists, which helps the brand’s exclusitivity factor. While they do about 750 cars per year, the 3-Wheeler has apparently generated in excess of 1200 orders alone. According to those more familiar with the business than I am, that will take Morgan years to complete.

On our side of the world, ICON announced plans to expand beyond their lineup of Land Cruisers and Broncos with an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato-esque car called the “Reformer“. The Reformer will no doubt be an expensive, exclusive proposition – just like the Morgan cars are (though the 3-wheeler will apparently retail for around $45,000 in the U.S.). But the beauty of aiming for the top of the market is that even in tough times, the really rich people interested in wacky, bespoke 4-wheeled toys tend to hang on to their fortunes and can still afford to buy these kinds of products. No surprise that Lotus is a victim of being stuck in the middle – rotgut and cognac always sell in tough times, to both polar extremes of the market. Everything else suffers.

Are we ever going to see these sorts of boutique companies spring up and offer classic-looking vehicles, modern powertrains and more importantly, a breath of fresh air from the current crop of numbers-obsessed isolation chambers that masquerade as sports cars? Probably not. But the love affair with classic cars, their designs, powertrains and their elemental purity will continue to burn bright as cars march further and further down that path. The motorcycle market in North America has been suffering from a big gap in the marketplace between 250cc and 600cc bikes that are affordable and desirable for new riders. Enter Cleveland CycleWerks, a Cleveland-based motorcycle company that is bringing to market some low-end, affordable bikes that look like they came straight of a Hunter S. Thompson-era desert race. The catch? They’re made in China. That seems to be the only way these things get down nowadays.

Drawing parallels between an upstart motorcycle company and the auto industry as a whole isn’t completely fair. But there’s no denying that there’s something about those older vehicles, whether they’re FJ40s or 427 Cobras, that keeps us longing for them to the point where we insist on restoring them and building replicas of them with new and improved underpinnings. Right now, your choices for an affordable, ICON-esque vehicle seem to be emulating this gentleman’s project of mating a Healey Sprite body to Miata running gear. I still hold out hope that some brave entrepreneur or trust fund recipient will take up something like Cleveland Cyclewerks for automobiles. Or an OEM doing “factory refreshes” of iconic models. If not, I’ll be in the garage…

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Sorry Folks, Dany Bahar Was On The Right Track, Even If You Hated Him Thu, 07 Jun 2012 18:12:16 +0000

My biggest fear with the seemingly inevitable departure of Dany Bahar was having to read the contempt and gloating of the automotive media’s self-appointed product and management experts, whereby they claim vindication for shitting on Dany Bahar’s vision to do something about Lotus and their lack of profitability and his desecration of sacred “brand values”.

This time last year, I became one of the few people to back Bahar’s plan, and I still stand by it. Conduct aside (and I mean, conduct that is actually questionable, not just being mean to Jalopnik when they asked him asinine questions), Bahar’s plan still makes sense. There’s a large segment of the population that hasn’t yet realized that the locus of profitability has shifted, and tastes in those regions necessitate a different way of thinking. That’s without taking into account that the extremely narrow range of cars sold by Lotus will only appeal to a very small group of wealthy people willing to put up with the sacrifices that come with driving the most pure sports cars in the world.

The Lotus plan involved creating a broader range of cars, including an Esprit that would finally become a real supercar, a next-generation Elise and a much to the horror of car nuts, a sedan – something that Chapman, whose cars grew more cushy and family friendly as he aged – wanted to produce before his death. Lest we forget that the Lotus Cortina and Lotus Carlton were born of utterly mundane stock yet have become automotive legends. Along with the new cars came a plan for greater branding and merchandise, something that has helped line Ferrari’s coffers after being implemented by, you guessed it, Dany Bahar. The Lotus branded gear was also much more tasteful and restrained than the Ferrari/Puma stuff that floods my local Foot Locker discount rack.

I always felt that so much of the hate directed at Bahar and his plan was just personal anger being projected onto him and the clientshe hoped to attract. Bahar was handsome, suave, wealthy and accomplished in many fields; he would be an easy target of hate for your typical scrawny, awkward and impoverished auto journalist, akin to how females can exhibit catty behavior towards their mental or physical superiors. Why else would he be branded an “over-coifed little shit“? Lack of automotive experience never stopped Stephan Winkelmann, Alan Mulally or hell, Soichiro Honda (who loved aircraft and motorcycles more than the automobile).

The other side of it was the resistance to any sort of change that is a deeply human trait not reserved for car guys. The Elise and Exige are sublime cars that are not only brilliant, but potentially affordable on the used market (and when new, cost far less than other exotics). The Lotus plan would move them into a whole other pricing category, but lest we forget that the planned 2015 replacement date would mean that those cars would have been on sale for nearly two decades. Not even the Acura NSX had such a long tenure.

The Lotus of the past had me futilely following my neighbor’s Racing Green Esprit S4 on my 10-speed as he roared down my street. It had me lie through my teeth, using an S2000 press car as a prop, just so I could test drive an Elise. In inspired my to peer through the glass of Gentry Lane Toronto’s workshop and take that picture at 1 AM on a Thursday night. It had me taking an unpopular position, against the grain of everyone else, because I believe so strongly that the brand still has so much to offer that a 4-door sedan and Lotus brand shoes wouldn’t have hurt it at all.

The alternative is a world without Lotus. It’s not that difficult to imagine. When Fiat is handing over development of an icon like the Alfa Spider to a struggling Japanese automaker like Mazda, it’s safe to say that we are not living in the world of Colin Chapman’s Magical Norfolk Workshop where building sports cars at a loss is a viable survival strategy. Whatever you may think of it, Bahar had a vision, and his job was to sell and market that vision. Now that it’s off the table, it’s easy for DRB-Hicom to give up and justify it by refusing to throw good money after bad. Long term thinking and a bold plan is necessary. And it’s got nothing to do with continuing to sell the Elise.

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