Rare Rides: The 1981 Lotus 87 Formula One Car, in Black Gold

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

While the Rare Rides series has featured a few Lotus vehicles in past, none of them rose quite to the importance of today’s single-seat example. A one-of-one, it’s the car Lotus used in the 1981 Formula One racing series.

And now you can buy it, and drive it on quick jaunts to Target or Cracker Barrel.

Lotus had a rough year in the 1980 season of Formula One, as its 81 racer proved a bit too pudding-like; its chassis lacked rigidity. Aiming to fix this for the 1981 season, Lotus developed a new chassis design. This one was a chassis-within-chassis design, and made of high-tech carbon fiber with additional strength via Kevlar sheets.

Called the twin chassis, the car was initially presented as the 88 specification. Once it appeared at the first race of the British Grand Prix, racing officials banned it from participation. They did not agree with Colin Chapman’s interpretation of the rules, and Lotus were forced to rework the car entirely. The 88 was rebuilt into the more restrained and regulation-approved 87, which had a monocoque chassis. The use of carbon fiber and Kevlar materials remained intact.

Powering the 81 was the Ford Cosworth 3.0-liter naturally aspirated V8. The engine was paired to a British-made Hewland five-speed manual. The 87 was driven that year by Elio de Angelis and future champion Nigel Mansell, but was still not a competitive racer. Other teams were moving on to turbocharged engines at the time, and though the Lotus was more reliable and easier to maintain than turbocharged cars, it was too heavy. Lotus netted some points in the 1981 season, but failed to win any races. A lighter version of the 87 debuted for the first round of 1982, the 87B. Unfortunately that one was also unimpressive. It was replaced by the 92 for the rest of the season, and that car managed a win and a couple of podium finishes for Lotus.

Today’s Rare Ride comes as standard with its notable (if short) Mansell racing history, and sets of spare parts in case its owner wanted to enter it in a historical Masters Formula One race. This vintage racer is priced on request.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Fred Fred on Sep 29, 2020

    A Lotus being too heavy, now that's something you don't hear every day.

  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Sep 30, 2020

    It would still be a hoot to drive, even if it is overweight. I bet it sounds good too!

    • Garrett Garrett on Sep 30, 2020

      Went to the support paddock at COTA last year and got to be right up next to vintage F1 cars that were racing. It was amazing how small they were, but also how awesome the Cosworth engines sounded from 10 feet away.

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