The maverick automotive genius of Britain’s Colin Chapman was in overdrive in 1957. For nearly ten years (including his RAF service) the engineering visionary had been refining increasingly successful versions of his super-lightweight sports race cars.
He was close to achieving his goal of creating a Formula One contender, and every move was the subject of fascinated public scrutiny. The public loved his Lotus 6, a genuinely low-cost, street-legal competitor that they could drive to the track or hillclimb, compete, and go home in afterwards.
They wanted more — and they thought they could see it in the one-off Lotus Seven fitted with a Coventry Climax engine, de Dion rear suspension and disc brakes that slaughtered the hillclimb and sprint season opposition of that year. Chapman, pressed for a road version, gave them a prototype classic instead, still in production according to its virtually original design more than fifty years later, and the blueprint for dozens of imitators around the world.
The Lotus Seven of legend first appeared in kit form. It was a stroke of minimalist genius, using readily available parts that would fit into the radical geometry of its lightweight, tubular and steel panel frame. De Dion was ousted for the solid beam axle Metropolitan. The tiny engine was taken from the genteel Ford Prefect and Anglia (though when it began selling complete cars in 1958, Lotus offered the Climax or the BMC ‘A’ series from the Austin Sprite). There were some real problems (a tendency for rust to eat into the tubular chassis, causing sudden terrifying collapse!), and the Lotus Seven was so Spartan, unadorned and basic that it was described as ‘like driving a motorized roller-skate’. Enormous fun, in fact The Seven is about sporty performance, brilliant handling, and — all but literally – driving by the seat of your pants.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1957 (until 1972)
1,172 cc Flathead Straight Four
Top speed of 85.5 mph (136.8 km/h): 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 14.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Under British tax laws in 1957, you didn’t have to pay Purchase Tax on a car kit as long as it did not contain assembly instructions. So Chapman included disassembly instructions which you followed in reverse – a bit of lateral thinking typical of Chapman’s whole subversive ethos. In 1973 when the tax advantage loophole was plugged, Lotus sold the license to build kits and complete Sevens to Caterham Cars.