Lotus is an iconic name in British motoring and motorsport history. Maverick designer Colin Chapman founded the company in 1952 although he’d built his first car – the mark one Austin Seven-based special – while at London University in 1948. His first production sports car was the mark six, which evolved into the renowned Lotus Seven.
But if Chapman would become famous as a maker of lightweight sports cars, he would achieve more fame as the man behind the Lotus Grand Prix team, which, from Stirling Moss in Monte Carlo in 1960 to Kimi Räikkönen in Australia in 2013, has racked up 81 Grand Prix victories. Twenty-five of those wins, and two World Championship titles, were claimed by Jim Clark, who inspired me more than anyone else in my dream of becoming a Grand Prix driver, and my first racing car was a single-seater Formula Ford Lotus 69F, so I’m a fan of the marque.
By the time Chapman died in 1982 Lotus was in serious financial difficulties, and it has had a rocky existence ever since with ownership shifting from Britain to the US and now Malaysia. Production today focuses on its three established models – the Elise, Evora and Exige – and two new versions have been launched to highlight this fresh start for the brand: the Elise S Cup, the most powerful Elise to date, and the limited-edition Lotus Exige LF1.
The Lotus Exige LF1 comes in just one colour, black with gold wheels and flashes of red – just like the current F1 car, of course. There’s no extra power above the 345bhp of the standard Exige S but it’s loaded with extras such as the Exige Race Pack with dynamic performance management system, two-piece high-performance brake discs and Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tyres. There are no extra comforts inside the Lotus Exige LF1 either but you’ll spot the black and gold theme wherever you look. Devoid of frills and unnecessary weight, the car stays true to Chapman’s “lightness is everything” creed.
There’s no power steering pump so at slow speeds steering is on the heavy side but once on the move the car comes alive. Instant response sees the Lotus Exige LF1 turn to exactly where you point it. Despite not having a limited slip differential, traction is excellent with 62 per cent of its 1,176kg sitting over rear wheels and a brake-based electronic system to control wheelspin.
But what’s special about the 81 LF1s is the chassis plate carrying the number signifying Lotus’s total of Grand Prix wins. I would want a Jim Clark car, of course, but the Moss LF1s will be much sought-after, as will those representing Ayrton Senna’s victories.
Then again you might want cars from the World Championship-winning years of Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi or Mario Andretti. Heritage doesn’t get any better than this.