In its 70th-anniversary year, Lotus is calling out to the classic car community to help find the Lotus Mark I, the first car built by Colin Chapman.
The British marque has launched a campaign to find its founder’s earliest creation, over six decades since its whereabouts were last known, despite much research.
The Lotus Mark I was a competition car built in London in 1948, in a small garage owned by his then-girlfriend’s parents – indeed the two later married and Hazel Chapman is pictured above in the car in question.
Hand-built by Chapman, with assistance from his girlfriend and friends, this re-imagined and re-engineered Austin Seven enjoyed immediate success in trials in 1948.
With Colin driving and Hazel alongside, they won two class awards in the car’s first events.
At first, the Mark I was finished in bare, unpolished alloy, later painted white, then later still repainted red.
Modifications made by Chapman included optimising the ground clearance, reinforcing the chassis, using bespoke, lightweight body panels and making sure that often-damaged items could be replaced quickly.
He also extended the Austin at the rear and carried a pair of spare wheels allowing for better allocation of ballast, optimising weight distribution and maximising traction.
Unsurprisingly, its success spurred Chapman on to innovate and before long he was working on its successor, the Lotus Mark II.
The original car was sold for £135 in November 1950, after it was advertised in Motor Sport magazine, to someone based in the north of England – and no more is known of it.
“The Mark I is the holy grail of Lotus’ history,” explains Clive Chapman, son of the firm’s founder and the director of Classic Team Lotus.
“It’s the first time that my father was able to put his theories for improved performance into practice when designing and building a car. To locate this landmark Lotus, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary, would be a monumental achievement.
"We want fans to take this opportunity to look in every garage, shed, barn and lock up they’re allowed to. It’s even possible that the Mark I was shipped from the UK, and we’d love to know if it survives in another country.”
All images: © The Colin Chapman Foundation