- May 19, 1928
- December 16, 1982
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman is one of the most important persons in the history of British motorsports, an acknowledged designer and inventor, responsible for various innovations in the world of Formula One.
Born in May 1928 in Richmond, Surrey, Chapman studied structural engineering at the University College London, and parallel to his studies, he got a job with an idea to soon start a business of his own. Colin left UCL without a degree in 1948, but returned a year later to resit his Mathematics paper, and then finally in 1950, he got his degree.
Beginning of the journey
A part of his dreams came true when in 1952, with a help of his fiance and future wife Hazel, Chapman founded Lotus Engineering Co. Ltd. Obsessed with fast machines, Colin dreamed about making his own race car with which he will conquer the tracks around the globe and then sell his innovations the others.
He experimented a lot, trying to pull out the maximum from the old cars which he has modified for racing. Initially, Chapman considered Lotus Cars as a hobby project; something he did in his spare time. However, he soon realized that all the racing cars that he encountered had the same problem – a lot of unnecessary weight.
Chapman had a long way to glory and was compelled to work like a mule to achieve what he has planned, often working without remuneration or for compensation. For example, he received a converted Ford Zephyr from BRM after helping them design a suspension for their F1 cars. In 1954, after he achieved some results from his work on sports cars, Chapman finally could leave his day job to focus entirely on Lotus.
Crashing out in his only F1 Grand Prix attempt
Chapman was also very active as a racer, recording more than hundred race starts during the 1950s, mostly at British race tracks. In June 1955, he participated in the infamous Le Mans 24h race, marked by the great tragedy, sharing the #48 Lotus Mark IX with Ron Flockhart. They were disqualified after Chapman had an accident and he restarted a car without marshal's permission.
A year later, in July 1956, Chapman was injured in a crash with Vanwall car during the practice for the F1 French Grand Prix at Reims. It remained his only F1 attempt. An accident didn't slowed him down and he was active in racing until 1959. He recorded a DNF at 1956 Le Mans in a Lotus Eleven and the S1.1 class victory at 1957 Sebring 12 Hours in the same car.
Making of masterpieces
Concentrating on the technical part of racing, together with John Cooper, he made some revolutionary ideas which changed Formula 1 forever. From 1958, Lotus Engineering started to produce Formula 1 cars and they made an immediate impact, winning many races and motorsports world in general.
Its lightweight and fragile, but very powerful cars were successful and popular, but Chapman always wanted to achieve more. Relying on his talent, Colin’s design philosophy was to make simple but powerful cars. The chassis of quality design and quality made was always the top priority for Chapman. The monocoque chassis made for Lotus 25 model was a true example of his hard work. Jim Clark won the Formula 1 World championship title with that car in 1963.
Chapman and Clark - one of the best partnerships in Formula 1
Chapman and Clark, two completely different personalities, were an ideal blend. Many drivers were winning the races mainly because they were driving Lotus cars, but Clark was the one who could really drive some Lotus cars to the victories. They had a huge understanding and they helped each other to score their goals on and off the track. That kind of an extraordinary partnership in the Formula 1 history could be matched only to the one between Ken Tyrrell and Jackie Stewart. That’s why is understandable why Chapman was broken when Clark was killed in 1968, driving a Lotus 48 F2 car.
Almost every model of Lotus F1 cars was success
One can say that Lotus 49, Lotus 72 and Lotus 1979 models were the legitimate successors of the model 25. Designed and constructed along with some renowned names like Maurice Philippe and Keith Duckworth, they definitely justified the good reputation that Lotus 25 achieved.
The 49 masterpiece has introduced the engine as the stressed chassis member, the 72 introduced many novelties like inboard brakes, torsion bars springing or the wedge shape, while the 79 model was a revolutionary example of how to tame the ground effect. When he was young, Chapman has been working for the Royal Air Forces where he learned to pilot, but also about the importance and the power of aerodynamics.
Chapman was happy and proud to see some big names driving his cars and winning driving it. Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi are some the F1 stars and champions who were in the seat of Lotus cars. Even Ayrton Senna grabbed some victories driving a Lotus cars.
Chapman also was a businessman
Colin Chapman was not only a brilliant designer but also a cunning businessman. He always tried to do more with less money spent. His talent for business really surfaced when he introduced major sponsorship deals to the world, enabling Formula 1 to become one of the best sports for advertising, turning it to high technology enterprise. Chapman’s merit is also the launching of DFV Cosworth engines as he was the one who persuaded Ford company to invest in the development of the program.
He had many ideas and projects on which he has worked on, but on 16th of December 1982, he left this world. On that same day, Lotus Team tested Formula 1 car with the active suspension which later will become Lotus 99T and debuted in the World Championship in 1987.
After Colin’s death, Lotus Team’s glory slowly started to fade. Rising debts caused the formal end in 1995 and all the future attempts to revive the fame were unsuccessful.
Charismatic engineer had his dark side
Colin Chapman was many times compared with Enzo Ferrari, because of his charisma and passion. By many, he was the legend and example of the British willingness and ingenuity to compete against more sophisticated opponent relying on luck and improvisation.
But, many years after Chapman’s death, many new details started to come out to the light. Racing historian Mike Lawrence described Chapman as a compulsory liar, drugs addict, thief, and fraudster with no morality, who avoided prison for at least 10 years only because the fatal heart attack.
Chapman was involved in a huge scandal. In 1978, Lotus linked up with American tycoon John DeLorean to build a stainless steel race car. The project was funded by the British government, but around 10 million pounds went missing.
"What shocked me most as the evidence accumulated was the coldness with which he would airbrush other people out of the story and assume the credit for their ideas. I was also pretty stunned at the extent to which he used barbiturates and amphetamines to keep himself going," commented Lawrence after his book ’Colin Chapman: Way ward Genius’ was published.
Those who know Colin’s darker side confirmed that he had periods of hard battles with his own demons, but it is clear that he was one of the finest engineers in the British modern history.