I have lived in Hornsey since I was a child but up until recently I was unaware that Hornsey is where internationally renowned racing hero Colin Chapman built his first iconic Lotus. I even have a close friend who writes about racing but he’s never mentioned the fact either. It seems we’re not very good at shouting about what’s great in our history, so here’s a little shout for Colin and Lotus!
For those who don’t know Lotus Cars is a British manufacturer of sports and racing cars, famous for its Esprit, Elan, Europa and Elise sports cars and for the highly successful Team Lotus in Formula 1. It was founded by Colin Chapman, the son of a hotel manager, who grew up in Hornsey and studied mechanical engineering at University College, London. He was an enthusiastic member of the University Air Squadron and learned to fly while still a student. He then did his national service as a Royal Air Force pilot in 1948. After he left the RAF Chapman bought and sold second hand cars while becoming a member of the 750 Motor Club, which was the nursery for many of the top F1 engineers of the 1960s and 1970s.
Chapman’s first car was a special built in a friend’s garage in Wood Green, using a 1930 Austin Seven. It was called a Lotus because Chapman and his friends had worn themselves out building it and they reckoned it had the same soporific effect as the lotus flower. The car was a success and in 1952 he established the Lotus Engineering Company with Michael Allen and moved to new premises at the Old Stables and bottle store behind the Railway Hotel, 7 Tottenham Lane in Hornsey, which was run by his father. The company was based here from 1952 – 1959, after which it moved to larger premises in Cheshunt.
Lotus is a British car with huge cultural prestige and featured in many films and tv series such as The Avengers and James Bond. The story behind the car and the man who built it appeals to a British sense of Derring-do and it is rather thrilling to think this fabulous tale began in Hornsey. Currently there are discussions about restoring the first ever Lotus showrooms and making them into a first class heritage museum. The site is owned by Jewsons who want to redevelop it but are in discussions over the possible museum. The following link has a lot of source material about Lotus and is associated with the group dedicated to making it happen.