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"Simplicate" was Lotus founder Chapman's rule

October 08, 2006|by JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications

Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman lived by only one rule in life:

"Simplicate first, then add what you want after," he once said.

Simplicate. It was Chapman's own term for making things as easy as possible on yourself. Don't overdo it. You'll only end up complicating things more than you need to.

Chapman, generally considered once of the most brilliant minds in the history of the auto industry, took the meaning to heart.

He came from a simple existence. His father was a hotel manager and the family lived a relatively frugal existence in England during the 1920s.

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He followed a simple path in life, dedicated to the automobile from the time he could first walk.

And he maintained a simple outlook.

"Nothing can be achieved without eliminating the unnecessary," he once said, somewhat philosophically.

What wasn't simple was Chapman's contribution to the auto world. Considered one of the most charismatic and innovative engineers in the history of motor racing, his designs revolutionized the race car as we know it today. He helped develop the British racing industry, including the addition of mainstream advertising at Formula One circuits, and he created the engineering know-how that made "downforce" and aerodynamics a reality and his technology a necessity.

He loved driving and he loved good drivers. He loathed the establishment.

"Accountants are the scorers of our industry," he once said. "They have nothing to do with playing the game."

Born on May 9, 1928, in a suburb of London, Chapman grew up living at the Railway Hotel in Hornsea where his father was the manager. From an early age it was obvious his mind ticked a little differently than most.

He learned to fly in university where he studied civil engineering and that knowledge of aerodynamics helped shape the design of his cars.

Chapman's plan was straightforward: He wanted to get into the business of building cars, perfect those cars and then sell them to others for profit. It was a simple plan.

At age 24, Chapman had already built the Mk1, a car assembled off a modified 1930 Austin Seven.

While working as an engineer for the British Aluminum Company, and with a loan of 25 pounds from his then-girlfriend (and future wife) Hazel Williams, he began the Lotus Engineering Company.

Why the name Lotus?

Chapman and his friends had worn themselves out building the car and they believed their exhaustive effort had the same effect as the smell of the lotus flower did to the senses.

With his partners Michael Allen and Frank Costin, Chapman started building copies of their race vehicles and enjoyed some success selling the Mk2 with prize money they earned racing the Mk1.

Chapman finally made enough to quit British Aluminum and began working full-time in a garage behind the family hotel building race cars and street cars.

He built a single-seat racer in 1956 which he ran in Formula 2 - the minor leagues of open-wheel racing - but his biggest breakthrough and his true moment to shine came in Formula One.

Working with legendary engineer John Cooper (of Mini Cooper fame), Chapman changed the way cars were driven, marketed and won in F1.

True to his philosophy in life, his cars were better because they were simpler.

His small and lightweight cars with their engines located behind the drivers were stars on the track, beating the front-engine Maseratis and Ferraris of the day because of their ability to handle a corner and maneuver through traffic with ease.

The first victory came in 1960 when Stirling Moss beat Ferrari. Many more victories followed.

With legendary driver Jim Clark behind the wheel, Team Lotus won its first F1 title in 1963 and didn't look back. Chapman's Lotus teams won seven Formula One titles before it was all done, a magnificent run of glory.

Between 1960 and 1982, Chapman's designs won 79 Grand Prix events.

He dominated F1, but also dominated the thinking behind the sport.

The Lotus 25 was the first monocoque unibody chassis in Formula One. He pioneered the use of struts in rear suspension, downforce in aerodynamics with front and rear wings and fiberglass in construction.

Chapman's team was also the first to introduce commercial sponsorship to F1, which he did at Monaco in 1968, turning the sport into a billionaire's business.

He stayed active throughout the 1970s, as his team rolled up victory after victory on the track.

On the commercial side, his Lotus Cars Company built thousands of affordable, sporty cars that still exist today.

But Chapman, the man, had other issues. Some questioned his business practices. Before his sudden death at age 54 in 1982, he was facing legal action connected to his role in John DeLorean's failed car company. He also went head-to-head with the establishment and sometimes lost politically.

There was much to like about Chapman, the charismatic salesman who turned a simple existence into a wealth of fortune and fun.

"You won't catch me driving a race car that I have built," he said once, in jest. "I have other things to do."

Simplicate. He did it best.

Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can drop him a line on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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