Festival of Speed


Black Beauty

In the world of Formula One, it seems one country in particular reigns supreme when it comes to fostering the ingenuity required to conquer the forces of nature and impel cars to travel faster than all others. At the very top of this illustrious tree sits a man who summed up the challenge and his philosophy thus :-

“Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”.

Over a period of thirty years plus he did more to shape the face of Formula One as we know it today than any other. Including Bernie Ecclestone.

That man was Colin Anthony Bruce Chapman. The founder of Lotus.

Colin Chapman

Through a constant series of brilliant innovations Colin Chapman revolutionised Formula One car design. From his use of monocoque chassis construction on the Lotus 25, to the wedge shaped Lotus 72 with outboard radiators and inboard brakes, and then the introduction of ground effects in the Lotus 78 and more successfully in the Lotus 79, he left other Formula One designers struggling to keep up and understand how he was able to engineer cars that were so dominant.

The Lotus 79 was by far and away the class act of 1978 season. In it the Lotus team developed the ground effect concept that had been introduced the previous season and honed it pretty much to perfection. The effect of the inverted wing shapes contained within the side pods was further enhanced by extending the rear bodywork and re positioning the rear suspension. The resultant leap in performance was so good that other planned improvements were put on hold.

“…the faster the car went, the greater the downforce and therefore the better the road holding.”

Ground effects had seriously come of age and with it the realisation that the faster the car went, the greater the downforce and therefore the better the road holding. With hindsight you don’t have to be a genius to see that Lotus had discovered a holy grail. Back then though it did take a genius, or at least a team of incredibly talented engineers, to realise the potential.

Mario Andretti

The Lotus 79 in the hands of Mario Andretti and his team mate Ronnie Peterson romped away, starting with pole and a race win in Belgium for Andretti. And so it continued with race wins only being gained by the competition when the Lotus’s failed to finish.

Indeed so fast was the car that according to Clive Chapman, son of Colin and head of Classic Team Lotus,

“…dad put extra petrol in the car so that the additional weight would slow it down!”

Or at least that was the hope…

But Formula One is populated by a world of fast learners. Whilst the Lotus 79 reigned supreme in 1978, the following year many other teams had caught on to ground effects and started to fight back. But the car had already made an indelible mark on the history of Formula One. And not only in terms of performance, but looks too. The sleek lines of the car seemed made for the distinctive black and gold JPS livery, hence the nickname “Black Beauty”. And even pictured here in the less than glamorous, but highly historic workshops of Classic Team Lotus, the 79 shines through.

Lotus 79

For many the Lotus 79 is regarded as the best looking F1 car ever. And we aren’t going to argue although we have to admit a bit of bias. You see the 79, and it’s predecessor, marked one of several significant landmarks in the partnership between Lotus and NGK spark plugs, as witnessed by the NGK logo proudly prominent on the Lotus F1 team cars of the era.

Lotus 79 NGK

In fact that partnership had started two years previously when NGK UK announced their first original equipment contract with Lotus cars on the then, (and still) show stopping Espirit.

That relationship still continues today as NGK are factory fitment on all of Lotus cars high performance ‘S’ series Elise, Exige and Evora road cars as well as in the new flagship Lotus Evora 400, the fastest road car the company has ever produced.

If you would like to see the Lotus 79 in the flesh, its next appearance will be in the NGK Pavilion at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. So be sure to pop in and feast your eyes on a piece of F1 history. You can even race it up the Goodwood hill, well at least its virtual equivalent, in our ‘Storm the hill” competition! And if you’re fast and furious enough, you might even walk away with a little bit of Lotus too!