Classic Team Lotus
Chariots of the gods
Potash Lane, Hethel.
Not the most evocative address in the world is it? But trust us, appearances are indeed deceptive.
Drive deep into Norfolk, almost to the outskirts of Norwich. There, down little more than a country lane, next to the car plant whose manufacturer bears the same name, lies a group of, well let’s be brutal, sheds. Albeit brick built. Bomb proof we were told. Well back in the time which would be circa 1942.
Who would think that they were the home to one of the most famous race teams of all time, and now the home to which the cars return to be lovingly fettled? In some instances by the same men who originally tended to their every need and that of their driver.
Welcome to Classic Team Lotus. A petrolhead’s heaven and home to chariots of the gods.
Nestling across the road from the factory of Lotus Cars, this group of unassuming buildings is the base for an operation that is probably unique in the world of Formula One racing. In the nicest possible way it is almost frozen in time. But what times!
A petrolhead’s heaven and home to chariots of the gods.
In the sixties when the team moved up to Hethel, Lotus were going from strength to strength. First achieving success with the innovative Lotus 25, they won their first constructor’s title and driver’s title for the legendary Jim Clark in 1963. Two years later they then won another pair of titles in 1965 for Clark in the Lotus 33.
By the end of 1967, the DFV powered Lotus 49 had restored their position at the front of the grid. And the team was on the verge of another major step forward. This time it wasn’t engineering design but graphic design! Colin Chapman was about to paint his Lotus 49 cars in the colours of their major sponsor John Player Gold Leaf.
You can almost see the drivers now turning up at race shop at Potash Lane in 1968, their being caught somewhat off guard at the sight of their two cars, garishly adorned in white, red and gold paint job.
…adding to the sense of deja vu, is Graham Hill’s own Lotus 49.
Today, stand in the middle of that very same race shop of Classic Team Lotus and, with a very small leap of imagination, you are transported back to those halcyon days, albeit days tinged with great sadness, as later in that year Clark met his tragic death in Hockenheim.
And there in the corner, adding to the sense of deja vu, is Graham Hill’s own Lotus 49. In front is Jim’s Lotus 25 with its oh so distinctive red dash and steering wheel. Next to that Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus 79. Across the way is the Lotus Elite that was the aborted 1960 Le Mans entry. Over there is Nigel Mansell’s Lotus 81. Round the corner is Innes Ireland’s Lotus 23 and so it goes on and on. An almost priceless treasure trove of racing history.
Talking of which there’s also a living example working quietly away in the corner. Bob Dance.
Originally chief mechanic to Jim Clark in the 1960s, Bob now passes on his encyclopaedic knowledge of the cars in Classic Team Lotus’s care. At the tender age of 85 his memory too is a treasure trove of priceless information for his younger colleagues to delve into, many of whom have worked for the race team too, albeit somewhat more recently.
A museum this most definitely isn’t. And nor is it likely to become. As Clive Chapman, the boss of Classic Team Lotus and son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman explains, the owners are all keen racers of their precious keeps. Many circulating the tracks within seconds of the times set by their predecessors. And because they are Lotuses, still winning after all these years. So Classic Team Lotus will be kept busy for the foreseeable future, supporting their racer owners or attending events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
And the great thing is, that providing you don’t mind seeing these cars in a state of undress, you too can visit Classic Team Lotus by attending one of their heritage tours. Plus if you want full immersion in the Lotus experience you can combine it with a factory visit across the road.
It’s a Formula One pilgrimage well worth making and one we strongly recommend. Go and you’ll be walking in the shadows of giants. And who would have thought that could happen in Potash Lane?
Click here if you’d like to check out the details.