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Mortal X Machine: Colin Chapman (1928-1982)

The mortal:
Colin Chapman was an auto industry giant. Among many gifts, he was a talented driver, engineer and innovator. The accomplishments of his career is full of successes beyond comprehension.

Chapman cunningly adapted aeronautical processes and methods to build some of the most innovative cars on earth. He was an early adopter of the space frame chassis as well as composites. He strategically used this knowledge to propel his mantra of "simplify, then add lightness". He would not only produce space frame chassis cars, but would also bring groundbreaking concepts like the monocoque chassis and ground effect to the forefront of the industry.

Many automotive legends would work with Chapman including (but not limited to) Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Mario Andretti. His other professional relationships included those with John Z DeLorean and select OEMs. He even indirectly influenced Soichiro Honda with the Lotus Elite. The Elite happened to be Honda's favorite personal car for many years.

Obviously, it's impossible to separate the man from the machines and Chapman certainly doesn't disappoint. He was responsible for the Lotus 7 (continued as the Caterham 7), Lotus Esprit, dozens of race cars and developed the chassis design of the DeLorean DMC-12. To call Colin Chapman a legend of the auto industry is practically an understatement.


The machine:
The Lotus Elise was developed to uphold the virtues of the company's founder. It's likely that Chapman would be flattered by how his passions would propel a new generation of engineers and designers to create a vehicle that would continue his dream well into the 21st century.

The Elise had humble beginnings as the company's attempt to reignite the public's passion for attainable, mid-engined sports cars. With a featherweight, extruded aluminum chassis and outstanding power-to-weight ratio...the Elise certainly had many laws of physics in its favor. Few could predict that its success would enable the company to thrive and develop for years over two iterations. Obviously, the car wasn't created in a bubble and many associated the Elise with exacting handling and its unprecedented, mass-market method of chassis engineering. The industry certainly took notice.

The Elise was, and remains, essentially a hand-built vehicle. What separates the Lotus from other hand-built cars is the laser accurate nature of its chassis construction. The extruded aluminum frame is bonded together with tolerances much lower than the conventional, stamped steel cars popular at its release. It also featured a reliable power plant sourced from Toyota. However, its diminutive size would hide a potent performance package that could humble much more powerful and seemingly formidable competitors due to its remarkable power-to-weight ratio.

Significance
Colin Chapman built an automotive company from the ground up. However, his accomplishments as a mortal extend far beyond his earthly passion. He has inspired many with his unique innovations and point-of-view. Through his vision, others have been inspired to create and break boundaries even beyond the auto industry.




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