Lotus is looking for the first car its founder ever built. The Lotus Mark I, a trials special Colin Chapman built in a small garage in London in 1948, has been lost to history and the company has been trying to find it for ages. As Lotus is 70 this year, the first Lotus would be quite the icing on its birthday cake.

Colin Chapman constructed the first Lotus in a garage that belonged to his girlfriend's parents, at the age of 20. The car was reportedly an instant competition success, but Chapman's competitive spirit meant he soon started on the car's successor, the Mark II, and sold the Mark I in November 1950 for £135 after advertising it in Motor Sport magazine.

Both the Mark I and II were based on Austin 7 hardware, but the latter used different Ford engines while the Mark I retained an Austin 7 engine. Experiments with lightening the vehicle and developing a better suspension design were Lotus hallmarks from the very beginning, as the car needed to beat Britain's rough rally terrain and have enough grunt to climb hills. Lotus Engineering was set up in 1952, later spawning Team Lotus that started out in Formula 1 by the end of the 1950s — and the rest is history. But Lotus owes everything to the humble Mark I.

"The Mark I is the holy grail of Lotus' history," Clive Chapman, Colin's son explains. "It's the first time that my father was able to put his theories for improved performance into practice when designing and building a car. To locate this landmark Lotus, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary, would be a monumental achievement.

"We want fans to take this opportunity to look in every garage, shed, barn and lock up they're allowed to," added Chapman. "It's even possible that the Mark I was shipped from the UK, and we'd love to know if it survives in another country." This means the first Lotus could even reside in the United States, if it is still in one piece.

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