The significance of Colin Chapman’s Marque Identity
Definition microcosm from the net
“A community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger”
This article is devoted to the Lotus badge /logo that Colin Chapman created for his marque in the early 1950’s. Lotus is one of the world’s most influential automobile marques.Its products and marque image are renown and indelible because of the ease in which they are recognized and represented.These qualities are born of :-
- Track performance and success in virtually every branch of international motor sport
- Engineering innovation, and application of art, science and first principles relating to weight etc.
- Performance and handling
- The aesthetic articulating form and function and Chapmans dedication to engineering elegance
- The Lotus badge insignia celebrating the creativity , rational and determination of the marque instigator – Colin Chapman ;bearing in mind only a small proportion of marques could so identify with their creators
The Lotus badge has been in existence for approximately 65 years .This is a remarkable achievement for a relatively low volume specialist car manufacturer operating in a difficult environment.
This longevity and continuity is a function of the factors stated above and that successive engineers have retained the Chapman design mantra and methodology.
A Lotus owner acquires with his/her car:-
- Significant heritage, continuity undiluted uncompromised dedication to engineering theoretical pure principles
- Evolving technology materials and assembly consistent with the core values extended and advanced consistent with new research but serving the primary objective
- A badge which in miniature is the microcosm and manifesto –a declaration of absolute engineering integrity and the adherence to absolute purity of concept and execution
- It remains a talisman for engineering designers in the pursuit of solutions in their purest form
It is an important concept and design that extends beyond Chapman /Lotus enthusiasts.
Company logos are of enormous commercial value and are defended.
When Colin Chapman created his he had ambition and considerable responsibility for something he expected to be enduring. It was not an easy task seeing that he entered automobile manufacture quite late on.
In this article we will explore the background and context to this iconic image, the sources of imagery and assess its significance.
Since the Lotus badge/logo is of such aesthetic and commercial value we have treated the subject in some depth. We hope in the process it will help others conceive and develop an equally important brand image of their own whatever their business interest.
This article is of interest to:-
- Commercial artists and designers
- Entrepreneurs forming and marketing their business
- Brand managers &PR, sales professionals
- Automobile historians
Quoted from the net:-
“It’s nice to believe that cars are purely about performance — that what matters is track times and vehicle specs, not superfluous details like the assembly of letters that make a name. But it’s not. The automotive world works on many levels, even those that can be the most superficial. Every car bears a name and every brand has a badge. And that name and badge make a difference.
Behind the creation and evolution of automotive emblems there’s often tradition, folklore and mystery. So we’ve compiled a bit of history on the most famous automotive emblems — from Alfa Romeo to Volvo. We can’t cover every car brand, but we can give you the skinny on the major names. True identification in the sea of cars on the road is what every automaker wants, so let’s shed some light on how identification is best achieved.”
Figure 1.The Lotus badge on a Lotus Mk.VI. Editor’s sketch
Nicholson writing in “Car Badges of the world” offers an interpretation:-
“the motor car has always carried its distingtive identity where the feudal knight bore his , proudly and prominently in front , where it could give friends comfort and rivals warning .if the focal point of the car has always been its radiator or grille , the centre of that is the badge……….this is the knight’s blazon where men look first………..the feudal analogies not as fanciful as it seems , real or bogus , is a fertile source of badge design [ Nicholson gives several examples ]…………the sources are legion .There are references to the makers other products [examples given] there is mythology for the deities ………symbolism ……….play on words , very personal allusion like Carlo Abarth’s scorpion which is his zodiacal sign , obvious sources like the ubiquitous wings or arrows ,symbolizing speed , or the makers initials ; and the very far from obvious –things which simply caught the manufacturers eye as an attractive emblem and those wrapped in mystery ………..Some sources are cruelly mixed in one badge , producing a horrible confusion ……….”
Nicholson wrote this about the Lotus badge:-
The Lotus sports and racing cars grew out of a “special” built for trials by Colin Chapman. From 1952 it appeared as an Austin –engined racing car and began to be offered for sale in kit form with Ford and other engines.the Lotus was also sold complete thereafter it progressed to the most sophisticated modern sports and racing car designs, though still offering kit cars as well. The derivation of the name has not been revealed, and the three –sided lozenge that surrounds it and the monogram may have been chosen simply as a convenient shape. The monogram is of Colin Chapman’s initials –A.C.B.C; for Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.”
Historical Conventions of Logo’s Badge imagery
Car marques have adopted badges as branding and as means of establishing identity.
This of course is function of communication. As the requirement for accurate and unambiguous communication and identity has existed since the dawn of mankind but particularly from the middle ages; this is a natural source of inspiration and provides many of the conventions adopted in badge design.
Some of the most important sources are:-
From the net:-
“A flag is a piece of fabric (most often rectangular or quadrilateral) with a distinctive design that is used as a symbol, as a signaling device, or as decoration. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed, and flags have since evolved into a general tool for rudimentary signalling and identification, especially in environments where communication is similarly challenging (such as the maritime environment where semaphore is used). National flags are potent patriotic symbols with varied wide-ranging interpretations, often including strong military associations due to their original and ongoing military uses. Flags are also used in messaging, advertising, or for other decorative purposes. The study of flags is known as vexillology, from the Latin word vexillum, meaning flag or banner.”
Monograms [from the net]
“Monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a cypher (e.g. a royal cypher) and is not a monogram.
Monograms first appeared on coins, as early as 350BC. The earliest known examples are of the names of Greek cities who issued the coins, often the first two letters of the city’s name. For example, the monogram of Achaea consisted of the letters alpha (Α) and chi (Χ) joined together.
Monograms have been used as signatures by artists and craftsmen on paintings, sculptures and pieces of furniture, especially when guilds enforced measures against unauthorized participation in the trade. A famous example of a monogram serving as an artist’s signature is the “AD” used by Albrecht Dürer.
Heraldry [from the net]
The origins of heraldry lie in the need to distinguish participants in combat when their faces were hidden by iron and steel helmets. Eventually a formal system of rules developed into ever more complex forms of heraldry.
Though the practice of heraldry is nearly 900 years old, it is still very much in use. Many cities and towns in Europe and around the world still make use of arms. Personal heraldry, both legally protected and lawfully assumed, has continued to be used around the world. Heraldic societies exist to promote education and understanding about the subject.
Badge [from the net]
A badge is a device or accessory, often containing the insignia of an organization, which is presented or displayed to indicate some feat of service, a special accomplishment, a symbol of authority granted by taking an oath (e.g., police and fire), a sign of legitimate employment or student status, or as a simple means of identification. They are also used in advertising, publicity, and for branding purposes. Police badges date back to medieval times when knights wore a coat of arms representing their allegiances and loyalty.
Badges can be made from metal, plastic, leather, textile, rubber, etc., and they are commonly attached to clothing, bags, footwear, vehicles, home electrical equipment, etc. Textile badges or patches can be either woven or embroidered, and can be attached by gluing, ironing-on, sewing or applique. Badges have become highly collectable: in the UK, for example, the Badge Collectors’ Circle has been in existence since 1980. In the military, badges are used to denote the unit or arm to which the wearer belongs, and also qualifications received through military training, rank, etc. Similarly, youth organizations such as scouting and guiding use them to show group membership, awards and rank.”
Some definitions / associations of badges:-
Trade Marks as Patents
It’s important to note that Chapman became a motor manufacturer fairly late on in the 20 century. Therefore there were established brands, logos and reputations.
The editors feel fairly certain that Colin Chapman knew of his conceptual and inventive prowess and that a brand name was important to commercialise these ideas.
The selection of his brand image therefore would take on a greater significance.
In registering a patent trademark it’s important to:-
- Not copy something in existence
- Achieve a recognizable distinction
- Create an image more indelible than competitors
As we note this was not easy for Chapman coming fairly late onto the scene.
- Most of the classical images were taken
- He had little by way /or did not desire medieval or heraldic reference
- The comparative field is restricted when we consider similar names / functions included :trucks/commercial vehicles, motorcycles, aeroplanes
- The desire to export meant a name must compete internationally and be universally acceptable to many cultures not causing offence
Two of the authors mentioned in the references give us a clue to the statistics and competition.
Nicholson describes 130 designs and Wendel provides images of neatly 800 examples from 400 automobile and truck manufacturers.
He makes this observation from his research:-
“one point stands out above all others in regard to this project the vast majority of automobile and truck makers never bothered to register their trademarks ………..we estimate less than 10% afforded themselves this protection”
We know that Chapman held patents and the editors contend that the name Lotus might have been a significant consideration for Chapman in this context.
Colin Chapman’s Lotus Logo
When considering the design of the Lotus marque badge subscribers ought to be aware that Chapman was placing this on his cars in the early 1950’s not long after the Second World War and when austerity was still inexistence. Demand for cars and competition were high .Chapman would have been aware of his main rivals brand image –these would include many prewar marques including Morgan ,Frazer Nash, Aston Martin, Bristol ,Bentley and exotic European marquees like Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati.
As in all periods of history there were cultural and etiquette norms in place .This era would have been more staid.
Chapman writing in the Lotus Story part 1 [Motor Racing, Nov .1954] commented
“The first car was basically an Austin Seven chassis and engine it was called Lotus too, but I am not going to tell you why………..I have been asked many times the origin of the name on my cars but that cannot be divulged for several years.”
Chapman was active in the 750 Motor Club whose badge we illustrate. His early entry and driving was in trials [see dedicated A&R articles to absorb the times]
In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s many owners built/designed their own cars for amateur competition. These cars were often listed as “Specials” prefaced by the owners surname. In the motorcycle world the term “Bitza” applied. Of course this was not ideal because:-
- By coincidence two competitors might share same name at same event causing confusion
- If Chapman sold cars and owners named them he would be robbed of credit and publicity
- A recognized name would garner publicity and generate sales and commence a beneficial spiral. The name Lotus rolled of the tongue and became a bye word easily identified and recognized.
If we take the word Lotus and look at definitions and proverbs involving this beautiful plant we might discover some of Chapman’s motivation in its selection. The Lotus is particularly symbolic in Eastern culture from Egypt to China and Japan. The editors list some of the qualities and proverbs associated:-
- An Eastern proverb alludes to the fact that the deeper the mud in which it’s rooted the better it grows. Obviously an appropriate association for the post was off road trials machine
- The Lotus is generally known for its purity
- The ancient Egyptians used the Lotus plant as a stimulant and for medicine .It was associated with a zest for life , imagination and an irrepressible life force
- Other definitions of the Lotus make reference to it inducing luxurious dream state of indolent enjoyment and meditation
These qualities are readily identified with Chapman particularly the conceptual element and imagination and sense of making possible.
Figure 2.These are variations of the badge. Note the geometry of the layout and Siamese formation of Chapman monogram
The Lotus marque badge has several small interpretations. The editors provide a drawing on some known examples.
The badge might be summarized as being:-
- Circular traditional brass construction with two fixing studs –BA threads
- The badge is slightly radiused and is therefore functional and sits better on curved surface –typical of front bonnet location
- The diameter is approximately 56mmmm and its only approx. 4mm high. It was therefore acceptably aerodynamic for the era
- The badge incorporates the monogram of Chapman including all the initials ACBC.
- The cam shape is adopted which has powerful engineering connotations
- The badge is enameled in contrasting colours of green and yellow. These reflect the national racing colours in force at the time. These two colours makes the most of contrast and distinction
The Lotus marque badge is aesthetically pleasing at various levels. It works well on unpainted aluminium bodies as was often the case with these built by Williams and Pritchard. It also works with painted surfaces as to owner specification and later standard production colours.
In his badge design Chapman communicated:-
- His name as expressed in initials /monogram this was alike a work of art or sculpture
- The name Lotus was given equal emphasis. This of course would engender publicity and distinguish his cars
- The totality of combined expression/message gave the brand iconography and stated in microcosm unequivocally and indelibly the values and DNA of the marque.
- This iconography is the equivalent of an emblem of authority. The declaration of confidence and timeless classicism augured for continuity and longevity.
The Lotus marque badge also remains attractive on Lotus derived cars and the modern generation. The timelessness is significant lending continuity and heritage and an essential correctness of the first conception.
On a Plate
Secondary to the marque badge, Chapman had the opportunity of marketing the brand with chassis plates. These were possibly informal in the early days for a variety of reasons. It was probably not thought cost effective in the early days to commission what probably required a minimum order.
Later of course as production increased and became mainstream both internal records for general accounting, servicing, warranties, insurance, taxation, exports, registration would demand more formal identification.
Lotus adopted a variety of styles and there was possibly variations .It’s easy to imagine that orders for chassis plates did not coincide with production demands and possibly difficulty in predicting demand .Changes of production location and separation of build i.e. between competent, customer race cars and production road cars possibly added to confusion and distribution.
Figure 3.Editors sketch of one type of Lotus chassis plate namely Tottenham Lane era
The chassis plate drawn by the editor is typically simple and direct. It would have been appropriate and adequate. Later plates contained more information and possibly became necessary when:-
- Customers ordered a car with specified features
- A wider range of engines were available having differing needs i.e. lubrication
- When more cars were exported and owners / service centres needed printed information
Enamel Techniques [from the net]
“Cloisonné is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects, in recent centuries using vitreous enamel, and in older periods also inlays of cut gemstones, glass, and other materials. The resulting objects can also be called cloisonné. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments (cloisons in French) to the metal object by soldering or adhering silver or gold wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays, which are often of several colors. Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.
First the object to be decorated is made or obtained; this will normally be made by different craftspeople. The metal usually used for making the body is copper, since it is cheap, light and easily hammered and stretched, but gold, silver or other metals may be used. Cloisonné wire is made from fine silver or fine gold and is usually about .010 x .040 inches in cross section. It is bent into shapes that define the colored areas. The bends are all done at right angles, so that the wire does not curve up. This is done with small pliers, tweezers, and custom-made jigs. The cloisonné wire pattern may consist of several intricately constructed wire patterns that fit together into a larger design. Solder can be used to join the wires, but this causes the enamel to discolour and form bubbles later on. Most existing Byzantine enamels have soldered cloisons, however the use of solder to adhere the cloison wires has fallen out of favor due to its difficulty, with the exception of some “purist contemporary enamellists” who create fine watch faces and high quality very expensive jewelry. Instead of soldering the cloisons to the base metal, the base metal is fired with a thin layer of clear enamel. The cloisonné wire is glued to the enamel surface with gum tragacanth. When the gum has dried, the piece is fired again to fuse the cloisonné wire to the clear enamel. The gum burns off, leaving no residue.
Vitreous enamels in the different colors are ground to fine powders in an agate or porcelain mortar and pestle, then washed to remove the impurities that would discolor the fired enamel. Each color of enamel is prepared this way before it is used and then mixed with a very dilute solution of gum tragacanth. The vitreous compound consists of silica nitre and lead oxide to which metallic oxide is added for coloring. Using fine spatulas, brushes or droppers, the enameler places the fine colored powder into each cloison. The piece is left to dry completely before firing, which is done by putting the article, with its enamel fillings, in a kiln. The enamel in the cloisons will sink down a lot after firing, due to melting and shrinkage of the granular nature of the glass powder, much as sugar melting in an oven. This process is repeated until all cloisons are filled to the top of the wire edge.
Three styles of cloisonné are most often seen: concave, convex, and flat. The finishing method determines this final appearance. With concave cloisonné the cloisons are not completely filled. Capillary action causes the enamel surface to curve up against the cloisonné wire when the enamel is molten, producing a concave appearance. Convex cloissoné is produced by overfilling each cloison, at the last firing. This gives each color area the appearance of slightly rounded mounds. Flat cloisonné is the most common. After all the cloisons are filled the enamel is ground down to a smooth surface with lapidary equipment, using the same techniques as are used for polishing cabochon stones. The top of the cloisonné wire is polished so it is flush with the enamel and has a bright lustre. Some cloisonné wire is electroplated with a thin film of gold, which will not tarnish as silver does.”
Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.
These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.
In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate [note the net images and logo listing are particularly helpful for these exercises]:-
- Off the top of your head draw your most memorable automobile badge, emblem or script
- Enumerate how many British specialist car marques have come into existence since Lotus. Draw their marque badge etc.
- Enumerate the places on Lotus cars and derivatives where badge has been placed
- List the merchandising opportunities that the Lotus badge has created
- Study modern Lotus sales brochure and relate the distinctive badge
- Identify some of the world’s most famous automobile marques and explain inspiration of the badge/logo
- Consider which imagery quickly dates , which is timeless
- Design an alternative Lotus badge compare with Chapman’s
- Study font style for image message and visual clarity and suitability for various functions
Exhibitions, Education and Economics
In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.
For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.
Many exhibition opportunities exist. The subject is extremely graphic and artistic. It blends history and iconography, tradition geography and science. Through these there are many learning opportunities accompanied by hands on learning /participation opportunities.
Britain has a wide selection of car marques including the specialist sector, there is the chance of comparison and evaluation. We consider some exhibition titles might include:-
- Badge Engineering
- History, Heritage and Heraldry
- Badge on the Bonnet
- Motto’s and Monograms: Modern mission’s statements?
- Brands ,Badges and Banners
The editors summarize five significant aspects and commercial value associated with Chapman’s brand image. These are:-
- It has defined the brand for over half a century and helped commercial success. Directly and indirectly it has probably also helped the Lotus consultancy
- It has made the British specialist marque known throughout the world ;promoted British engineering interests and been emblazoned in the world’s media for its success and achievements
- It has provided heritage, continuity, status through enduring originality and relevance.in most senses of the word Lotus have been sustainable.
- The Lotus brand image can be seen on its own as an aesthetic expression of successful communication. So correct in its conception it gains greater association with time. Many corporations live or die based on their corporate logo, some don’t get it right
- The Lotus logo conceived by Chapman is a true microcosm of engineering ideals and integrity. The editors believe this imagery was not conceived in a hurry or haphazardly. We believe that Chapman went to considerably trouble to ensure it was right. History does not inform us if he had others for comparison but it’s very likely he considered the sources we mention.
The Chapman legacy is profound. It is very much enshrined in is marque image.
We believe its inspiration will be value to all designers and those undertaking the responsibility of visually representing their organization.
Whether on the bonnet or in the lapel those that wear the Lotus badge can do so with pride. With profound understatement it expresses some of the greatest ideas and ideals achieved in automobile engineering.
Car Badges of the World.Nicholson.Cassell.1970.
American Automobile Trademarks1900-1960.Wendel.Motorbooks.1995
Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.
*Items in italics non A&R library books.