Design Decades 1948 -1959

Lotus: Design Decades: Inception 1948 -1959


This series has been created specifically by the A&R to explore how wider social and cultural events and design interacted. In particular it seeks to demonstrate the extent that Lotus designs influenced taste, fashion, identity and impacted on the world stage.
The additional purposes and opportunities are:

  1. Looking at realistic time frame show how the jigsaw and production/ income and competition success of Lotus varied
  2. Exploring the complex dynamics between design, society and manufacturing. Along the way we can analyse Colin Chapman as an entrepreneur manufacturer versus the engineer and motor sport strategist. [Team Owner]
  3. Not least the topic lends itself to exhibition where the many facets of the decade can be presented in context and interactively interpreted. This ought have considerable commercial opportunity for sponsorship

In future editions we will explore in turn the remaining decades of Colin Chapman and Lotus cars.

In this article we hope to capture some of the optimism, ambition, idealism, excitement scientific experimentation and growing consumerism of the era. In the process it is hoped that the material presented can be assembled for a future interactive exhibition. This ought to graphically and memorably illustrate the power and impact that gave Lotus such a lasting, enduring design code, methodology and mantra.
This article includes a timeline in order that the respect historical, cultural and technological influences and forces can be seen in their interactive context.

Of the series this must be the most important decade. Not least as it encompasses the birth of Lotus and that of Colin Chapman as an innovative British Industrial Designer. It also makes reference to WWII that became a battle of applied science. Chapman was perhaps the greatest exponent of applied science and the extrapolation of technologies along with being a developer of ideas and people.

This item in the series is not quite a “round” decade but it seemed like splitting hairs not to make it inclusive.

Science and Technology of World War II

WW II [1939-45] was conducted as much as economic and scientific as military campaign. There were technological races and issues of superior manufacturing, logistics and communications. These have to be understood as they would very much dictate the immediate post war period. The list is some of the more significant items

  • Weaponry
  • Logistics and support
  • Communications and intelligence: Radar, computers, decoding, electronics
  • Medicine and drugs
  • Industry: Industrial techniques, management, mass production, assembly and materials labour, skills – see below
  • Vehicles e.g. Jeep
  • Ships
  • Aircraft: jets, aerodynamics
  • Applied design: Ergonomics and wide screen developed for pilots combat simulation
  • Strategy and planning
  • Materials: synthetics, rubber, plastics, plywood, laminates, aluminum and lightweight metals, fibre glass, fuels, Formica
  • Ballistic and atomic weapons

In the design of weaponry often a crucial factor was weight, speed, maneuverability and materials availability. These could be decisive. When we examine the design approach of Colin Chapman it is evident how he was aware and alert to the fundamental principles and able to extrapolate then into racing car design and construction.

Broad Interpretation of the Decade- War and Society.

Without living through war its difficult to fully appreciate the sense of devastation, loss and change it forces onto society. It’s not easy to put into perspective or communicate to another generation the totality or the implications or magnitude of change. However we cannot understand the immediate post war period unless we try and comprehend some of the forces and how they were reacted to. Without this appreciation of events we can understand Colin Chapman and the achievements of Lotus. The war created:

  • Loss of life to a generation of men in the forces and many civilian casualties
  • Some restrictions of freedom, greater state planning and rationing
  • Loss of infrastructure and non-replacement due to war effort. Loss or transfer of manufacturing capacity
  • Changes in technology, employment practice
  • Gender roles in home and workplace
  • Changes in markets and taste
  • Requirement for readjustment in society and many levels not least within family
  • Changes in mindset provoked by the war and what ought be lessons and particularly the need for reconstruction and welfare
  • Undercurrent of tension and Cold War
  • The extremity of war tends to provoke pendulums that swing equally in other direction
  • Demographic change with births and emphasis of youth and resultant markets

The significance of youth on the economy, culture and design is worth reinforcing. Marsh sums up well
“After the horrors of world war II there was a growing emphasis on the young. In Britain free school milk and better health care and nutrition meant that children were bigger than ever before, and between 1946-1955 the infant death rate halved. Stronger and more numerous, children also became psychologically more important…………Dr.Spocks ………individual needs of each child……….The 1950’s saw the birth of the teenager and the widening of the generation gap. Young people became an independent force. Jobs and shorter working hours gave them money to spend and time to enjoy it. “

Of course this would impact on markets, culture taste and fashion and by necessity is an important aspect of the decade and our appreciation of Colin Chapman and Lotus.

Post War Britain was characterized by broad cultural trends. These embraced some of the following:

    • An optimism, idealism and anticipation to create a better world but tainted by the destruction and magnitude of the job ahead
    • A believe that designers could help and contribute to society through quality design
    • A believe in democracy, equality and free markets driven by consumer sovereignty and choice. Also that pleasant surroundings were to be achieved for the majority and reasonable cost.
    • An acceptance that the state might have a role in aspects of planning both economic and social e.g. creation of welfare state and reconstruction. This impacted on contracts available and the expansion of architecture and building of a variety of social institutions that tended to be much larger than prewar. Examples are the public sector, hospitals, schools, universities, utilities airports and the railway.
    • New technology and the emergence of technocrats and complex societal issues of status and role
    • A need for joy, excitement, colour. Choice, freedom of expression, glamour as a replacement for the drab, dreary war time controls, restrictions and rationing.
    • A return to normality placed priority on the family, home and home products. This of course in time generated the baby boom and very quickly the youth market, which determined the late fifties and sixties, “Life-style” issues took on great importance and America was to be considerable influence, as we shall discuss.
    • A requirement for liberty and freedom of movement that in particular found complex expression and functionality in the car. It was also an early adjustment and impact of changing technology, work practice and industry location [nb British New Towns] and early move towards commuting. This was very evident in America but also in Britain and Europe and we shall examine in depth how Colin Chapman and Lotus made a significant contribution. The 1950’s also witnessed the rediscovery of the British landscape and regional variations. Touring and car ownership were linked.
    • Changing attitudes in the British Empire and Colonies that would commence structural change in the British economy and perhaps encourage realignment towards Europe.
    • An early resumption of sport and competition. This in part was an expression of freedom, democracy and equality. The London Olympics of 1948 was hence an important expression of values and liberties. However the British interest in motor sport would be quickly revived and Chapman and Lotus would soon dominate through innovation and traditional improvisation.
    • An interesting dialectic resulted between technology, consumption, time liberating household appliances and leisure. Initially these may increase household income and standard of living but there is some evidence too that additional labour supply has resulted in diluted wages. During the late fifties continental package holidays with related jet aircraft became a reality. Supermarkets also made a contribution and brand competition resulted in style and design of packaging.
    • Towards the end of the decade homeownership might become possible for those on guaranteed income and perhaps the skilled and ambitious craftsman. Possibly the trend also came from America. There was certainly a market for DIY and self build housing and improvements, this too might reflect a certain lack of over the counter products or alternatively an extension of wartime necessity.

Home-style and Lifestyle –Form and Function – Welfare and Mass Production

Marsh provides a well assessed pertinent observation and generalization of the era based on fact:
“After WWII there was a pressing need to house newly married couples, families who had been bombed out and those still living in slums………As towns and apartments were built around the world manufacturers catered for the new often smaller post war home. Furniture became lighter and moveable, chairs stacked, sofas folded out into beds… The television became the focal point of the living room. Labour saving devices replaced servants in the kitchen. After dull and drab wartime furnishing lust for colour and patterns expressed it self………designers experimented with the latest technology to creative innovative forms: chairs floated on spidery metal legs, table tops were shaped like amoebae, and lights looked like flying saucers…”

We have noted the relationship between lifestyle and mass production. Product names such as Formica, Ewbank, Prestcold, NewWorld, Addis and English Electric, Pye were all making significant contributions and each became more heavily dependant on design.

The other major consumer goods were TV’s, refrigerators and music systems. It has been suggested that between 1951 and 1961 car ownership increased by 250% and average weekly wages by 34%

During the fifties two strong markets emerged to which designers responded. The family and home became more informal. This might have been an interactive function of societal change but also small more economic family accommodation. As populations grew dramatically so did furnishing requirements particularly for newly weds.
At the other end of the scale the welfare state was being born along with corporate expansion. Size, volume and economy of scale and mass production / consumption/ delivery drove considerations not only in architecture but service and designers by necessity would need to conceive products for mass manufacture and benefit from the major government contacts on offer.

Affluence and greater sophistication evolved together and shaped the designers environment. Some observers comment that affluence transforms consumption into life style choices.

An unfortunate side effect of increased disposable income was that mass production also generated a lot of kitsch in this period. Poor taste was evident in many commodities and was very evident in excessive of styling in the motorcar.

Price Relativity and Comparison

Year Marque Model Price


Land Rover £450


Citroen 2CV £564


Citroen DS £1726


Austin Mini £497

In 1951 the following estimated prices applied:

Petrol 3/4d gallon [3.5p litre]
Large white loaf 6d[2.5p]
Seaside hotel [1 week] £6/6/0d[£6.30]
Semi detached house £1450
Pint of Beer 1/3d[6.25p]
Average weekly wage for full time workers
Men: £8/6/0[£8.30]
Women: £4/9/10d[££4.49]
50 cigarettes 2/3d[11.25p]

Major Social, Technical Cultural Events and Design Icons of the Decade.

The following bullet list provides an “at a glance” overview and analysis of the major events of the period in question. These might be better appreciated within the context of the observations relating to the war, its technologies and consequences.


  • Us congress passes Marshall Aid bill
  • Austerity Olympics, London, UK
  • British Railway nationalized
  • M. Gandhi assassinated
  • US tests new type of atom bomb
  • Jackson Pollock’s Composition No.9
  • Invention of transistor
  • F.M.Rogallo – prototype delta wing aircraft
  • E.H.Land introduces Polaroid 95
  • Cisitiala 202 designed by Pininfarina
  • R.Buckminster Fuller- geodesic domes


  • Peter and Alison Smithson – Brutalism Architecture, UK
  • Jean Prouve designs prefabricated house in France
  • George Orwell.”1984”
  • Clothes ration ends
  • Comet’s first flight
  • UK pound devalued
  • Mao forms Republic of China
  • Einstein’s theory of Relativity
  • Carol reed’s film “The Third Man”


  • End of petrol and soap rationing
  • First kidney transplant .USA
  • Outbreak of Korean War
  • Diners Club first credit card, by Scheider?
  • ICI launch Terylene
  • Atlee forms Labour government in UK
  • Salvador Dali’s painting “ The Madonna of Port lligat


  • Festival of Britain
  • British films” The Dam Busters and the Cruel Sea”
  • Fangio won first of five Drivers Championships
  • Jaguar won at Le Mans
  • First International Congress on Industrial Design.London.UK
  • First commercial computers
  • Vickers Valliant jet bomber makes maiden flight and Hawker Hunter aircraft, UK
  • Braun electric razor
  • Arne Jacobson “Ant Chair”
  • “Lady Chair” by Marco Zanuso for Airflex [Pirelli]
  • John Huston’s film” African Queen”
  • R.Loewy publishes “Never Leave Well Enough Done”


  • Britain tests first atomic bomb
  • Worlds first jet airline service- London to Johannesburg
  • De Havilland 110 jet breaks sound barrier
  • Contraceptive pill manufactured
  • Radio- carbon dating
  • “Diamond Chair” by Bertoia
  • Ernest Hemmingway “The Old man and the Sea”


  • Dylan Thomas ‘s “Under Milkwood”
  • Coronation of Queen.UK
  • Everest conquered
  • Colour TV demonstrated in USA
  • Samsonite suitcase
  • IBM 701 computer
  • Boeing 707
  • DNA molecular structure discovered
  • Stalin dies and Khrushchev appointed
  • Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale
  • Comet crash


  • Food rationing ends. UK
  • K.Amis”Lucky Jim”
  • First fibre-glass bodied car – Chevrolet –USA
  • Nautilus First nuclear submarine. US
  • DNA
  • Roger Banister record breaking
  • Maiden flight of Boeing 707
  • Elia Kazan’s film “ On the Water Front”
  • “Flying bedstead” UK testing vertical take off with Rolls Royce engines
  • Osvaldo Borsani “P40” chaise longue for Tecno


  • Beatnik movement and Teddy boys.
  • Le Mans car crash
  • Donald Campbell breaks water speed record
  • Ruth Ellis hanged for murder in UK
  • T.Williams play ”Cat on a hot tin roof”
  • Commercial TV launched, UK
  • Fibre optics invented, UK
  • Hans Gugelot introduces new Braun design
  • First McDonalds restaurant, US


  • Mary Quant opens first shop, UK
  • Atomic Power Station, Calder Hall.UK
  • Suez War
  • John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger”
  • Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture “Orpheus”
  • Elvis
  • First video recorder manufactured
  • Eero Saarinen’s furniture design for Knoll
  • Charles Eames – chair design
  • Jorn Utzon and Ove Arup design for Sydney opera House
  • Lionel Schein experimental plastic house
  • Premium bonds launched in UK


  • Treaty of Rome, start of the EEC
  • Ghana becomes independent
  • Britain explodes first H bomb
  • USSR launches space satellite/Sputnik
  • David Lean’s film” Bridge over the river Kwai
  • Harold Macmillan becomes PM, UK
  • Jodrell Bank telescope
  • Sony Markey first pocket size transistor radio
  • R.Loewy contributes to design of Alouette helicopter


  • CND movement
  • First IKEA shop
  • Hovercraft .UK
  • Boeing 707
  • Invention of micro wave
  • Race riots in London.UK
  • Manned space flight test
  • Gould invents laser
  • Pacemaker invented


  • Mini launched. UK
  • Fiat 500
  • Henry Moore
  • First section of M1 completed. UK
  • Frank Lloyd Wrights building; Guggenheim Art museum
  • Revolution in Cuba
  • Tony Richardson’s film” Look Back in Anger”
  • Hovercraft makes maiden voyage

Contemporary Post War Design

Post war design was exciting and cosmopolitan. It was also complex in that it contained expectations, some social responsibility and an increasing role of supporting industrial manufacturing/ consumption and associated democracy. Some facets of post war design included;

  • A cosmopolitan character with strong influences from America, Britain, Italy, Scandinavia and France.
  • Many designers still held to the European and Modernist agenda of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier traditions with its social responsibility ethic but modified to express greater choice, personality and humanism
  • A new market place with a strong influence towards the youth market, home and related products and an associated urgency
  • Addressing and overcoming materials shortages and using new materials like plastics and synthetics
  • Making designs compatible with mass production.

There was considerable urgency for reconstruction and industrial expansion allied to consumption. It was not easy with aspects of rationing remaining. Many observers noted it was not an auspicious start.
Britain might have been slower to move on. There might have been a greater conservatism. If this was related to home design. There were conflicts. Whereas possibly in America and Europe with more / cheaper land availability larger open plan design was compatible with modernism

In the fifties the most successful designers were feted as celebrities. The Eames in America and the Day’s in Britain were the model of progressive contemporary modernity.

Some of the most significant designers of the period are:

  • American: Harley Earl, Charles and Ray Eames, Eliot Noyes, Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, George Nelson Russel Wright, George Nelson
  • British: FRS Yorke, Berthold Lubetkin, Serge Chermayeff, Wells Coates, Jack Pritchard [ISOKON], Ernest Race, Robin and Lucienne Day, Douglas Scott, Terence Conran, Malcolm Sayer, Alec Issogonis, Frank Costin, Robert Welch, David Mellor, Enid Seeney, Roy Midwinter, Misha Black, Brian Lister, Sir Sydney Camm, Ronald Bishop. [In future articles we will explore these in more detail. There are existing A&R articles on Car and Industrial Designers
  • Italian: Pininfarina, Marco Zanuso, Marcello Nizzoli, Carlo Mollino, Enzo Ferrari, Gio Ponti, Osvaldo Bosani, Dante Giacosa, Coradino d’Ascani
  • Scandinavian: Arne Jacobson, Hans Wegner, Eero Saarinen, Verner Panton [much work designed in Italy] Tapio Wirkkala, Kaj Fran
  • French: P.Boulanger &F.Bertoni [Citroen DS19] Jean Prouve, Christian Dior
  • Japan: Sony Corporation
  • Germany: Dieter Rams, Hans Gugelot

Many of the designers took philosophical inspiration from and were required to adapt to: –

  • The Modernist and Bauhaus school of social responsibility [i.e. modern high quality objects available to wide social circle]; but post war they were to humanize design and an “organic” motif was preferred. This school saw them selves as problem solvers and adding value to products through quality design. [In particular the better functioning an object was the longer its life and the quality of like it would deliver to its owner]
  • To identify social progress and democracy with production and free markets. Contemporary with this was reconstruction, economic, political, cultural rebirth. Growth with stability were priorities. Others considered that designers would serve society by creating new products.
  • Synthesize and deploy Wartime technologies production and newly created materials in mass production to satisfy the new mass private and public market place.
  • To consider mass production and volume in relation to exports and in part an International style consistent with mass production

Design motif of the era tended to be light, organic, often abstract, expressive colour and playful on surface patterns. Bold shapes, bright colours, brave patterns, exuberant and extravagant with a hint of whimsy and occasionally flippant – perhaps the reaction against the war we have noted. Some observers have suggested the 1950’s design was characterized by a neo-functionalism. The era was heavily influenced by technology and the atom emerged as design motif and was incorporated in many products.

The new materials that emerged have been enumerated above. Most had demonstrated their capacity for mass production in the machinery of war. The designer’s role was to borrow and extrapolate this into peacetime requirements. This was fundamentally homes, offices, welfare institutions education and cars. For example laminated timber and plywood had been used in the Mosquito this could be adapted for chairs. Aluminum had been a primary metal in aircraft construction and this too was ideal for casting and furniture on mass production scale.

But there was also a more anonymous range that perhaps appealed to customers who aspired but could not afford designer pieces and Ercol [e.g. reputed to have contracted to produce 100,000 chairs in 1944] and G Plan may have catered for this market in Britain. They used timber in the Contemporary style. Their designs looked and felt light and were intended to be interchangeable and compatible with new lifestyle which it self adapted to new smaller accommodation and “service” employment

In order to help galvanize recovery, production and democracy many of the leading nations held exhibitions of Industrial Design. The editor believes that the American example is very powerful and significant. Eliot Noyes as curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York arranged a competition and exhibition which promoted good design. Examples are “Low cost Furniture Design” and “Organic Design in Home Furnishing”. Italy held the Milan Triennales and Britain kick started post war recovery with “Britain Can make It “ 1948 and in quick succession The Festival of Britain 1951.



During the War there was perhaps a growing awareness that Britain’s World position, its Empire and socio-economic base would need change and updating. Victorian infrastructure was approximately 100 years old and in need of upgrading .In 1941 Picture Post recommended a “Plan for Britain” this was soon followed by the Beveridge Report. In 1944 Hugh Dalton at the board of Trade set up the Council of Industrial Design. The first chairman was Sir Thomas Barlow. The purpose of the Council was “to promote by all practical means the improvement of design in the products of British Industry.”

One of the first opportunities to mark a return to peacetime production was the major exhibition of consumer goods; “Britain Can Make It” in 1946. The purpose and objective was:

  • Demonstrate to the world the quality of British design,
  • Raise morale and perhaps influence taste and market design. An organisation called Mass Observation had an important role in conducting what is now known as market research or to evaluate public taste.
  • Arouse interest in design [this might have been a very complex motive perhaps some realizing the world not be the same again]
  • There may have also been undertones and agenda towards the

Imperative to export, mass production allied to mass consumption, international competition, levels of capital investment and a bolster to free market with democracy.

  • Make the best of enforced scarcity.

The exhibition was a success a displayed approximately 5000 assorted items. Included were:

  • A super streamlined cycle by Allen/Ben? Bowden
  • The “Future Taxicab” by Milner Gray.
  • The “Wingsail Catamaran” by Wells Coates.
  • Light weight portable sowing machine by FHK Henrion &JW Woods
  • Interplanetary spaceship

It’s believed that 1,432546 visitors attended.
There was a circular route and some of the now famous war time “commandments were present in themes of “War to Peace, “Dig For Victory” and “Make Do and Mend”. A central feature was women’s fashion and to promote this was a complex revolving stage 25feet high.
Gordon Russell and Utility Furniture were also given prominence.
Space was devoted to:

  • Great British Designers
  • The Council of Industrial Design
  • What Industrial Design Means
  • The Designer Looks Ahead. [Anticipating projects 5-25 years ahead.]

Mass Observation analysis deducted that the main interest had been furnished rooms, women’s fashion and fabrics and furniture.

Individually Ernest Race made a considerable impact with his Race Cast Aluminum Chair BA/3.
“Britain Can Make It” succeeded in planting new ideas.

“Britain Can Make It” was followed and reinforced five years later with the Festival of Britain [see A&R article].

Britain was still struggling rationing still existed but there were more positive signs of recovery.

Of the 1951 Festival of Britain it was hoped would promote a spirit of optimism and act as a catalyst. It was to be a bright space age funfair cum expo.

In fact it was a considerable success. 8.5 million people are believed to have attended paying 4 shillings entry and 15% of visitors were foreign tourists. It was a considerable achievement in difficult times.

It was extremely popular and offered frivolity, freedom, whimsy, a sense of humour, freedom of expression, gaiety, excitement and steel bands from the West Indies. The Festival and the accompanying fun fair at Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea Park were extremely romantic when lit at night and accompanied by couples dancing [Dance Pavilion and people had a choice of food to eat at the Crescent Restaurant etc]

The exhibition was a Universal International Exhibition held in London. Its objective was to demonstrate to the world the UK recovery from the effects of war, morale cultural, spiritual and in material fields.
This was approached by examining themes:

  • Britain’s contribution to Civilization; past present future in arts science, technology and industrial design.
  • Land of Britain
  • People of Britain
  • Britain’s contribution to discovery.

These were addressed and displayed with Festival ship, Land Traveling Exhibition and an Exhibition of Industrial Power.

The Exhibition site on the Southbank featured the:

  • Royal Festival Hall
  • Lion and Unicorn Pavilion
  • Dome of Discovery [designed by Ralph Tubbs]. At the time the largest dome in existence.
  • Skylon [300 feet landmark and futuristic sculpture]
  • Power and Production Pavilion
  • Transport Pavilion
  • Sea and Ships Pavilion

In fact it was very inclusive and affectionately recorded “from lipstick to locomotives”

A hardback book accompanied the exhibition and was titled “Design in the Festival”

For many of the design professionals the Festival was the Brave New World and a significant turning point. Wartime destruction would need to be made good and there was a mood demanding social change. For many science, engineering, technology, scientific management and skills of wartime planning were required for reconstruction. The social housing estate in Popular, East London that accompanied the exhibition was to be a model and blue print. For all the idealism and social momentum many of our current problems might have been sown in the attempts to rebuild too quickly.

Critical Examination of Post War Designers

The editor considers this to be an important exercise, as textbooks have tended to ignore the achievements of Chapman and his colleagues who helped establish Lotus.
Through careful analysis and benchmarking its hoped to establish that Chapman was truly in the vanguard.

We have noted the imperatives that defined the merging society and its requirements. The best designers were often those able to extrapolate technologies. Many believed in scientific optimism and the harnessing of science for societal advancement.
Some of the best design emerged in America and Italy particularly relating to consumer goods. Charles and Ray Eames were influential in furniture, interior design and corporate style. Eliot Noyes was design consultant and designed for IBM but perhaps most significantly promoted the best design practice through the M.o.M.A. Here was the potential for International designers to establish their credentials to receptive audience.
Raymond Lowey and Henry Dreyfuss made significant contributions not just in increased sales but also in thoughtful and objective analysis of requirements as illustrated in “Designing for People” Russel Wright was fellow American designer and author who with his wife published “A Guide to modern Living” and designed consumer goods for mass production in new materials. George Nelson designed some of the more iconic pieces of the decade. America post war is renowned for its motorcar production and through these means of transport impacted on world culture of the 20 c.
Post War Italy produced some excellent gifted and inspired industrial designers. These were often engineer/ architect- designers. Examples are Marco Zanuso; Osvaldo Bosani [P40 chair for Tecno, c 1954] Gio Ponti was an author and journalist who promoted good design in magazine “Domus”. One of the most incredulous designers was Carlo Mollino whose range and style were enormous as it was distinctive, original and idiosyncratic ranging as did over fashion, film, furniture, cars and photography. Marcello Nizzoli is another world-renowned industrial designer possibly most noted for his typewriters and sewing machines [he may have been assisted by other engineers].

Italy’s engineers in motoring and coach building were the vanguard. Particularly Pininfarina whos Cisitalia coupe was recognized as piece of sculpture [again reference MoMA] and whos concept of enclosure, lightness and aerodynamics would influence and direct car body design until the advent of he mid rear engine.

Post War Scandinavian design was influential and continued a tradition of refined design of organic humanist appearance [particularly in furniture, glass and ceramics. Arne Jacobson is famous particularly for furniture [Ant and Swan chairs] Hans Wegner continued the momentum of working in pressure formed plywood and designed many influential pieces of furniture through the 1950’s. Amongst the other design leaders were Kaj Frank, Tapio Wirkkala and Verner Panton [who might have gravitated to Italy [in this period] is noted for his Cone chair. Eero Saarinen relocated to America and his range of “Tulip” furniture captures the spirit of the era. Scandinavia also produced the aeronautically and advanced Saab.

Germany post war is attributed with a design rooted in a scientific -rationalist aesthetic of high-tech products. Some critics have defined this as neo-functionalism. The designers Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot are identified with a design echoing a visual minimalism and reinforcing the technical virtuosity of the product many of which were for Braun. Germany too was world leader in automotive design. The early to mid decade was shaped by Mercedes –Benz and of which its 300 SL coupe has become one of the most distinctive, technically advanced and admired designs of the 1950’s.

We cannot overlook the contribution of France. In the Post War period they embraced industrial design. Furniture is perhaps less well known but Jean Prouve was a versatile and competent designer for whom the A&R editors have considerable respect. Much of his furniture design was borrowed from good practice in the motor and aviation industries. He also committed to prefabricated houses that were also attempted in Britain and America with various degrees of success. Dior ok course needs little introduction here [covered in paragraph devoted to fashion below]. Citroen produced some revolutionary cars in the decade. Both the 2CV and the DS are almost polarized but each has carved a reputation that remains today. The 2CV ranks amongst the Morris Minor, the Mini, the Fiat 500 and the Beetle for its utility and functional correctness. The editor has always thought that the 2CV is somehow indebted to a Bauhaus tradition of functionality and rigid simplicity. Of course the DS needs little explanation of its breathtaking aesthetic and specification. Sixty years after its launch it still shapes and remains high in recognition and respect.

An objective assessment of Post War design cannot overlook Japan. From devastation she was to become one of the greatest manufactures of quality products. Although he motor car was not is primary product during the fifties it contributed significantly to consumer products such as radios. Japanese design is renown for technical excellence, efficiency, rationality, originality and beauty. In fact a certain aesthetic minimalism.

British Designers

British post war design is sometimes thought of as traditional conservative and tinged with certain amateurism. There may be a small element of truth in this. There are explanations and also contradictions.
Britain had fought two World Wars within the first half of the 20c. It was also in the 1950’s at the late stage of its Industrial Revolution. The restrictions of land space and property ownership rights impacting on price determined much along with a history of democracy and freedoms. Through much of the decade British designers took inspiration from America and Europe.
Against this background emerged urgency for design and manufacture balanced with a commitment to social welfare. Britain had a heritage of industrial Designers not least in civil and transport engineering but in craft furniture too. We have noted that early after the War the Council for Industrial Design was established. This along with two major exhibitions [see above strove to publish best proactive provide and agenda and galvanize deign for mass production.

Gordon Russell had remarked philosophically that design was omnipresent in a civilized society. From the late 1950’s The Design Centre at the Haymarket would award the best designs formal recognition.

Several notable British designers emerged. Some of these would become minor celebrities as we have noted in America. In the post war period design became something of a cult.
Ernest Race was foremost a furniture designer who had an engineering/ architectural background. He owned his own company. From just after the war his BA chairs had used aluminum. His “Antelope” chairs were designed for the Fob and complemented the architecture. They bear all the evidence of practicality, reflecting manufacturing capacity whilst being modern i.e. they were highly a realistic concept to execute. [Steel rod and foam] Race translated the technological breakthrough of WWII into new furniture style to suit he contemporary mood. His Neptune chair of 1953 for P&O was a real statement.
Robin and Lucienne Day were young talented and ambitious. With Latimer they had won a prize at the MoMA and they would take this momentum to make them the leading designers of the 1950’s. They were very much the Style –Leaders’ of the new life-style vogue. Their work and design tended to radiate optimism and youth. Hille manufactured many of their designs. A typical example is the Hillestack chair of 1950. This couple embraced modernism in service of social ideals. Robin Day during his early career would be awarded several Design Council Awards. They were realists in the market place and were attuned to the social welfare reconstruction plans, large government contacts and the opportunity for mass production this would permit.

Wells Coates is perhaps more thought of as a designer of the 1930; s and with recognition for the Ekco “AD 65” radio. However he was in the forefront of technology and designed the “Telekinema” for the FoB and a recording studio for the BBC. He was talented and versatile. One of his designs was for a catamaran. It’s believed later in his career he was a consultant to de Havilland and BOAC.

Sir Terence Conran commenced his design career in the 1950’s. He designed plates and furniture and later in the decade would support Mary Quant. Douglas Scott assisted by other engineers contributed the Route Master in 1953.He would continue to provide innovative solutions into the next decade.

Misha Black is another major contributor to design in the 1950’s. He formed Design Research Unit [DRU] with Milner Gray. He went on to become Professor of Industrial Design at the Royal college of Art. He did much to break down the barriers between design and engineering in education and we owe him a debt.

We noted that British design contained some polarization. British engineers and scientists were the vanguard in some disciplines. Examples are aeronautics, the Hovercraft and in many respects automobiles.

Mason suggests: –
“ When the Second world War ended…….. Great Britain emerged …..The third most powerful nation on earth………In the field of technology – other than the application of nuclear physics to warfare –Britain still led the world, particularly in aeronautical science. Evidence………in the development of the gas turbine and its associated advanced metallurgy……….Already she was preparing plans for jet –powered commercial air travel –plans that would mature one day in the magnificent Comet”

Some of the greatest designs such as the Hawker Hunter were designed by Sir Sydney Carr and Ronald Bishop [Comet] and a host of gifted engineers at de Havilland. The V bombers were another British tour de force

In our time line we record the emergence of the jet and its application to both military and civil applications. De Havilland embraced both. Many of these talented designers would gravitate towards Chapman and Lotus where they would be received and given rein to develop ideas. E.g. Frank Costin, The civil aviation expansion was a very democratic progression and it allowed for affordable mass holidays on the continent. The British would return with a greater cultural awareness and perhaps an appreciation of the best continental culture, aesthetics and modern design.

Britain had a long and distinguished motor racing tradition. Pre War this was partly as a result of Brooklands where this might have placed a greater emphasis on speed and power. Post war a new regime and competition culture would result. Competition was soon resumed not least at club level. The 750 Motor Club would play a very significant role not least democratizing the sport, making it affordable and perhaps creating diversification and competition in the wake.
Alongside this the British had competed at Le Mans. In the immediate post war Jaguar with their XK120 made a revolutionary design that was essentially affordable. It would also be exported. Jaguar continued and reinforced sales by their success at Le Mans. This was achieved as a result of the C Type and the D type. Both cars employing advanced aerodynamic design, reliability and the innovation of disc brakes. The D type also incorporated the aircraft construction partial monococque construction. Sir William Lyons sponsored these designs and his engineer craftsmen executed them. Malcolm Sayer made significant contributions to aerodynamic body design. Amongst the larger engine sports / sports racing cars of distinction in the 1950’s are Lister, Aston Martin and Bristol.

The 1950’s were an exiting time in motor sport where amateurism very quickly evolved into professionalism. Cooper, Mallock, Kieft, Elva, Ginetta and Lola are amongst some of those names that would rise to international stardom from a localized British club base.
However of all these small concerns Colin Chapman Lotus would emerge as possibly the most dominant and technologically driven / indebted of marques. We now need to examine Chapman in greater depth to prove that he was amongst the foremost industrial designers of the epoch.

We can commence the exercise by quick examination of the peers. When assessing other manufactures it is useful to take into consideration the following:

  • Whether the company was a large manufacturing corporation [perhaps with pre-war history]
  • Whether it received state backing formal or informal i.e. subsidy
  • Did they produce salon cars or diversify into other manufacturing that might have been able to cross subsidize their sports cars or racing programme
  • What their racing and development budget was

International Car Comparisons 1948-1959

Car comparisons 1948-1959







AM DB1 MG TC AM DB2 PegasoZ102 Allard J2X A.C.Ace
Riley RMC Healey Silv’ Alvis TB 21 Allard J2 Cunn’ C-4R Austin H 100
Citroen 2CV Bristol 401 F Nash MM Jaguar C Austin A30 Bristol 404
Cisitalia Buckler Lea F Sports Singer SM Fiat 8V M.G.TF
Land Rover Dellow Mk.I Jowett J Turner Sport Vauxhall W’ Sunbeam A
Ferrari 166 Fiat 500C Morgan+4 Triumph TR2
Morris Minor Ford E93A Porsche 356 A-R B.A.T
Triumph18TR Hillman Minx F-Nash LM’ M-B 300SLR
HRG 1500 Jaguar XK120 Lancia A ‘GT
Allard KI Morgan 4/4 Arnolt-Brist’
Aston M DBI A-R Disco-V
Frazer Nash
Standard V’
VW 1100 std
Wolesley 12







Jensen 541 M.G.A BMW 507 JaguarXk150 Elva Courier A.H. 3000
Swallow D Morgan 4/4 Berkley B60 Jaguar XKSS AM DB4 Daimler SP
Dodge Fair’ Triumph TR3 Fairthorpe E Abarth 750 A.H.Sprite Ferrari 250
Kaiser Cooper Bob’ Lister-Jaguar TVR Gant’ Morris Mini
A-R Giuli’ Sp Fiat Multi’ Chev’Corv. Cadillac Cyc”
Lancia A B24 Citroen DS AlfaR 2000 Jaguar MkII
M-B 300SL Lancia B24 Britannia GT Gilbern GT
Jaguar D Sunb’ MkIII Mas’350GT
Ford 100E Tornado T’
Kieft 1100
Rover 90

*Dates are taken from various sources and there may be small inaccuracies but they are felt to be generally accurate and reflective.

Lotus Models and Production 1948-1959

Lotus models 1948-1959
Year Models Year of Introduction.














Mk.IX Mk.X




Seven Mk.XII Elite




Estimated Total Production in period- 1099
Figures extracted and extrapolated from “The Lotus Book”

Colin Chapman and Lotus’s Contribution

This article has set out the major determinates of the era.
Colin Chapman, his peers and helpers more than most were in the spirit of their time and the vanguard of technological driven motor sport. They delivered.
Within a brief ten years they had risen from backyard amateur trials competitor to International Motor-sport dominating national club level sport on the way.
From modest beginnings with minimum of capital or plant they innovated, improvised and extrapolated technology in a free thinking scientific methodical approach.

  1. Build and raced a succession of brilliantly engineered cars; including the revolutionary tour de force of the Elite [which Bridget Bishop captured in photographs *
  2. They won National and International Competition including Le Mans [i.e. at group category]
  3. They employed men including mainly British drivers and acknowledged the contribution of craft skills like those of Williams & Pritchard. Lotus earned significant income for the nation.
  4. They exported cars and towards the end of the decade were on the brink of mass production.
  5. The lifted the moral of the nation
  6. They became a byword for technological innovation and success
  7. They were a significant role model and were copied internationally.
  8. They were particularly British in their “craftsmanship” This was about playing to strength and tradition. A combination of determination ruthless competitiveness balanced with aesthetic appreciation.
  9. Despite all the limitations and strength and resources of the competition their products were world beaters and still recognized as such today,

It ought be noted that Lotus were: –

  • A small business [see production numbers]
  • They were not manufacturing in a mass market initially and therefore had no economies of scale
  • Their product was not cheap as it required considerable input of skilled craftsmen e.g. Progress Chassis and Williams &Pritchard, but in relative terms they were democratic and affordable allowing entry into the first rungs of motor sport via the 750 Motor club.
  • They were not producing inexpensive items that could be afforded by every home in the land.
  • They operated on a limited budget and staff demonstrating their organizational effectiveness. There was not an R&D budget as now known but the activity was wrapped up in the intellectual growth and development of the owner and his helpers.

Overall Lotus helped within a decade raise a nation that had been on its knees into a “world leader in motor sport. Lotus would further extend and enlarge their contribution in the 1960’s.

Colin Chapman and his helpers at Lotus including the Allen brothers, Costin brothers and Williams &Prichard represented the very best of British design. In fact they concur with Misha Blacks design philosophy

“We should approach each new problem from the base of practicality- how can it most economically be made, how will it function most effectively, how can maintenance be simplified, how can the use of scare materials be minimized? An absolute concern with practicalities will produce new formal solutions as technology constantly develops: when alternatives present then selves during the design process, the aesthetic sensitivity of the designer will determine his selective decisions but this should remain a searching process and not be seen as the opportunity for imposing a preconception of formal appropriateness. The difference between an arrogant conscious aesthetic and a conscientious searching for the most elegant solution is fundamental to my argument”

This was published in a paper “Fitness for What Purpose “ written in 1975 shortly before his death. [Quoted from British Design since 1880]

When seen in the wider a context Colin Chapman is far more advanced than generally accepted. They too more than most mutated technologies and did so in hard ruthless competition against continental competition. They experimented with materials and overcame shortages and rationing. They used almost every devise available to then, remorselessly. If Chapman is considered slightly dubious there should be do doubt about he exact circumstances in which he operated and despite the obstacles he overcame and established one the greatest marques in the history of Motor sport.
This was essentially achieved in the first decade of their existence with a capital base not amounting to much more than a month’s wages.

*The photographs of Bridget Bishop record both a watershed and transition. It’s believed that Bridget may have undertaken her photographic assignment on two occasions [possibly October 1956 through March 1957 and October 1957]. However the greater likelihood that the pictures taken may have been in September or October 1957.

Fifties Fashion

Femininity was the key look accentuated with stiletto heels.

It is possibly Christian Dior who dictated fashion in the era. However Coco Chanel, Balanciaga and others including victor Stiebel made a significant contribution. This is possible related to the explanation we have offered reference the reaction and pendulum against war, utility, rationing and drab appearance and that men too hoped for a softer more feminine appearance in contrast to a uniform. In 1947 Dior launched his couture collection “Corolle Line” which was soon dubbed the New Look. The shape it gave women was voluptuous and feminine if although some thought the excessive use of fabric decadent when so many had suffered rationing. However it offered optimism, a sense of affluence and plenty after deprivation and was certainly the anthesis of the masculine workday overalls and clothing of war.
Fashion also responded to the new materials such as Terylene and nylons. Fashion was disseminated through a large ranch of magazines devoted to women. These included: Vogue, Woman &Home, Housewife, and Vanity Fare etc.
In the mid to late fifties increasing affluence and mass production witnessed mass produced clothes off the peg. Hand knitted jumpers were still popular and perhaps a continuation of “make do and mend”

Within a decade there was a considerable polarization. The early fifties commenced with a still quite formal dress code. Women mostly wore skirts, a hat, gloves, headscarf and a smart handbag. The princess line and sheath dresses were popular. However this changed quite dramatically towards the end of the decade perhaps coinciding with rock’n’role. . As Marsh observes
“ 1950 style from haute couture to high street. ……Elegant ladies fashion and the casual look adopted by the new generation of trouser-clad teenage girls. ……With the growing influence of the United States, the emergence of street style, and the introduction of denim as the international uniform of youth”

For men suits were the norm. American suits were popular if you could afford it. The fashion changed in the later decade as we have noted. Anti establishment look was deliberately and cultivated informal transforming working clothes into street style.

Film, TV, Literature and Posters and Illustration

We have made reference to film within our time line. Broadly TV substituted for film in this decade although Hollywood attempted to rally with large budget film. Technology advanced attempting to entice new audiences with 3D, Cinerama and widescreen. Film celebrities included Doris Day, Marilyn Munroe, Audrey Heburn, and Grace Kelly. Once again we note the pendulum swing and witness the early anti-hero emerge in the characters portrayed by Marlon Brando and James Dean. The advent of commercial TV was complementary with the growing consumer society.

It’s worth noting how the car that played such an important role in the period began to emerge in film. British sports cars were well represented. We tend to associate the sixties with permissiveness but there was some early evidence of this in the mid /late fifties. Examples are “ Room at the Top” and “Baby Doll”. Britain remained perhaps more prudish and the Ealing comedies expressed the British sense of humour. An example is “The Lavender Hill Mob”.

In our time line we record some of the literature of the era. Possibly best known in UK was John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” of 1956. Also characteristic was Orwell’s “1984” and “Lucky Jim” by Kinglsy Amis. Writers may have expressed more of the underlying social tensions and perhaps pretensions in relationships. Critics noted a tendency towards dystopian and satirical themes. Some of the permissiveness emerging in film was also evident in works like “Peyton Place”. Perhaps it was natural that science fiction ought be popular as result of the space race. Authors who developed the theme included Isaac Asimov. The Cold War was very real and had many facets .It was perhaps given a fictional twist by Ian Fleming who created James Bond. “Casino Royale” was published in 1953,”Live and Let Die” 1954.
Perhaps in “Absolute Beginners” by Colin MacInnes we can trace threads leading to “Clockwork Orange “ in the following decade.
Magazines and comics were popular in period and America was the source of comic heroes and pulp fiction.

The fifties was perhaps the last era of commercial illustration before being replaced by photography. The editor feels that it produced some remarkable work. The necessity for branding marketing and sales produced some very graphic imagery. For example the front covers of magazines such as “The Areoplane” and “The Motor” produced some very striking and memorable imagery. Motor manufacturers used graphic artists to illustrate their sales brochures and often images could be accentuated and slightly stylized. Within the Areoplane manufacturers like Lockheed often commissioned very attractive technical illustration that had a romantic and technically idealized content. The de Havilland Gazette of 1955 was very much in this vein. Many of the trade directories within the A&R library are the source of handsome graphic illustration. Picture Post in another source of consumer products relating to food and cosmetics etc.
In this period the elegant women’s fashion was also often illustrated. We note the interest in DIY /self build and many of the period magazines were graphically illustrated e.g. “Practical householder” and “Daily Mirror Book of House Plans”

Abram Games designed significant posters at the start of the decade and certainly for the Festival of Britain and Army Recruitment. Other memorable artists / illustrators of he period were Jaeger, Tom Eckerssley and Brian Cook [Batsford] whom painted many extremely redolent and traditional images of the British Isles. These although perhaps not guide books nonetheless were an invitation to travel and explore which became a significant leisure pursuit of the 1950’s and contributed to the demand for personal transport.

The Proposed CCM&EC

The proposed museum believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.
For these reasons our 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. Its suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.
In particular exhibitions have a dual education and commercial role. Exhibitions provide the opportunity for merchandising in the widest context. This article has been developed with thought to maximizing merchandising.


This article has been deliberately lengthy. It was felt that the subject was worth it. Colin Chapman and Lotus have somewhat been the subject of denigration since DeLorean and this is unfortunate as it distorts the facts and achievement. This article has been written to achieve an objective balance and to explain wider cultural concepts and how Chapman and Lotus made a dynamic interaction.

It is hoped that our subscribers and particularly those not privileged to have lived through the era will better understand the profound forces of change that occurred and how Chapman succeeded in dictating the speed of change.

Chapman and his engineering supporters designed and constructed in an extremely difficult medium. It was not passive and performing on a single or limited range of functions. The requirement of the motorcar through its range as result of physical forces is enormous. They increase with speed, as does the need for safety. Not only was Chapman an engineer he was cultured man with finely developed aesthetic that would not allow him to produce ugliness .He would only accept elegance and functionalism harmonized.

When we assess his achievements against others this should never be overlooked.
In the A&R editors minds there is little doubt that Chapman was one of the foremost engineers and Industrial designers of the second half of the 20c. This achievement has been possibly masked by the fact that he was too busy in the process of creation and allowed winning to be his judge. It’s possible too those arbitrators of taste have struggled with an understanding of engineering and have preferred to elevate more modest and less complex pieces of machinery.
This article has also been constructed with the view to a thorough and detailed exhibition that is felt long overdue.
Achievement and status like many things are capable of manipulation. To ignore or denigrate Chapman’s achievement is counterproductive in Britain today desperately needing to produce engineers capable of providing innovation and employment.

In future issues we will explore the remaining decades. The A&R feels that one of the greatest omissions of authors writing about Lotus is the lack of the financial and economic analysis of the operation. The A&R will commit to this and if needed will make constructive models or projections and extrapolations based on known facts to better understand and interpret Lotus achievements. Not least will be that of exports. The analysis in the form of forensic accounting will enable analysis of profitability, productivity and Chapman as the entrepreneur; responding to changing markets and times; and not least on many occasions fighting for survival.

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British Design Since 1880.Fiona MacCarthy.Lund Humphries.1982
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The Style of the Century. Bevis Hillier. Herbert Press.1998
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Design Since 1945. Thames and Hudson.1983
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Robin & Lucienne Day. Lesley Jackson. Mitchell Beasley.2001.
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A Century of Design. Penny Sparke.Mitchell Beasley.1998.
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British Auto Legends.M.Zumbrunn.Merrell.2007.
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Lotus: The Early Years. Peter Ross. Coterie .2004.
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Lotus: The First Ten Years. Ian Smith
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70 Wonders of the Modern World. Readers digest.
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Architecture.Borden, Taylor etc. Herbert press.2008
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100 houses.Taschen.2004.
ISBN: 3822863122
Aviation Video Library- Farnborough The golden Years 1949-1959
Classic Farnborough the 1960’s .DD video. Barcode 5019322005469
Specialist Sports Cars. Richard Heseltine.Haynes.2001.
ISBN: 1859606903
Hawker Hunter.F.K.Mason.Patrick Stephens.1985.
Bridget Bishop [Corry Bevington] website
Archive and Resource Articles “Festival of Britain” and GPO Film and Documentary, Price Relativities and the Reconstruction of the Road Trip from Hornsey to Goodwood.
The A&R articles on Industrial Designers.
The National Archives Kew: The Rural Industries Bureau records
Hand and Machine in the Country. [The Annual Report of the R.I.B. April 1955-March 1956. *
BBC.2 Programme: The 1951 Festival of Britain: A Brave New World [shown 8.15pm 24th September 2011]
Ralph Tubbs “Living in Cities “ 1942 and “The Englishman Builds” 1945 both published by Penguin. *
Picture Post 1938-1957. [Photographers including: Kurt Hutton, Francis Reiss, Thurston Hopkins, and Grace Robertson].
Design of British Industry by Richard Stewart. Published by John Murray 1987
ISBN :071954294
The 1950’s Scrapbook, complied by Robert Opie.New Cavendish Books 1998 *
Colin Chapman :Inside the Innovator by Karl Ludvigsen*
The Lotus Book by William Taylor*. Coterie .1999.
ISBN: 1902351002
Classic and Sports Car. A-Z of Cars 1945-1970.Haymarket Publishing.1989.
ISBN: 1870979095

* And italics copies in Archive and Resource library.