Instruments and Dashboards in Lotus Race & Road Cars

Chapman was Instrumental…………..Instruments and dashboards in Lotus Race&Road cars


The dashboard and instrumentation arrangement that Lotus cars adopted in both road and race is important and possesses commercial dimensions.

Our article examines Lotus practice, briefly looks at practical needs whilst having a relevance for automobile and product designers today concerned with the human-technological-information interface.

This has been a primary interest for Product Designers whose concern is with goods that have personal control or operation ranging from mobile phones, cameras, domestic appliances etc. For this reason we recommend subscribers see our dedicated article on Dieter Rams

Subscribers might like to see directly relevant, integrated and structured A&R article on:-

  • Dashboards including Lotus 6,S1&S4 Seven
  • Design Heroes: Dieter Rams particularly relevant to usability in product design
  • Components used in Lotus Road&Race cars
  • Lotus Elan and Workmate [Ron Hickman]
  • Performance Art

Instruments: Basic Definition from net

“The instrument cluster contains the various gauges and indicators that drivers depend on to learn important information on the current status of the automobile. If this information wasn’t accessible to drivers, potentially hazardous problems could occur and you’d never know.”

Typical Range of Instruments contained in motor car

Please see reasonably comprehensive list in Appendix 1 below


“The function of the instrument cluster is to keep the driver informed with the most current information as they drive. Gauges provide the information for speed, distance, heat and fuel. Indicator lights provide warnings and updates like the check engine light and the low fuel light. Different vehicles have different warnings available.”

Lotus Cars: Road and Track

Lotus had to equip their cars in a variety of categories. Appropriate instrumentation was required for each. This included:-

  • Club racing
  • International sports racing
  • Formula Racing up to F1 [single seater]
  • Production Road cars
  • Indianapolis
  • Le Mans

Subscribers are invited to study these and examine the differing requirements of instrumentation /information.

The gas turbine cars are significant as the drive was very different from petrol engine.

On the whole the editors believe that most Lotus cars were given distinctive and purposeful dash/instrumentation layouts.

These we consider also assisted sales as the driving experience was accentuated and complemented by the close proximity and ready communication between drive and machine in the cockpit.

Primary Considerations of Instrumentation/Dashboard layout /inclusion

Appropriate for needs Varying driving needs /purposes /function to be reflected
Assist driving pleasure Providing information for use &complementary e.g. revs gear change
Attractive To look at ,touch and operate etc. ,e.g. quality feel, quality emanating from
Cost Optimum instrumentation for purpose- cost control
Ergonomic Ability to read an operate instruments .switches controls with safety, comfort
Improve safety Information used as alert and prevention plus cost saving ,translation into action
Intelligible Information or data ought be easily interpreted with clarity
Legible Information ought be clear without ambiguity
Serviceable/accessible Instruments ideally ought be accessible for serving and or replacement
Space efficient Optimum design is correct provision to provide visible instruments in minimum space

Psychological aspects of dashboard instrumentation

Consistent with brand identity True reflection of purpose and intent, performance
Consistent with model /function Reflecting complexity of engineering ,speed etc.
Articulating function Visual representation of performance orientation
Physical closeness, operation, proximity Driver actively participates operates, responds to
Communicating with driver/owner Driver reacts and adapts to processed information
Importance in open top sports car Dash and instruments highly visible in open car
therefore communicating with wider audience
Possess soul The dash instruments are of considerable importance
to owner/driver & form a rapport and conversation

The editors would also suggest that the dashboard and instrumentation is significant to passengers and they interpret much about the car from this angle and connectivity.

Lotus Dashboard and Instrumentation: 7 Examples

1. Lotus Mk.VI

We direct subscribers to our dedicated article. Here we identify each item.

The Lotus Mk.VI was given an impressive and functional dash partly determined by the presence of the 5 inch diameter Jaeger revcounter located immediately in front of the driver in the raised cowling that gave some protection from the weather. [Nb this item we believe was possibly a pre-war item possibly cheaply available in the 1950’s]It gave the Mk.VI a traditional sports car look.


Figure 1 Authors sketch :.Lotus Mk.VI

2: Seven Dials-Lotus Seven Series

Seven Series 1

Subscribers are directed to our dedicated article on the Seven dashboard and the hand brake mechanism so identified with the Seven.

The Seven had a much simplified dashboard and instrumentation. The dashboard was shallower and ran parallel across the cockpit. The instruments were smaller as result.

Two features that are identified with the Seven S1 are the speedometer located on the passenger side and with production models the colour coded interior trim.


Figure 2 Authors sketch:.Lotus Seven S1

Lotus Seven Series 3 Twin Cam

The Twin Cam dash varied considerably from the others in the series. There was deliberate design policy that included upgraded features. Note the speedometer and rev-counter are a matched pair directly in the driver’s vision.

The dashboard is in brushed aluminium and rocker switches [modern and currently available] were adopted as opposed to the older toggle type.


Figure 3. authors sketch :Seven S3; Twin Cam

Lotus Seven S4

The editors are very impressed with the design ingenuity of the Seven S4 dash. For this reason we direct subscribers to our dedicated article of the Value Engineering aspects of this model.

The Seven S4 was a master stroke of Industrial design utilizing all the strengths and advantages of the body material. Much of this is more subtle than is evident .There is plastic sculpture contained here.


Figure 5.Editors sketch of 7S4 see dedicated article

3. Lotus 19

The Lotus 19 is one of many sports racing cars produced by Lotus [think also 15, 23, 30 and 40]

These cars filled the requirements of their racing class as set out at the time.

On occasions these cars were required to have lights, brake lights and windscreen wipers.

Students ought to study these .What makes Lotus such a design leader is the intellect that archives extraordinary performance and economy but never regressing to utility.

Elegance and refinement are present.

The designers are conscious of incorporating and reconciling performance without sacrificing sympathetic design and economy of materials and space.

The 18, 19, and 23 for example use the central body bulkhead as hoop perforated that can accept the instruments.


Figure 4.Editors sketch :Lotus 19, sports racing car

Therefore look closely at the 19.note how the body and chassis are integrated.

The driving mantra is to exploit opportunity, avoid waste duplication. Maximise.

The 19 and 23 are functional racing machines but in both cases the cockpits are comfortably, reasonably roomy and do not detract from concentration on the job in hand.

4. Lotus 72

The Lotus 72 was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV.

The cockpit and dash are extremely narrow.

Note the diameter of the steering wheel. The cockpit is just about the width of the drivers shoulders.

Instrumentation in a F1 car of this performance takes on a special significance.

The driver does not have the time to look at instruments or be over distracted. They must be the minimum necessary reporting the most essential information only in a manner that is instantly recognized.

The cockpit and screen are colour coded. For a greater appreciation of JPS please see dedicated articles on sponsorship.


Figure 6.Editors sketch instruments and dashboard -Lotus 72

5. Lotus Elan

The Elan is considered one of the greatest small sports cars of all time.

This reputation is objective. It is derived from its holistic integrated performance and packaging.

In production the Elan had to incorporate bought -in instruments.

As elsewhere in Lotus practice this was not an afterthought.

Considerable care and attention are given to ensuring instrumentation was appropriate for the car, driver audience/market expectation.

Subscribers are invited to see the many road tests on the Elan and an exercise is to draw and annotate the instruments seen here.


Figure 7.Elan; editors photograph –see our article on Elan

In the editors humble estimation the Elan is a superb case study of automobile design punching above its weight.

The objectives were exceeded and the Elan followed the Elite in raising the bar. It was a benchmark and we recommend that serious students examine the Elan in more forensic manner in order to comprehend the discipline exercised in its design, specification and purchasing policy.

We give an idea of the magnitude of the design subtlety in our article devoted to the Elan and Ron Hickman.

Learning Opportunities

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:-

  • What cars in automobile history are identified with impressive memorable dashboards and instrumentation?
  • Trace history of instrument makers like British Jaeger, Lucas and Smiths
  • What is the connectivity of car instruments and watches/clocks?
  • Which watch manufacturers have designed wrist watches based on car marque instrumentation?
  • Take a Lotus type number and design an alternative dash/instrument layout –can you improve it? Can you reduce cost? Is it fully appropriate for car?
  • Compare analogue with digital instrumentation –suggest the psychological reactions to both
  • How does ergonomics apply in car instrumentation?
  • Why the first Lotus Elite is is so well regarded? What was the contribution of the dashboard/instrumentation?
  • Obtain copies of road tests by reputable magazines and compare /contrast dashboard content and styles, bench mark Lotus .read reviews regarding functionality ,accuracy etc.

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.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • Face to Face
  • Round the Clock
  • Red Line
  • Dial it Up
  • Lucas&Lotus
  • Chapman Switched On
  • In-gauged
  • Keeping up with the Smiths
  • Clock up
  • Lotus Gauges-Magnitude of success
  • Lotus Instruments-Fly in the face
  • On the face of it
  • Lotus Instruments:Needlework –the height of stylus
  • Lotus Instruments:Microneedle
  • Lotus Instruments:Revolution&Innovation
  • Lotus Instruments:Revolution&Transformation
  • Lotus Instruments: The Appliance of Science
  • Optical Instruments and Optical illusion?
  • Lotus: Scientific Instruments

Conclusion: Chapman Orchestrated

Chapman was instrumental in nearly all aspects of the cars that carried his marque.

He also orchestrated design through his colleagues and their purchasing policy.

If we examine some definitions of orchestrated we find:-

  • adaption
  • arrange
  • compose
  • coordinate
  • harmonization
  • integrate
  • interpretation
  • mastermind
  • organize
  • planning
  • prepare
  • present

Lotus design was both thorough and holistic. It produced aesthetic design that added value.

Much of this was achieved by inspired selection of components like instruments.

Lotus were relatively low volume manufacturer. Therefore they did not order in bulk or where they could avoid it commission pieces.

Theirs was the gift of understanding an inherent advantage in a component and incorporating into a wider design framework that accentuated its merits whilst coordination with within a whole.

Therefore the lessons of Chapman and Lotus extend far beyond their brand of sports car and have relevance for product designers today.

Dieter Rams we have noted took considerable care in detail design to ensure product usability/friendliness. Although Chapman and his colleagues are not quite in the same league. There is considerable evidence of aesthetic appreciation tempered by commercial considerations that produced cars particularly in dashboard layout that performed commensurate with their structure and handling.

Appendix 1

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vehicle instrument is an instrument that measures some parameters in the vehicle, often found on its control panel or dashboard.




David Holland

Phaidon Press 1999

ISBN 0714838632

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.