Lotus – The Hornsey Story

In keeping with a standing of ever increasing eminence in the world of competition motoring, the Lotus Engineering Company has recently opened a new showroom and office block at its Tottenham Lane , Hornsey premises. Completion of the small but imposing showroom coincided with the announcement of the Lotus Elite, the first example of which has attracted much attention from the most casual of passers-by since its return from Earls Court . It is of great interest, in addition, that further Elites are nearing completion in a building separate from the main works; the first production models should be on the market by Easter.

The Lotus works, as many readers will know, are somewhat cramped between Tottenham Lane , a building contractor’s yard, and British Railways main line to the North. Colin Chapmen built his car in a shed which was really the bottle store for an adjacent hotel. Additional land alongside the hotel was subsequently acquired, and on this site the Lotus workshops have grown up steadily as demand has increased.


The new showroom and office block looks out on Tottenham Lane . Above the showroom is the drawing office, with a window running along its full length. Although the design staff can thus be seen at work there is no danger of future plans being disclosed to the “opposition’-the drawing boards slope the wrong way. Backing on this “glass palace” are three offices. On the right is the buyer’s office, occupied by John Standen and known somewhat cynically, as the Ballroom. In the centre is the Accounts Department and on the left, with a window overlooking the narrow entrance road, is the room from which operations are directed, its door labeled A. C. B. Chapman. A feature of Colin Chapman’s simply furnished office is the Roy Nockolds painting of Le Mans 1957 . Below at the rear of the showroom, is the office of Sales Manager, Colin Bennett.


The construction of new office has, besides providing a much more imposing facade, freed other space for car production. In addition to this it may be said that the Original Offices were certainly a little primitive.

Behind the new block stands the Experimental Department, the home of Team Lotus. In the “Racing Shops,” at the time of a recent visit, were a 1957 Formula Two car just returned from tyre tests at Silverstone, and one of the hard worked Eleven 1100’s which has had a very successful season in British and Continental racing. Work in this section is in the hands of Mike Costin, Bill Griffiths, Dave Warwick, Jack Murrell, Mike Warner and Phil Butler.


A “separate “garage” houses the engine shops, along one wall of which is found a stock of Coventry Climax engines. On a bench work was proceeding, during our visit, on a five speed gearbox / differential unit. Development tests have overcome failures of this unit, due to lubrication difficulties experienced on F2 cars during the past season. Complete with inboard-mounted brake-discs and fuel pump the unit weights only 70 lbs.

The five-speed gearbox was, in fact, used on the modified Eleven with which Cliff Allison recently set up a series of new world class records at Monza.

Future developments in the Experimental Section will, of course, be connected with the first Formula One Lotus. This car will have a chassis generally similar to that of the 1957 F2 car, suitably modified to accommodate the larger engine. The rear of the body will be built up to form a driver’s head fairing, and special attention will be paid to driver comfort. The new car should certainly retain the classic Lotus attributes of high power-to-weight ratio and superlative roadholding.

Despite the building of new formula cars, Lotus will not neglect the development of the sports cars which have brought the marque world renown. It can be expected that the Index of Performance successes at Le Mans in 1957 will be followed by ventures which may eventually be aimed at overall victory in this, and similar events. Capacity limitation for Sports Car Championship races certainly favours Lotus if not other major British competitors.


Opposite the Experimental Shops and backing on the railway is the Production Department, which is concerned with the manufacture of the Seven and the various versions of the Eleven, and of components for these cars. In charge of this section is “Nobby” Clark . The majority of British customers obtain a set of components from the works and assemble the finished product on their own premises. Vehicles built at Hornsey are thus, on the whole, destined for export. Chief markets are in the United States and Canada but there is a growing demand, especially for the Seven, in South Africa . Chassis have also been purchased by Continental bodybuilders, and even Maserati, who wished to make a close study of the space frame and suspension layout of the Eleven.

Space limitations prohibit the manufacture of all Lotus components at Hornsey and thus a considerable amount of work is contracted out. Chassis-frames for both Seven and Eleven are built up at Edmonton and arrive complete, while body paneling is carried out by a number of outside firms. The turning and finishing of such parts as De Dion tubes is done in the Production Department; overhead is the Stores, in which all bought-in components are accommodated. There is no production line for the Eleven-specifications vary so much according to individual order that such techniques could not easily be applied. Observation, indeed, lends strength to the claim that the com­pleted cars are very much “hand-finished,” even down to the cutting and fitting of carpets and interior trim.

The Seven, on the other hand, has a standard specification and lends itself more easily to “mass­ production.” This type of assembly will soon be put under way, the major limitation being lack of floor space. To this end, and to cope with ever increasing demand for all models, the Production Department is to be extended-to the detriment of the hotel garden.


Even with the envisaged doubling of floor space, however, there is little likelihood of the Tottenham Lane works being able to satisfy an ever-growing market.

At present about fifty per cent of all production is exported. Enthusiasts who cannot afford to buy a Lotus, but who consider themselves reason­ably competent amateur mechanics, can take heart from the thought that one day they may be able to afford the parts’ to build a car themselves. Once the chassis components have been obtained from Hornsey, and the mechanical parts from various other sources, it should be possible to construct a complete Eleven in 60-70 hours.

Entirely separate from the main premises is the workshop in which the first Elite was built and where the first production models are now being completed. With its extremely attractive specifica­tion the Elite is bound to have a very wide appeal, despite its price bracket; it will not, however, be sold to the public until most exhaustive tests have been satisfactorily completed. One thing is certain-the present small workshop will not be able to cater even for the orders already placed. Plans for large-scale production are, however, well in hand.


The lasting impression gained from a visit to the Lotus works is that no other British manufacturer- on any scale-plans such a comprehensive range of models for 1958. Nowhere outside Italy , in fact, is there currently a concern making vehicles for Formula One, Formula Two and various sports categories in addition to a most inexpensive road sports car. The Seven, in component form, repre­sents remarkable value for money; at an opposite extreme the F1 car should have a higher power-to­-weight ratio than any other 1958 contender. That so much can be accomplished in such cramped quarters verges on the miraculous.

With thanks to Jay Sloane and the Lotus Eleven Register


For further background information and reading, Chater’s have a very extensive range of books about the history of Lotus through the years.