Lotus is a British car manufacturer founded by racing enthusiast Anthony Colin Chapman. The company is well-known for its small, lightweight sports cars, which are designed for track or road.
In 1948, Chapman built his first Lotus car. Four years later, he officially formed Lotus Engineering Company, which later became Lotus Cars. This automaker remains a niche producer of hand-built cars to this day.
Chapman’s first model was a converted Austin Seven, which he turned into a trials racing car while in college. In 1950, he built his first roadworthy model, which he sold. That vehicle went on to win the Wrotham Cup.
In 1952, Chapman built his first production car, which was the Lotus Mark VI. It was offered to the public as a kit, which enabled buyers to install their own engine and transmission. Five years later, Lotus replaced the Mark VI with the Super Seven, which was an open-top sports car. This model would stay in production for the next 15 years.
Beginning in 1957, Lotus released the Elite, which was a lightweight model with a Fiberglas skeleton and skin. This two-seater coupe featured a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. It was produced from 1957 to 1963.
Lotus followed the Elite with the Elan, which initially was offered as a two-seat sports car. Later, Lotus added a four-seat version.
In 1966, Lotus introduced the Europa, a two-seat, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car. Beginning in the 1970s, Lotus offered as many as three models at the same time, including the Eclat coupe, which was based on the Elan. The second model was the second-generation Elite, which was joined by the Esprit. The Esprit was designed by Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. This model remained in production until 2004.
Beginning in 1982, Lotus replaced the Eclat with the Excel. During that decade, Lotus experienced significant financial losses. By 1986, Toyota and General Motors each secured a stake in the company, with Toyota selling its shares to GM just months later.
Starting in 1989, an all-new Elan rolled out. This model returned to its original two-seat format and remained in production until 1995.
Lotus stopped making the Excel in 1992. The following year, GM sold the company to Bugatti. In 1996, the Lotus Elise was introduced, which is a two-door mid-engined roadster. Safety compliance issues kept the Elise out of the U.S. market for several years. U.S. availability was limited to the 2005 to 2011 model years, although this model remains available in other markets.
Also in 1996, Bugatti sold the company to Proton Holdings Berhad.
Beginning in 2000, Lotus turned to Toyota to supply its then-new Exige with a supercharged four-cylinder engine. The new model found its way to the U.S. in 2006 and remained available through 2011. Lotus also introduced a succession of track-ready models, beginning with the 340R and followed by the 2-Eleven and 3-Eleven.
Lotus introduced the Evora in 2012, which has a Toyota-supplied 3.5-liter V6 engine. A supercharged version was also available. Lotus stopped importing the Evora after 2014 because it didn’t meet U.S. safety requirements. In 2017, an updated, safer Evora returned. The new model is now powered by the supercharged V6 engine only.
Also in 2017, the Chinese automotive conglomerate Zhejiang Geely Holding Group purchased a controlling stake in Lotus with the remaining shares held by a Malaysian beverage company.
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