Our second guest blog from the outrageously amusing Major Barking Squiff is here, sharing more amusing and interesting Lotus history.......
Lotus is often referred to as ‘Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious’.
At Aston Martin there was a gentlemen in the engineering department who had been at Chrysler UK, Vauxhall Motors, Aston Martin, DeLorean Motor Co and then Aston Martin via a market garden enterprise. He’d seen fantastic spending of some DMC execs in Northern Ireland, had the pleasure of being unemployed in Northern Ireland and near bankruptcy when the market garden collapsed. His middle name was not lucky.
He told me about one of the many trips he made by private aeroplane from Belfast to Hethel International (yes, the Lotus test track, where the control tower was the main site access security hut which has no sight of the track). Tally-ho!
For some time the person calling himself chief engineer (Mike Loasby – this was famously disputed by John Z. DeLorean) and others at DMC had smelt a rat. Upon arrival at Hethel International the team left the aircraft and wandered into the drawing office, created by Colin Chapman and briefly held the title of the biggest open plan office in Europe / UK / Norfolk. It was created so that there was literally nowhere to hide from the gaze of those in the board room, as they looked through floor to ceiling height windows.
Sure enough, DMC 12 drawings adorned every single drawing board. Yet, as these drawings were supposed to reach suppliers as well as the main plant, and what should have been a flood was a dribble. This continued for months, with the mis-match between information supply and the promises becoming bigger by the day.
The plan was hatched. One week the aircraft arrived, managing to land without collecting a test car on the runway, the DMC staff went into the vast drawing office and – as by now, quite usual – all the drawing boards had DMC-12 designs on them. The contractual delivery meeting was held, the array of fantastic stories were given, and the DMC possie left.
Except, the team decided to be in the air for just about 30 minutes, effectively on their way back to Hethel International, to land again on the pre-text of having forgot a bag. This gave the control tower almost no notice.
What a surprise! Every single drawing board had.... hold on…. Lotus Esprit Mk1 Turbo drawings.
Officially in the DeLorean saga much is made of what Lotus did with British taxpayer cash, and the reasons, whilst officially still murky, are quite straight forward. First up, the Lotus financial director owned up to as much as was manageable, and went to prison for the pleasure. Second up, Lotus Esprit Mk1 Turbo is quite possibly the finest - and one of the fastest - of all Esprit models, which required about the same amount of cash as the DMC-12 programme to bring to life. Thirdly, in pure Lotus tradition, they solved problems most major manufacturers struggled with.
Want to have an electric water pump to manage heat dissipation in the turbo after running the engine? Why, use a 12V electric motor driving a regular washing machine impeller. Need to keep the exhaust manifold from cracking? Get the world’s first application of nimonic steel alloy for such a component, complete with integrated turbine housing.
The Renault-Alpine A310 V6’s that were used as mules and the early DMC-12 prototypes based at Hethel were mostly destroyed. For many years the original package buck for DMC-12 lay in a corner of the staff car park close to the biggest bend of the test track with a lasting threat – if it ever ‘disappeared’ or worse, was sold, Lotus would immediately have to answer for the rest of the taxpayer’s cash which had not been covered by the Financial Director doing time. The threat remained throughout the various ownerships until ‘that’ll be the Proton’ took over.
Now. Do you think a story like that could come from anywhere but a factory in the middle of Norfolk fields?
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