Tuesday 18 July 2023

Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious

Lotus was formed in 1952 by Colin Chapman and Colin Dare.  Arguably, the beginnings of Lotus were 4 years earlier when Chapman had built his first car in his garage at home.  The basic ethos of Lotus was to design and build innovative, affordable and competitive sports cars.
The first widely available car from Lotus was the 7 (not as sometimes believed based on an Austin 7, it just happened to be the 7th vehicle designed by Lotus.  This was a stripped out 2 seater track car aimed at motor trialists and privateer racers.
Available pre-built or in kit form, the popularity of the 7 remained until the mid 70s when production ceased and was taken over by Caterham who continued with the pre-built or kit versions to this day - the basic vehicle remains the same despite some obvious safety and reliability upgrades.
Following the success of the 7, Team Lotus was split off to concentrate on racing (primarily with the aim of Formula 1 entry), and Lotus Cars and Lotus Components established as 2 separate companies as Lotus moved into manufacturing road cars.
The first road car proper was the Elite - designed and built by Lotus using whatever parts they could find, and fitted with a Coventry Climax Fire Pump engine.  The cobbled nature of the build led to reliability issues with the Elite.
But it proved popular and so began a succession of road cars each beginning with the letter E - Elite, Elan, Europa, Eclat, Excel, Esprit, Elise, Exige, Evora, Exos, Evira
(OK, by the end they were just making up words)
Reliability issues continued as each model rolled on - Lotus were always looking to innovate - particularly with their own engine and gearbox designs, and often used whatever parts they could source from partners.  So as with the Elite, something was going to give sooner or later.

This innovative streak obviously didn't harm Team Lotus, winning 6 Drivers Championships and 7 Constructors Championships over 15 years.  They were one of the first teams to recognise aerodynamics and experiment with wings on their cars, one of the first to run with tobacco sponsorship, and the first to come up with the concept of ground-effects cars where using a skirt around the car would allow a vaccum of sorts to suck the car to the road and go round corners almost as fast as they could along the straights.
The Lotus 72 car that took Emerson Fittiapldi to the 1972 Championship (bedecked with the Black and Gold JPS livery) continued at the front of the grid for the next 5 years with no major upgrades.
When it was finally updgraded - first to the Lotus 78 which was the first ground-effect car, and then later the 79 which refined and (very probably) perfected the principle.
The 78 and 79 were maybe a little fragile (as all good Loutus's tended to be) but when they stayed working they were unbeatable.
Colin Chapman continued to focus on innovation rather than winning, although performances remained with the front-runners.  However, when he died in late 1982, Lotus began a slow decline towards the back of the grid - their last race was in 1994.
Colin Chapman's passing also opened up the crisis at Lotus Cars and the marque went through a series of owners never quite achieving enough stability to fully re-establish itself.

If you want to get your product noticed, then a blockbuster film is a pretty good placement.
In 1977, just after the launch of the Lotus Esprit, it was the vehicle of choice for James Bond.
But this was no ordinary Esprit - in addition to the guns, cement jet sprayer, and it's ability to out-run and out maneuver the baddies helicopter, this particular Esprit had retractable wheels and a submarine mode.

In the Summer of 1977, I was taken to the Cinema to see The Spy Who Loved Me - we arrived late, but as was the way you could just stay in your seat and re-watch the film played in rotation.  So my first experience of James Bond was in 2 halves.
Maybe because it was my first, I will argue with anyone that The Spy Who Loved Me is the best Bond film, Roger Moore is the best Bond, and the Lotus Esprit is the best Bond car.

The Bond Films have history with their theme songs.  While Monty Normans Bond Theme was the main music for the first film (Dr No) and has subsequently appeared in all Bond films since, the singing of the main theme was given over to a popular voice of the day - tis quite an eclectic list:

  • Shirley Bassey has done 3 themes
  • Matt Monro
  • Tom Jones
  • Nancy Sinatra
  • Wings
  • Lulu *
  • Sheen Easton
  • Rita Coolidge
  • Duran Duran
  • A-Ha
  • Gladys Knight
  • Tina Turner
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Garbage
  • Madonna
  • Jack White and Alicia Keys
  • Adele
  • Sam Smith
  • Billie Eilish

* Lulu provided the theme for The Man With The Golden Gun.  Alice Copper were supposed to be in the running for the theme, but excessive booze and touring saw to it their submission failed to arrive in time for consideration.

For The Spy Who Loved Me, songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager submitted the first Bond Theme not to share a tile with the film (it was however levered into the lyric towards the end of the first verse).
Carly Simon was invited to perform the song after a throw-away comment from Marvin Hamlisch to Carole Bayer-Sager noting that the lyric seems to be "incredibly vain".  Carly Simon had had a US number 1 with "You're So Vain" so that is very probably where the connection was made.
So I think I have another "Best" to add to the list:
Best Film, Best Bond, Best Car, Best Theme Song

Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better

And if you're not sure, or need a reminder of the opening sequence of the film, Alan Partridge is here to help ...