In Monaco, France, on this day in 1958, Team Lotus makes its Formula One debut in the Monaco Grand Prix, the opening event of the year’s European racing season. Over the next four decades, Team Lotus will go on to become one of the most successful teams in Formula One history.
Team Lotus was the motor sport wing of the Lotus Engineering Company, founded six years earlier by the British engineer and race car driver Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
Chapman built his first car, a modified 1930 Austin Seven, while still a university student. His success building trial cars led to the completion of the first Lotus production model, the Mark 6, in 1952; 100 were produced by 1955, establishing Chapman’s reputation as a innovator in the design of top-performing race cars. By 1957, Lotus had become a well-known name among car aficionados, while Team Lotus dominated the Le Mans racing circuit, winning the 750-cc class and the Index of Performance at Le Mans in 1957 with the Lotus Type 11.
On May 18, 1958, Team Lotus made its first entry in the Formula One circuit, entering two single-seat Type 12s, driven by Cliff Allison and Graham Hill, into the Monaco Grand Prix. Though Ferrari was the favorite going into the race, British-made cars dominated the qualifying rounds, with Vanwall, British Racing Motors (BRM) and Cooper all finishing in front of Ferrari. In the main event, Maurice Trintignant (driving a Cooper) took first place after Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn, that year’s eventual Formula One champion, was forced to stop with a broken fuel pump. Allison finished sixth in his Lotus, 13 laps behind the leader; Hill finished in 26th place.
Chapman learned from the success of the midsize engine Cooper race cars, incorporating the layout into a refined version of the Lotus Type 12. In 1960, Stirling Moss drove the result–the Type 18–to victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, scoring the first of what would be many Grand Prix wins for Lotus. Jim Clark won the team’s first World Driver’s Championship in 1963, beginning a golden age of Lotus racing. Both Clark and Graham Hill won multiple Formula One titles, and Clark also drove a Lotus to victory in the Indianapolis 500 in 1965. In later years, virtuoso drivers like Emmerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Alessandro Zanardi all represented Lotus. In 1977, the low-slung Lotus Esprit had a starring turn in the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”; another Esprit, the Turbo, was featured in the 1981 Bond film “For Your Eyes Only.”
Chapman died in 1982, and Team Lotus left racing in the 1990s. It remains one of the most successful Formula One teams of all time, with more than 50 Grand Prix titles.