The Lotus marque is drenched in myths, but Karl Ludvigsen’s book on Colin Chapman “Inside the Innovator” covers Lotus’ technology and its background – and not least Chapman himself, the man behind the technology.
I simply adore Lotus and all that they stand for – or at least used to stand for. Their relentless striving for success in Formula One, the minimalistic road cars, and not least the founder, Colin Chapman’s, general approach to building cars. But Lotus and Chapman are surrounded by myths, not unlike the ones covering the famous names from Modena, Ferrari and Enzo. The multiple books available on the subject of the two and their cars reflect this too, as most releases merely throw themselves at the feet of these two innovative automotive legends and thereby only contribute to enhancing the myths – sometimes just adding great pictures in the process. Ludvigsen’s book on Chapman is more critical, which by no means makes it a lesser read.
The book is primarily about the race cars, where it’s fair to say that Chapman spent most of his energy. And while the book does of course tell the well-known story that Colin Chapman often bordered on the verge of genius – neither does it hide that the same Chapman could sometimes be bordering psychotic in his relations. It is clear from the book’s interviewees, that Chapman could be very, very difficult to work with – but equally, that a large number of former employees and partners had huge respect for him. Not least for his fabulous ability to briefly inspect an engineers’ half-finished drawings, sketches and drafts and immediately understand what they had in mind and wanted to achieve, and then suggest valid improvements. In addition, his energy was extraordinary: Employees compared Chapman’s passage through the drawing room to a whirlwind in a paper mill.
The never-ending quest for improvement that was a great strength of Chapman, was at the same time also his biggest shortcoming as a racing car designer and team owner: Before the latest idea was even matured and made reliable and profitable, Chapman would continue on to the next idea before even reaping all the benefits of the previous idea.
Karl Ludvigen’s book is a tour de force on the technical field, especially in explaining the background for the various directions that Chapman worked in. This is also emphasized by the structure of the book: It would have been obvious to tell the history chronologically, but instead chapters are divided into technological areas such as transmissions, suspension, aerodynamics, weight and management, and this actually works surprisingly well. Each area described with great insight and also beautifully illustrated with explosion drawings, photos and plenty of side stories – often about explaining the basis of the many myths.
For any car enthusiast more fascinated by the technology itself (especially within motorsport, of course) than by the myths of Lotus, “Inside the Innovator” is probably the best Lotus book on the market. As an added bonus, the book also manages to dive behind the scenes and look into Chapman’s thriving life – which turns out to be almost equally exciting.
The book has ISBN 10: 1844254135 and comes very warmly recommended.