Lotus clocks up 40 years on the road

The great names of Lotus - Europa, Elan, Elite, Eclat and Elise - were honoured yesterday as enthusiasts from across the UK converged on Norfolk to mark a major milestone in the car's history.

The great names of Lotus - Europa, Elan, Elite, Eclat and Elise - were honoured yesterday as enthusiasts from across the UK converged on Norfolk to mark a major milestone in the car's history.

The hugely-successful production cars were pitched alongside the magnificent Formula One racing machines among the attractions in an open day at the Lotus factory in Hethel, south of Norwich, which signalled 40 years of car manufacturing at the headquarters of Group Lotus.

Lotus owners, company workers and their families and enthusiasts gathered to enjoy a day of activities and displays.

Group Lotus opened the factory and assembly lines, offered enthusiasts the chance to be driven at speeds of up to 90mph around the company's test track and visit numerous stalls and stands on the site.

There was a huge element of nostalgia to the event with the Formula One racing cars from Classic Team Lotus on display along with production models manufactured on the site over the past four decades from the Elan, Europa, Elite, Eclat, Esprit, Elise and Exige.

The memory of founder Colin Chapman, who died in 1982, was honoured and his widow Hazel was invited formally to open the event.

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Group Lotus chief executive Mike Kimberley said: “The open day has been a chance for us to celebrate the 40th anniversary of manufacturing cars here at Hethel.

“It is also a chance to look at the heritage as something to be proud of. Colin Chapman was one of the greatest innovators of his time and we have built on that.

“I was determined to hold this event because it is a good way of getting everybody together. But it is more than just an open day, it is a thank-you to all the effort and hard work everybody puts in and a big thank-you to Lotus owners and Lotus clubs all over the country.

“The event is a celebration of the Lotus brand, a thank-you to all the Lotus enthusiasts around the world for their support over the years and a reinforcement of our commitment to Norfolk and to the UK.”

An estimated 5,000 people attended the event in perfect weather conditions at the site, where a Lotus first rolled off the production line in 1967.

For Lotus workers such as Mike Fitt, it was a chance to bring friends along to the factory and show them around.

One of his mates, Danny Betts from Norwich, said: “Mark brought me here for the day and it's been really interesting and to be honest I'd really like a Lotus.”

A Subaru driver, he later confessed he had his eye on a Lotus Elise for his wife Julie.

For Nicola Brown, 22, from Wymondham, it was a chance to experience the thrill and exhilaration of being driven in a Lotus.

“I really like fast cars,” she said. “I heard about this event through people I know and thought it would be really interesting to come along, look at how and where the cars were made and have a ride around the test track.”

The owner of a Rover 25, she added: “I'd really love a Lotus one day.”

Lotus club owners displayed their cars, all built at the site over the past 40 years, while there was the opportunity to buy official Lotus and Classic Team Lotus merchandise.

Cars once driven by Formula One stars such as Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jim Clark, Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti were also on display.

Colin Chapman's widow, Hazel Chapman, said she was delighted at being able to attend the event.

She said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see how Lotus is prospering and how much interest the cars still create, not just here at Hethel but all over the world, despite Colin dying when he did.”

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