Design Portfolio: Petal to the Metal

1958 Lotus Type 15

Lotus founder Colin Chapman established the company’s legacy by building cars according to his maxim, “To add speed, add lightness.” Instead of developing high-horsepower engines, Lotus focused on featherweight chassis and aerodynamic forms—for its Grand Prix and Formula 1 racecars and for its road cars, including the Elite (1957–63) and the Elan (1962–75), the latter of which inspired the Mazda Miata.

The Lotus Type 15 was a more potent version of the earlier Lotus Eleven, yet it was still exceptionally light. The car was powered by a 2-liter Coventry Climax inline-4 engine mounted in a tube frame. Lotus left the curvaceous aluminum body of the example shown here unpainted to further reduce the car’s weight, which is less than 1,000 pounds. The high power-to-weight ratio and slippery shape enabled the car to reach 140 mph and rival more imposing competitors. Two years after the Type 15, the company produced the Type 19, a mid-engine racer that signaled the demise of front-engine competition cars.


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