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COLIN CHAPMAN’S first Lotus is being offered by Gooding & Company at its Amelia Island Auction, March 13, 2015. And, for such a sweet little car, the Mark IIIB represents a tremendous heritage.


Lotus Mark IIIB, Colin Chapman’s first customer car. This and other images from Gooding & Company Presents the Amelia Island Auction 2015,

Colin Chapman studied structural engineering at University College London. And, in his elegant engineering fashion, he never used an iota of structure more than necessary in any of his automotive designs. The Chapman view: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”


Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, 1928 – 1982, English design engineer, inventor, founder of Lotus Cars. Image from

Between 1962 and 1978, Team Lotus won seven Formula One Constructors’ titles, six Drivers’ Championships and the Indianapolis 500. The sole Lotus IIIB shown here came a decade before any of these achievements, though it’s a perfect example of Chapman’s design ethic, the rolling origin of the Lotus tradition.


Chapman exercises ONK 408.

Chapman began by building his own trials special in 1948. (See “The Dellow Sports Car,”, for another example of this uniquely English form of motorsports.)  By 1951, one of his Mark IIIs was dominating British 750 Club racing (named for the 750-cc Austin Seven engine). In 1952, an enthusiast persuaded Chapman to provide another Mark III, this one to compete in the 1100-cc class.


ONK 408 is unique in many ways.

This Mark IIIB was registered as ONK 408, the first of Chapman’s cars to be sold, and the first with a Lotus badge carrying a monogram of its founder.


Since its 1952 fabrication, ONK 408 has had only five owners, including a colonel in the Gurkhas (British soldiers of Nepalese origin) who bought it for his son’s 21st birthday. The car was then refinished in the colonel’s regimental colors, red and green, fitted with a full windshield and used as ordinary (albeit sporting!) transportation for years.


The car now carries livery with a fine heritage of its own.

Its current owner bought ONK 408 from the Gurkha’s son in 1994. He had the car returned to its 1953 black livery, in the style of Dick Seaman’s Delage. (See “1926 Delage 15-S-8,”, for more on this famous car.)

Like the other Mark III, ONK 408 has a chassis of an Austin Seven (another legendary bit of British engineering; see “Sir Herbert’s Global Offspring,” Rather than an Austin engine, it’s powered by a highly tuned Ford 10. This ported, polished and gas-flowed four-cylinder was linered down from its production 1172 to 1099 cc (for the 1100-cc class).


ONK 408’s four-cylinder Ford 10 engine.

The car’s aluminum bodywork is by Williams & Pritchard, the company that built many other Lotus bodies. Its stark interior has only the necessary race-car instrumentation measuring engine revs, oil pressure and water temperature.


Chapman’s philosophy is displayed in the car’s minimalist cockpit.

And here’s another claim to fame: The frame of the car’s wood-rim steering wheel is said to be fashioned from wing material of a De Havilland DH 106 Comet, in 1949 the world’s first production commercial jet liner.

This steering wheel only enhances the Lotus IIIB’s wonderful history. For full details of the car, see Gooding & Company sets an estimate for ONK 408 at $250,000 to $450,000. I am not surprised. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

One comment on “THE FIRST LOTUS

  1. Chris Keck
    February 21, 2015

    I looks like Bender the robot transformed into a car.

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2015 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , , .
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