Remembering the woman behind Colin Chapman and the great Lotus brand.
The motor industry tends to be largely dominated by strong male figures. In recent years, we've seen a change as the likes of Mary Barra take control, but women have played a vital role in the industry for decades. One of the most influential of which was Hazel Chapman, wife to Colin Chapman and co-founder of the world's greatest lightweight sports cars, Lotus.
Unfortunately, this week Hazel Chapman died at the age of 94, some 39 years after the passing of Colin Chapman. While Colin is typically attributed with the foundation and building of Lotus Cars, Hazel was far more influential than many knew. More than this, she was arguably just as brilliant as her late husband was, as she was not only a shrewd businesswoman but a successful racing driver in her era as well.
The very first Lotus ever built, the Mark 1, was built in Hazel's parents' garage in the 1940s. But when Colin was called away for military service in the Royal Air Force, it was Hazel who finished building the car, and then built another, the Mark 2. As the couple racked up race victories in their home-built cars, commissions for their projects came flowing in. Hazel saw the opportunity to turn it into a real business, and Lotus was founded on 1 January 1952, with the £25 starting capital supplied by Hazel herself. After marrying in 1954, Hazel took her place on the board of many of the Lotus companies including Lotus Cars, Lotus Components, and Team Lotus.
The latter is of particular note, as the racing division of Lotus enjoyed much success, particularly in Formula 1. Hazel was an integral part of the team, working closely with the drivers including icons of the sport like Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, and even Ayrton Senna. Her unique influence allowed her to found The Dog House women's motorsport club.
After Colin passed away in 1982, Hazel recognized the need for new ownership to secure Lotus' future. Despite selling certain arms of the company, she retained her directorship of Classic Team Lotus which was responsible for the preservation of legacy cars and historic racing. Despite no longer being officially involved in Lotus' road-going operations, she retained close ties with the company, even signing off the 100,000th Lotus road car in 2018, a Lotus Evora GT410 Sport. Hazel was always shown the latest road car before it was shown to the public, a tradition that continued until recently, when she and her son, Clive Chapman, saw the first-ever electric Lotus, the Evija, before it was revealed to the world in 2019.
May you rest in peace Hazel, and thank you for your contribution to some of the finest sports cars the world has ever seen.