Body Shapes

An Aesthetic Appreciation of Lotus Car Body shapes



To Colin Chapman the Mk.VI was ugly and lacked aesthetic. It might have been considered crude in concept but suited to purpose. It lacked advanced aerodynamic design and compared to the later sports racing cars was utilitarian.

In many respects this is correct. The nature of the semi stressed space frame is that panels are riveted directly to the chassis. There is little scope for formal design. However the Mk.VI was clothed by Williams and Pritchard .The combination of their technical skill, quality workman ship, and empathy for and function renders this car with considerable aesthetic, possibly more than is first evident.

The first Mk.VI completed made a considerable impression due to the thoroughness of its design and execution .It was particularly together compared with some of the “Heath Robinson “specials in existence.

The Mk.VI was conceived as a dual sports and sports racing car. It was often equipped with windscreen, lights, touring back and spare wheel. There was in this variant a small amount of storage space and tiny boot. Several small body style variations exist. These are mainly in mudguard design g and rear wheel mounting.

Basic specification

No. of cylinders: 4 Overall length: 10’ 9”
Cubic capacity: 1172 Overall height: 3’ 71/2”
Bore [mm]:63.3 Overall width: 4’ 7”
Stroke [mm]:92.5 Track front: 3’ 11”
Valve location: S.V Track rear: 3’ 10”
Maximum bhp: 45 Rear axle ratio: 4.875
At rpm: 6,000 Weight: 81/2cwt
Maximum rpm: 6,200 MPG: 30
Compression ratio: 8.5:1 Tyre size: 5.20X15
No. of gears: 4 SpeedX1000rpm:14.5
Brakes: Hydraulic Fuel tank capacity: 7 galls

Aesthetic Appreciation

Function and beauty ought to be synonymous but this is not always the case. Functionalism can generate utility.
In the editors opinion the Mk>VI is function and beauty in harmony .Form and function in its purest expression. The Mk.VI possesses a combination of classical elegance, understatement and brutal menace as measured through its rational and integrated detail.

The chassis is a product of ruthless logic. A systematic extraction and relentless reductionism until only the barest minimum remains. Some production economies might have been achieved but these would have been at the expense of weight.

Later chassis such as the Eleven may have been technically superior, but they are developments through a process of evolution and do not perhaps speak with the same authority and decisiveness or conviction of the Mk.VI

The aesthetic of the Mk.VI may be attributed to its near perfect balance of theory and practice blended by highly developed craftsmanship. In the Mk.VI there is no compromise to dilute the purity of the concept. After its introduction there were no serious rivals until advent of the next generation of aerodynamic cars. Attempt if you dare to conceive of a more thoroughly integrated and executed design.

Examine the Mk.VI chassis carefully. Every tube and joint poses a rhetorical question? What does this achieve; could it be simplified or reduced? So the design methodology proceeds with relentless and remorseless questioning, planning with creative substitution for a resultant reductionism. The chassis expresses its logic and priorities through a structural hierarchy of descending tubes depending on purpose. Look at their structural arrangement and there is an essential “pyramid” with all its inherent stability. To increase your appreciations compare the Mk.VI chassis with that of the Ford 10 saloon which carried the same mechanical components and loads. Compare production economics and compromises with exacting theoretical principles.

The exterior of the car complements and reinforces the inner logic. They are part of the same structural whole. The body is almost like an X ray. Williams and Pritchard’s design with mastery articulated form and function. Both defining and mirroring a ruthless purpose. The straight frame tubes are only interrupted at the cockpit drop down [avoiding necessity for doors].

The body panels are essentially aluminium flat sheet formed and riveted to the chassis tubes except where they improve aerodynamics and are compound curves in the nose cone, cowl piece and the rear wheel enclosed spats. Coincidently these panels are also detachable.

Externally around the engine bay the body is punctured by air scoops / vents which release hot air. Some of the higher specification Mk.VI had a under tray and heat retention and convection is very noticeable. The barrel topped bonnet occasionally has a power bugle depending on engine installed. The bonnet is very neatly folded to sit directly square to the top chassis tube. It is retained by four over centre clips. Again dependent on engine the carburettors occasionally pierce out through the tightly wrapped bonnet.

The exhaust exists abruptly and directly through the body side hugging the contour .It terminates ahead of the rear wheel arch.

The small six inch diameter headlamps are vestigial and with some aerodynamic consideration located within the nose cone radiator opening or near the front coil spring damper brackets. The appearance of the car head on in front elevation is dramatic and dominated by the structural beam axle, inclined front coil springs .The predominant impression is the small ground clearance and low build. Against this the splayed front wheels appear to distort and accentuate the wide track.

The Mk.VI is fitted with an asymmetrical cockpit cowl. The touring model is fitted with a full screen although quickly detachable. The blunt glass seeming too big for the car. The Perspex areoscreen is proportionally more appropriate.

The rear rounded boot terminates the body in a radius of perfection and contains all structural components. The two most distinctive features of the cockpit are the 15” laminated steering wheel and the 5” Jaeger rev counter mounted directly square in front of the driver.

The cockpit is full of dramatic contract in colour and materials. In many cases there is a bare aluminium dashboard blending with the chrome instrument bezels; in turn resonant with traditional white on black instrument faces. The large black starter button extends a magnetic invitation. The subsidiary dials in hierarchical order provide information and are grouped around the central revcounter but the speedo is offset to the left. There is precious little else and no distraction, ornament or distraction. The lower dash tube provides a passenger grab handle. The gear lever [approximately 6” and handbrake piece through and adjacent to the prop shaft tunnel. The bare tunnel divides the cockpit and helps locate the simple in extreme but comfortable foam filled cushions and backrest.

The external visual impression provides an analogy with an insect perhaps as a result of the hard shell like quality of the bare aluminium skin stretched taught over the chassis frame. Polished aluminium in this form ripples with wave upon wave of dancing reflecting light and shadow. It possesses an almost surreal magical mirror quality that distorts and reflects.

The Mk.VI straddles the ground with attitude. The track exaggerated by the voluptuous curvaceous spats and minimal ground clearance.It glints with menance; mutating, delicate, brutal, brodding with a lethal intent.

My night even more so as the colours blend and bleed and the neon runs and vanishes across the body as it speed into the distance.

[Please see our recent article on Williams and Pritchard]

Author John Scott-Davies