Imitation; The sincerest form of Flattery


This article was intended to analyse the Lotus 23 & 23b. However as the editors conducted their research it became apparent that the Chapman’s design principles were adopted by many competitors in period. This started a train of thought. It became obvious that many of the iconic Chapman designs were emulated in period and since on a larger scale.

Although this is considerable complement and indication of leadership it has consequences and the editors see merit in discussing these in the context mentioned.

The quotation above is attributed to Charles Caleb Colton [1780-1832] during his life and career he was a cleric, writer and collector. Educated at Eton and Kings College, he travelled and lived for a while in the United States. Evidently a man of taste and refined aesthetic he settled in Paris where he is believed to have gambled and acquired paintings and related works of art.

Subscribers might like to see directly related and structured A&R articles:

  • Lotus 23
  • Lotus Sports Racers by Type No.
  • Marque comparison series which includes Lola,Elva,Cooper etc


Figure 1.editors sketch working drawing of Lotus 23.

What is imitated?

In the field of design and many others the scope and extent of imitation is colossal. It embraces diverse subjects and objects including:-

  • Furniture to cars
  • Jewelry and particularly watches
  • Fine art and sculpture
  • Antiques and fashion
  • Food and architecture
  • Various branches of industrial design e.g. electronics and cameras etc.
  • Plagiarism in speeches and academia

Why imitate with particular reference automobile

  • As we have noted imitation is often prompted by the desire to own or experience what is not generally available either through price or availability
  • Status
  • Aesthetics
  • Upgrading or improvement
  • User drivability
  • Protection of original [term used very advisably because of potential abuse./ excuse and alternative agenda]
  • Economic /commercial advantage in various forms including elimination of design , trial and error and development through to sales based on successful pattern format, specification etc.; possibly there might be overtones of providing same specification at lower price
  • It ought be recognized that what seems like imitation can result from the application of scientific principles and of legislation or regulations


Figure 2.editors sketch of Lotus Twin cam engine in Lotus 23


Patents have evolved as a form of protection against theft of ideas and unique design. The measures cannot be 100% totally successful but do have an important role to play.

See A&R article “Patently Obvious” –The Lotus 25 for an extended analysis of patents.

Aesthetics and car body design are difficult to patent and control.

Iconic Automobile Imitation

Imitation frequently occurs for those iconic vehicles not generally available. Or whose status is such people aspire ownership or possession to such an extent they are willing to copy. The most copied of vehicle marques/ models are:-

  • A.C. and particularly the Cobra
  • Jaguar: C&D Types,SS and XKSS
  • Ferrari notably the 250 GTO
  • Bugatti Type 35
  • Porsche
  • Lamborghini
  • Ford GT 40
  • Wide spectrum of prewar classics including MG

Lotus Imitators

The Lotus models that have spawned the greatest number of imitations are:-

  • Seven
  • Eleven
  • 23
  • Elan
  • Europa

A.Competitors in Period [Sports/racing and Prototypes]

The Lotus 23 and 23B.


“Meanwhile Chapman had persued his Lotus 19 line of thought by developing his 1962 Formula Junior car the Lotus 22 into Lotus 23 sports racer .this was a smaller car than the Lotus 19 and used a variety of engines with the Ford 997cc, 1092cc and 1470cc units the most popular”

This was small displacement Sports racing car designed to meet FIA rules. It’s thought that the car was projected to accept engines between 750- 1300cc.

Twite remakes on the common acceptance that the 23B was “based very much on the Lotus 22 Formula Junior car the Lotus 23 used the Ford FJ engine which had been so successful in previous years”

Specification Lotus Type 23 B
Engine /Cyli Water cooled [4]
Bore /Stroke 82.55 x 72.74 mm
CC 1,558 cc
Valve Gear Twin ohc
Comp Ratio N/a
Carburettors 2 x Weber
Max.Power 140 bhp @ 8000rpm
Trans/Gears 5
Front Brakes Disc 9.5″
Rear Brakes Disc 9.5″
Steering Rack & pinion
Front Susp’ Wishbone & c’s’dampers
Rear Susp’ Wishbone & c’s’dampers
Chassis Multi-tubular
Wheel base 7′-6″
Front Track 4′-3.5″
Rear Track 4′-2″
O’length 11′-8″
O’width.body 4′-11.5″
Kerb weight N/a
Front Tyres 4.50 x 13″
Rear Tyres 5.50 x 13″

Specifications from Twite “The Worlds Racing Cars”, 1964

Specification Lotus Type 23B Brabham Elva Mk.7 Merlyn Mk.4A
Engine /Cyli 4 cylinder water cooled 4 cylinder water cooled 4 cylinder water cooled 4 cylinder water cooled
Bore /Stroke 82.55×72.74 mm 82.55×72.74mm 72.4×66.6mm 85×48.4 mm
CC 1,558 cc 1,558 cc 1,098 cc 1,098 cc
Valve Gear Twin OHC Twin OHC OHC OHV
Comp Ratio N/a N/a 9.8:1 10:01
Carburettors 2x Weber 2x Weber 2x Weber 2x Weber
Max.Power 140 bhp @ 8000 rpm 140 bhp ‘ 8000 rpm 98 bhp @ 6800 rpm 100 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Trans/Gears 5 5 4 or 5 5
Front Brakes Disc 9.5″ Disc Disc 9″ Girling 9″
Rear Brakes Disc 9.5″ Disc Disc 9″ Girling 9″
Steering Rack & pinion Rack & pinion Rack & pinion Rack & pinion
Front Susp’ Independent W’Bone& CSp W’Bone&Coilsprings Independent W’Bone & CS W’Bone & Coil springs
Rear Susp’ Independent W’Bone& CSp W’Bone&Coilsprings Independent W’Bone & CS W’Bone & Coil springs
Chassis Multi-tubular Space frame Multi-tubular Multi-tubular space frame
Wheel base 7′-6″ N/a 7′-6.25″ 7′-5″
Front Track 4′-3.5″ N/a 4′-2″ 4′-2.50″
Rear Track 4′-2″ N/a 4′-2″ 4′-1.50″
O’length 11′-8″ N/a 11′-6″ 11′-8″
O’width.body 4′-11.5″ N/a 4′-11″ 4′-11″
Kerb weight Not stated N/a 830 lbs. Not stated
Front Tyres 4.50×13 N/a 4.50×13″ 4.50×13
Rear Tyres 5.50×13″ N/a 5.50×13″ 5.50×13″
available with engines


Twite observes:-

“With sports /racing cars following closely to the design of single seaters it was no surprise when Jack Brabham followed up his successful Formula Junior and Formula I cars with a sports/ racing model .From the point of view of sales it was unfortunate that the Lotus 23 had already established itself in both 1,100 cc and 1,600 cc form but even so Brabham has proved to be more than a match for the Lotus….”

The Brabham ranked amongst the Cooper Monaco. It was conventionally designed. It conformed to Appendix “C” relating to dimensions and luggage capacity etc.

A variety of engines were fitted to the Brabham but significantly the twin-cam Lotus Ford developed by Cosworth proved successful with its 140-150 bhp from twin Weber carburetors. The alternative are the Ford Formula Junior [see A&R dedicated article], the Coventry Climax 1,100 and potentially an enlarged Climax engine car.”

Elva Mk.7

The editors quote Twite at length as it’s considered there is no better summary:-

“Frank Nichols who runs Elva Cars previously manufactured a great variety of cars ranging from the Elva courier road sports car to the Elva formula Junior car but in 1961 he arranged for Trojan Ltd to take over production of the Courier model and later ceased production of the Formula Junior car as he had on many occasions expressed his dislike of this Formula. This allowed him to concentrate on sports /racing cars and in 1962 he introduced the Mk.VI……”

This evolved and developed into the Mk.7 [see specification tabulation]. Twite informs us the chassis was space frame/ multi-tubular weighing 68 lbs. complete with light alloy under tray and all brackets.

Again Twite notes:-

“Frank Nichols is not particularly fond of highly modified production engines and he prefers to fit the FWA Coventry Climax 1,098 cc sohc engine for 1,100 cc racing …….also available are the Cosworth-Ford 1,100 cc engine and the Lotus-Ford twin overhead camshaft unit……”

Subscribers are sure to be aware that Porsche and BMW engines were adopted in 1964.

Merlyn Mk.4A

Merlyn started in Formula Junior [see A&R dedicated article].They too seem to have seen the opportunity to mutate the basic formula Junior concept and created an Appendix “C” sports racing car.

It follows the pattern of the other models listed incorporating a multi-tubular space frame. Like the Lotus 23B alternative fuel tanks can be accommodated and also like the 23 the bodywork is of glass fibre with the front and rear sections opening easily for accessibility.

Like the other cars listed a variety of engines are possible not least the 1,600 cc tohc Lotus-Ford. The Merlyn has performed well in club level racing.

B.Current Generation Lotus Imitators [special reference Lotus Seven]

There a few points to make with regard to Lotus [particularly Seven] inspired kits:-

  1. Chapman conceived the Seven as production car; essentially with conformity of specification but offered in kit form to avoid purchase tax. The kit was complete. It was rather like a complete car dismantled and offered back for assembly
  2. Modern kits vary in the extent of professional completion .Some return to the Lotus Mk.VI idea that Chapman tried to avoid with the Seven
  3. We try and avoid terminology but the words replica have different meanings and there are many kits that a Seven inspired .They may have a passing resemblance to the Seven .Into this debate enters the litigation to protect the Seven appearance
  4. The kit industry has a history dating from the 1950’s [and some before ;if specials included], this expanded through the 1960 [e.g. Mini Marcos].Into the 1970’s the classic car industry was starting to take off and baby boomers possibly wanting something more individual sought a kit car option
  5. Of the factors encouraging imitation of the Seven possibly most significant were:-
  6. That it was constructed in a traditional front engine/rear wheel drive layout
  7. That Chapman had used mass production engines that were widely available like Austin and Ford, these remained available .Into the 1970’s some cars might be 10 years old ,Mot failure but attractive as donor vechicle for kit. Slightly later the trend would continue with the Ford Sierra one of the last mass produced cars with front engine rear wheel drive

The motives of the provider kit industry manufacturers

This is interesting considering as Caterham are probably preeminent in the field and continue the Lotus practice of comprehensive package. Caterham can also claim the technical and conceptual heritage of the original. There is excellent availability and second hand cars.

Despite this and Ortenburger records in detail the international list of Seven like kit manufacturers the motives might include :-

  • Undercut Caterham
  • Offer more DIY option to reduce costs , increase participation , reduce overheads
  • Some manufacturers might be result of owner racers, offering a product they use in competition [owners in turn being in engineering or fabrication etc.]
  • Some might feel their product meets national regulation and donor vechcles
  • Some might feel a younger generation want a more updated specification ,performance and looks
  • New generation of owners , expectations budgets
  • There are racing classes for Seven like cars
  • The impact of testing and safety
  • The attraction and practicality of using reasonably ready donors for example Austin Healey Sprite for Westfield Eleven
  • Demand

The motives of kit customers

We have touched on some of these above .A more complete list might include:-

  • A desire for a second inexpensive car and the driving experience
  • Wanting a hands on craft experience/pride of constructing own car
  • Seeking alternative to bland mass production offer
  • A desire to customize or personalize vechicle
  • Rites of passage considering reputation of Lotus [for some an alternative to performance motor cycle]
  • To use in track days ,hill climbs/sprints or other competition events [i.e. 750 Motor Club]
  • The attraction of affordable, incremental build costs
  • The owner of suitable donor or easy access to [at time scrap yards, local press etc.]
  • Those seeking a borrowed imagery of iconic Seven [see production numbers /against which survival rate and world distribution. Impacts on supply/demand /price]
  • Direct imitation of the original for various motives

The Modern Kit car Industry

Again it’s worth referring to Ortenburger. The kit car industry is international and significant. The specialist fields that contribute include:-

  • Engine suppliers, rebuilds and tuning and of course related mechanical components
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Components like suspension .brakes, upgrades etc.
  • Electrical ,wiring and instrumentation
  • Bodywork ,aluminium sheet, fibre glass components/ coachwork
  • Paint
  • Trim, cockpit, seat etc.

When Imitation Not Flattery

Imitation has a significant down side .Some of the negative consequences are:-

  • Some imitations can be poor in every respect and send out false signals about the original cars performance and damage or confuse objectivity/brand reputation
  • They can demean the originals
  • They might impact negatively on price and rarity of originals. Some contend that this is a good thing if affordability is improved but by the converse spiral originals might increase as result of poor imitations as their real and unique performance cannot be replicated easily
  • Imitation in the extreme might contribute to fraud

Learning Opportunities

Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.

These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • List famous cars that have spawned replicas –concentrate on those whose volume is close to Lotus
  • What is the attraction of doing so?
  • What modern technology and other interests assists the production of replica kits etc.
  • What are the moral or legal issues around replicas –consider in wider framework of fashion etc., what are the economic consequences? What protection and prevention can be adopted?
  • Which mass production engines have been most used in kit cars [use UK as example]
  • What is the impact of classic racing on kit car industry?

Exhibitions, Education and Economics

In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In particular the proposed museum might hold a themed exhibition relating to the act of imitation in the various branches of design we have recorded. Also the museum provides an opportunity for the public to experience the exhibits and to be educated in their unique qualities and performance. This act of education and interpretation is hoped to increase the sense of respect and appreciation for what makes the designs special.

Respect for and appreciation of exhibits are means by which preservation and conservation can proceed. There is particular value in peer comparison often providing evidence of superior design / construction. It is possibly only the proposed museum that can perform the role of independent guardian and arbitrator .Armed with the resources and supported with technical and related archive that permit the articulation and dissemination of a complex subject that might otherwise be mired in confusion and or doubts.

We consider the following appropriate, educational and entertaining:-

  • See titles in additional Lotus 23 articles
  • Imitating Art
  • Origins and Originals :Lotus 23 Origin of the Species
  • Lotus 23:Survival of the Fittest
  • Lotus 23:Well kitted out
  • Lotus Kits: all the right gear
  • Original Lotus 23:The true believers
  • Impressionist Art: The Lotus replicas kits
  • Fellow travelers: Lotus kits


Lotus is one of the greatest marques in the history of the automobile. Many of the most aesthetic and high performing, competition successful cars were produced in small numbers.

This means few people get to own /drive or experience these cars. Production figures in the Lotus case are approximately [from Taylor]

Seven [Series 1-3] 1942

Eleven 270

Type 23 131

Faced with restrictions but also the iconic status and high value of the Lotus types it’s perhaps understandable that kits have come to the market. Also supporting this trend was the fact Chapmans design methodology was sophisticated thinking blended with relatively simple components readily available space frame chassis.


“there were so many potential power units for these smaller Lotus sports cars that they sold well all over the world ………….”

As noted the kit industry has good and bad impacts on brands. It is significant economically.

Lotus were invairably leaders in period and other manufacturers emulated them both technically and commercially. However it ought to be noted regulations like the FIA tended to produce a close conformity which might resemble imitation.

The international recasting and reinterpretation of the Seven in particular remains a complement to Chapman. Sixty years on since the original design of the Seven its still remains relevant and is copied. It speaks reams of the correctness of the original design both in performance and aesthetics.

In fact no significant design either outright or copied has really been able to exceed or improve the concept.

No other copy or manufacturer has therefore been able to steal the status and folklore established by Lotus [the Seven in particular]

We invite subscribers to dwell on this fact. To comprehend the magnitude and significance.

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but as we have established some copies of Lotus originals only flatter to deceive.

Appendix 1.


Because of the Seven’s relatively simple design, over 160 companies have offered replicas or Seven-type cars over the years.[17] Such cars are often referred to as “sevenesque”[18] or simply a “seven” or “se7en”. Sometimes they are also called clubman’s or “locost”. Some examples are:

Also see Category: Lotus Seven replicas

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

Xanthos 23/South West Replicas: Zanthos 90

The Xanthos 23 (1999) is a more-or-less accurate reproduction of the 23B using the same frame design as the 1960s original. Powered by Lotus-Ford Twin Cam or its Cosworth derivatives mostly mated to Hewland Mk.8 or Mk.9, it is still built by Xanthos Sports Cars.

Noble 23

Following the success of his Ultima GTR project, Lee Noble created a Lotus 23 replica in 1996 with a wider track than the original to allow for the use of wider tyres. With a lower level of adherence to the original design than the Xanthos, it proved successful in racing, with over 60 cars produced using either Lotus TwinCam or Renault V6 engines. Noble’s version continued in production, first by Auriga Design using an Alfa Romeo engine and transaxle, and now by Mamba Motorsport near Oxford, UK using Ford Duratec Engines.

Lusomotors LM23

Portuguese Lusomotors kit-car company with João Matoso dynamics engineering support built a reinterpretation of the lotus 23 (called LM23) which was showed at NEC 2009.

Auriga 23


Mamba Motorsport

Appendix 4

Appendix 5


The World’s Racing Cars.ML Twite.Macdonald.1964

Lotus Seven & The Independents.D.Ortenburger.Coterie.2004

ISBN: 1902351126

The Legend of The Lotus Seven.Ortenburger.Motorbooks.1981

ISBN: 0850454115

Lotus: ACompeitition car survey.Harvey.Osprey.1999.

ISBN: 1903088011

Colin Chapman. Lotus Engineering.Haskell.Osprey.1993.

ISBN: 1855323761