Lotus 23/23 B: An Aesthetic Appreciation


Figure 1.Editors sketch of Lotus 23 [see Lotus head on series]


For the editors one of the greatest appeals of the Lotus marque is the aesthetic content of their design and allied articulation of form and function.

We analysis and celebrate this aesthetic element from varying perspectives.

Recently we were researching Industrial /Product design and came across this work by Rodgers. [“Designers: The 50 most influential”]

We were surprised to discover a significant number of automobile engineers/designers/entrepreneurs that were included.

The editors are aware that many leading authorities on design are now including mention of Colin Chapman and the Lotus brand.

We took note of Rodgers appropriate inclusion of automobile designers because after fashion and home goods they are a mass purchased commodity reflecting owners taste.

Rodgers includes the following:-

  • Henry Ford
  • Ferdinand Porsche
  • Corradino d’Ascanio
  • Pinin Farina
  • Flamionio Bertoni
  • Alec Issigonis
  • Giorgetto Giugiaro
  • J.Mays

We also latched on to his definition of aesthetic as we use this in the Lotus design context.

“The word aesthetic within the context of design, relates to the visual characteristics of products buildings and environments”

British Auto Legends is recognized as work exploring the aesthetic of the automobile. They devote a chapter to the Elite .Interestingly they include the Elva Mk.7/7S.The Elva and Lotus 23 were direct competitors in period and bore similar aesthetic characteristics. [Subscribers might like to see our dedicated article comparing and contrasting these two racing machines]

This article is devoted to an aesthetic appreciation of the Lotus 23.A small capacity sports racing car was provided with a powerful expression along with attractive proportions. These are not easily achieved and can be carelessly sacrificed. In our experience Chapman and his design engineers managed to confer great dignity, presence and articulate form and function into their products granting them ready identification.


“Meanwhile Chapman had pursued 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”

The editors believe the Lotus 23 sold in relatively high numbers. We don’t attribute this entirely to its aesthetic appeal, but it was significant. Other factors might include:-

  • Practicality ,maintenance , servicing , tuning , spares availability
  • The reputation provided by Lotus/Chapman and that earnt by the 23 early on in its career
  • Many might have liked the David and Goliath element of a car punching above its weight
  • We have noted in our articles on Lotus 22 and Formula Junior that this class of racing was extremely popular in the early 1960’s.If it became oversubscribed we consider some owners might have preferred to enter sports racing instead or possibly with two near identical mechanical cars enjoyed the benefits of entering both classes economically

Subscribers might like to see directly relevant and structured A&R articles on:-

  • Lotus Sports Racing cars by type number
  • Lotus Formula Junior
  • Lotus 22
  • Lotus 23/23B
  • Lotus 23 Compared Contrasted with Elva Mk.7 and other small capacity sports racing cars.
  • Lotus 23: Imitation …….

The G spot

The appearance of the type 23 was heavily influenced by FIA regulations and specifications; Class G [1100cc displacement limit]

Appendix J, Group IV, 1962


The type 23 meet these and incorporated details within a homogeneous package.

Subscribers are invited to study the regulations to understand how they influence appearance through specified requirements. [We provide abbreviated details below].These might then be related and identified in our drawings.

Form and Function

It’s worth noting that Haskell provides an excellent technical description of the Lotus 23 to accompany a cutaway drawing of the car by James Allington.

The type 23 of was mid-engine layout. This of course has been established to provide many advantages.

One down side is that the gearbox is conversely further from the driver than the front engine [where closest.]

It requires carful design and detailing to provide a positive gear change mechanism over such a length and the detours it’s required to make. Our sketch is an indication of the solution. [Subscribers might like also to see our article on the Lotus Europa in this connection]

The type 23 rear engine bay is reasonably generous space wise and this assisted the fitting of alternative engines, carburetters, exhaust pipe runs and of course servicing.

The editors believe that Chapman and his colleagues designed for owner/driver /mechanics .A plus of the type 23 was that it was widely accessible and that front and rear body panels hinged .It worth noting the simple but effective spring clips that facilitate this.


Figure 2.Editors sketch illustrating routing of complex gear change linkage to rear of car.

An aesthetic appreciation

The Lotus 23 is an aesthetically correct design. It’s deceptive in its simplicity.

The editors admire how form and function are articulated and the 3 boxes or zones of activity are readily identified. This we have noted can be achieved more easily in front engine layout. To do so in a small capacity mid-engine car is a considerable achievement.

We believe this is worthy of study and examination.

Design and packaging remain an extremely important function of product design and the 23 provides lessons and examples for now and the future – and not just in automobile design.

Editors sketch working drawing of Lotus 23/23 B.


“The elegant ,close fitting bodywork ,incorporating an intake duct fore of the radiator .the chassis tubes again carried oil and water to and from the engine and their respective cooling radiators .the centre bodywork sections were attached securely to the frame but the rest of the body comprised large front and rear sections which hinged on outriggers and ere held closed by simple spring clips, the doors were hinged at their bottom edge and blended with the three piece wraparound windscreen .at the rear of the cockpit was a detachable roll bar”

Bowler commented accurately:-

“A Lotus 23 is very much a product of the post 1950’s .You get down into it, treading carefully as you lower yourself in; doors and bonnet are held down by springs .Once in and strapped down its quite a comfortable position, semi reclining with our feet level with the front hubs [see drawings and extrapolate] but without much elbow room, a small steering wheel s at arm’s length,

On the right is a small lever for the change to the Hewland five speed box , unlike the original 100’s central change by whippy wand……..”

The 23 is an extraordinary car; although it has been referred to as “stubby and featureless”. In reality it’s very compact and extremely light. Complying with class regulations [body to appendix J.Group 4 with the then compulsory luggage space] it has two seats lights, widescreen, wipers, and stop lamps and carries a spare wheel. What a package!!

The sheer simplicity and utter functionality of the 23 almost defies description. It’s possibly slightly more functional than beautiful but its border line.

The car is extremely low and compact as the approximate dimensions suggest:-

Overall length 140”

Width 59.5”

Height to top of screen 27”

The other determine dimensions are:

Track 49”

Wheelbase 90”

Note the car’s width just short of half the length!

The 23 looks light and is remarkably light at an estimated 880lbs.-960 depending on specification.

The 23 is difficult to analysis visually because of its essential simplicity. The editors recommend detail reference to our sketch drawing and that of the cutaways. The 23 is taught and the flow of lines and planes integrated more than immediately obvious. The eye needs to follow lines of the wings and study how they merge and flow in a totality of concept and homogeneity. It’s really quite startling in such a small car.

The type 23 low build is accentuated by the very powerful horizontal line that links the windscreen with the rear deck. Note the extraordinarily slim rectangle the 23 slips into when viewed in side elevation.

Form follow function. The rear engine permits the driving position to be very low and this in turn enables frontal area to be very small.


Figure 3.Editors photograph of what’s believed to be Lotus 23 at Brands Hatch Lotus Anniversary event.

The 23 appears rounded but this in part is deceitful. Careful examination reveals the car to fall within an essential rectangle in plan – with radiuses corners .Rearward of the cockpit the body runs parallel with the ground but the small rear wings and rounded corners with their distinctive triangular shaped vents visually modify the overall shape in an attractive manner.

It’s understood that Williams & Pritchard produced the fiberglass body pieces.

The cockpit displays a severe compactness and use of space but despite this two seats are provided. Of course there is not the conventional prop shaft tunnel. It’s difficult to conceive that a spare wheel is mounted at the front under the lift forward bonnet.

In side elevation the 23 is quite graphic in its articulation of form and function.40% of the length is devoted to the engine /transmission; the cockpit occupies 33% [visually evident] and front bonnet 27%.

The car has been described as squat and this is most evident from the rear. The windscreen is attractive and functional. Note the low flowing integration that wraps continuously around from side screens and merging uninterruptedly into rear wings. The screen is double curvature constructed from Perspex .Note the blister in the screen just forward of the driver acting as an effective deflector. The screen forms a visual bridge piece to the front and rear and fully integrates the cockpit within the totality.

The 23 is remarkable for its lack of external opening / vents. The striking exception are vents in the extreme rear wings and are particular characteristics and identification marks. The front radiator opening is visible but only a slight compacted collapsed ellipse, very slim and recessed.

The Perspex head lamp covers are distinctive and a foil set within the fiberglass body shell.

The Lotus colour scheme of BRG with the canary yellow cast magnesium “Wobbly Web” wheels work well together and are nicely proportioned. The cockpit trim the seats, wheel rim and dashboard are simple elegant and starkly functional yet complimentary in red. All components including instruments are proportionately scaled. The rev-counter sits in a tiny binnacle in front of the driver [incorporated into body moulding.]

I would venture that the 23 is near perfect in its lines traded off to achieve an optimum between, practicality for racing and aerodynamic efficiency

The 23 possesses a high degree of homogeneity and correctness. The essential rightness needing no other amendments .The 23 seems to possess the rare theoretical correctness with utility that if not a classical beauty certainly a functional articulation. The 23 is that good .it cannot be really faulted.

The editors suggest that it ought to be compared with the Europa.Rear-engined cars can suffer from lack of articulation as there tends to be less self-evident expression and clues.

It has been suggested that the 23 did provide some design clues for the Elise. The study of design is not therefore mere nostalgia but there are excellent continuing commercial reasons to do so.

Note that James Allington made an excellent cutaway of this car [see dedicated A&R article]


Figure 4.editors sketch of Lotus Twin cam engine installed in Lotus 23.

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 peers in 1100cc class and benchmark 23; what common denominators do you detect?
  • What are the fundamental aesthetic differences between front/mid-engine automobile designs? Give examples of best of both
  • Although very polarized designs compare and contrast the Lotus Elite and 23, what binds them together and identifies them as Lotus
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of fibre glass bodywork?
  • Record your observations of the type 23 cockpit, what are the ergonomics and what is achieved in such a compact car?
  • Study our working drawing and mentally estimate measurements then check against specification
  • Place dimensions onto drawing and do arithmetic of respective proportions attributed functions
  • Using our drawing place a figure to scale alongside –what is revealed?

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.

We consider the following appropriate, educational and entertaining:-

  • Sports Racing and Prototype cars of 1960’s
  • Chapman works magic on 23:better than Merlyn
  • Lotus 23:Small is Beautiful
  • Lotus 23 Packaging :Shrunk Wrapped
  • Betta than Brabham:Lotus 23
  • Lotus 23 :Not over the top
  • Lotus 23 Aesthetics: Understanding and Understatement
  • Lotus 23:The Package Deal
  • Lotus 23:Racing Form follows Function
  • Lotus 23:Unpretentious-The Plain Truth
  • Lotus 23 Packaging :Gift Wrapped
  • More slippery than an Elver:The Lotus 23
  • Lotus 23 Packaging: Special Consignment


In our set off three articles we have fairly comprehensively covered the type 23.

Subscribers are also directed to our piece on the 22 to avoid repetition as much applies and overlaps. For brevity, the Type 23 provided:-

  • A very successful small capacity sports racing car
  • A design that was superlight, efficient , effective and aesthetic

A car that triangulated a beneficial spiral, design, competition success, sales. Volume sales also democratized sport. Harvey:-

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

  • A genuine first class racer proven again worthy competent opposition from established brands not least Brabham often sharing common engine
  • Chapman’s entrepreneurial skill of structured model range offering both profits and production economics to respective parties

Not least is our summing up of the type 23 aesthetic dimension. It was:-

  • Small but beautifully formed
  • Slight but not ignoble
  • Delicate but not degraded
  • Possessed paucity with performance
  • Diminutive but dynamic

The Type 23 provides not an insignificant legacy. It has been copied both in period and to the present. It is an enduring minor masterpiece and benchmark. The type 23 is an example of packaging at its best and therefore a true example and inspiration in industrial design.


Lotus: A Competition car survey.Harvey.Osprey.1999.

ISBN: 1903088011

“Designers: 50 most influential”.Rodgers.Black.2009

ISBN: 9781408106303

British Auto Legends.Zumbrunn/Heseltine.Merrell.2007.

ISBN: 9781858944944

The Lotus Book .Taylor. Coterie.

Lotus Sports Racers.Capel&Clarke.

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

ISBN: 1855323761

Lotus Sports Racers & Lotus 9, 11, 15,17,19,23 Unique Books.

ISBN: 1841554308 &1901977307

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.