Meccano: Constructive Learning

Sponsor, Brands, Specialists and Suppliers: The Companies that supported the Chapman /Lotus Road & Racing Programme

Meccano: Constructive Learning


Lotus cars sold

They were bought for their:-

  • Performance –road or track
  • Driving pleasure
  • Reputation and image
  • Aesthetics
  • Symbolism
  • Owner identification /personality extension etc.

All the above were integrated within a total framework design.

The above list is heavily dependent on a select group of components [either bought in proprietary or in house manufacture] that delivered the desired outcomes and met strict criteria.

Many of these components often contributed significantly to the overall aesthetic, many are extremely functional and beautiful in their own right .They formed part of a complementary whole.

In this series we examine:-

  • significant Individual components from all the marque types
  • Briefly explain their role /contribution /evaluation
  • Analysis form and function with regard to their integration, where appropriate
  • Provide suppliers/specialist advertising materials where appropriate

Understanding Lotus’s use of proprietary parts provides invaluable learning opportunities not just historical but right up to the present day. These lessons are not just applicable to automotive engineers/ designers but to the wider Industrial /Product Design professions.

The Skillful and creative adoption, absorption and integration of components was a powerful factor in the Chapman design methodology and contributed significantly to both competition and commercial success. It also feed his ability to mutate parts and materials to his desired ends.

The use of components is a fundamental skill of the Industrial Designer and the direct provision of added value.

The exact interpretation of sponsorship in conjunction with Lotus is difficult to establish objectively. The appearance of a sponsor’s logo on a car is not necessarily evidence of financial support. Access to historical archive and contracts is sought wherever possible but with the passage of time and for various reasons these are not always available or accessible to the public.

This series also embraces the specialist suppliers to Lotus. We are particularly interested in those suppliers and products that have a connectivity with aviation.

In constructing the historic sponsor series, the A&R looks only at the logos worn in period and assumes the company involved had no objection to Lotus promoting their products. The A&R sees much to be gained by the wider promotion of sponsors but in the event that a specific organization disapproves for any reason that article will be removed.

Sponsorship is an instrument of mutual benefit and promotion. Subscribers might like to see A&R articles on Sponsorship and Product Placement to understand the numerical / financial reach provided by sponsorship with its ability to identify and project status through identification.

The principle continues particularly with regard to education based exhibitions [see below for details]

Each of these articles is devoted to a company/ organization that is believed to have sponsored or supplied specialist items to Lotus.

The intention of each article is to: –

  1. Explain the sponsors own history and outline their products and services – past-present and future
  2. Explain the historical connection with Lotus and the contribution made both in competition and the production cars
  3. To suggest how these two interlocking facets may be translated into exciting, interpretive, educational and commercial exhibitions

Subscribers might to see complementary and structured pieces to this article: –

  • Primary sponsors like Gold Leaf / John Player Specials
  • Product Placement
  • Separate dedicated series on engines and gearbox
  • Logo on Lotus
  • Chapman Man and Boy and related aviation articles

Meccano Company Profile /Abbreviated summary

“The History of Meccano

The Invention of MECCANO

MECCANO was first invented in 1898 by Frank Hornby. He began making toys for his 2 sons. Frank Hornby created for them a system of re-usable metal strips, plates, wheels, axles and gears, with nuts and bolts to connect the pieces; allowing them to build cranes like the ones that fascinated them so much loading and unloading ships at the Port of Liverpool.

Meccano has built a strong legacy as one of the oldest construction systems in the world when it was invented in England by Frank Hornby in 1898. In 1913, a very similar construction set was introduced in the US under the brand name Erector.  Today, these two great brands have joined forces under one global brand name – Meccano.  Today, after over 100 years, the original values and objective remains the same to inspire builders around the world to bring their imaginations to life. From basic building to high‐tech robotics programming, Meccano offers something for everyone. At Meccano, our brand vision is to build a better tomorrow by empowering and inspiring the next generation…”

Figure 1: Image from the net

In the Chapman/Lotus era the Company was identified with mechanical engineering based building sets and existed as a very easily identified British institution.

Figure 2: Image from the net.Meccano Aeroplane, note Chapman’s interest in aviation modelling

Lotus Connections

MECCANO Sponsor Team Lotus

For immediately release: 8 July 1994

MECCANO is pleased to announce it has joined Team Lotus, the Formula One Grand Prix team, for the 1994 World Championship.

MECCANO’s patronage of Team Lotus will be inaugurated at the occasion of this weekend’s Grand Prix at Silverstone.

There is little wonder Team Lotus and MECCANO’s tracks eventually crossed, as both teams share the same values and legacy.

  • Engineering excellence and innovation – a talent MECCANO has continually promoted among generations of children all over the world.
  • The passion for mechanics and automobiles which can be seen in MECCANO’s exciting new ranges of metal and plastic construction sets.
  • Commitment to flawless quality – as valuable business partners rely on MECCANO, so do Grand Prix drivers on their racing cars!

It’s true, MECCANO drivers are somewhat younger than those you will see at Silverstone, and MECCANO engines are not that high-powered, but the spirit is the same. Throughout the years MECCANO has motivated many a budding mechanical engineer’s career.

In this spirit of innovation, perfection and loyal competition, MECCANO and Team Lotus – two of the UK’s most highly regarded names within their respective fields – are joining their forces for a new challenge.

MECCANO’s principal markets are the UK, Europe, Canada, Australia, South America, Japan and South East Asia where Formula One has a strong presence and the Meccano Lotus alliance will contribute greatly to the promotion of MECCANO throughout these international markets.

Meccano sponsored the Lotus type 109 in 1994.

See our related pieces for specification for the Lotus 109 etc.

Figure 3: Image from the net, cross reference with Meccano Magazine

Figure 4: Image from the net

Period Address for economic geography exercise

See internet for details and official website details of company history.

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.

Understanding the potential of componentry particularly proprietary items provides some of the following learning opportunities; in this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

Specific to Meccano

  • List learning/assembly based children’s toys
  • Which have been the most successful and why?
  • More recently what has been the competition to these? What prompted changes in taste?
  • How did Meccano teach the basics of structures and mechanics?
  • Study Meccano Magazine covers, what iconography is being portrayed?
  • When Meccano was invented what world events and achievements captured imagination?
  • Hornby took a patent on his idea, what was his likely motive? List Chapman’s patents
  • Meccano was a natural, symbiotic sponsor of Lotus.Suggest how they might have captured and capitalized on their support?
  • Meccano have recognised changing taste and demand, how have they responded? How does the current range reflect this?
  • Meccano has a strong 3D quality, how important is this in developing spatial and sculptural awareness?
  • Meccano is likely to increase builders awareness of form and function, how is this achieved?
  • What is the size and value of the industry
  • How has it changed? And what is its future 2020 onwards?


  • Use a technical dictionary where needed to define components and roles
  • Was there a viable alternative to the part under consideration?
  • Is what might it have been /cost?
  • Examine the suppliers/specialist advertising what does it convey? And what is its iconography?
  • Integrate this item with our series on the economic geography of motor sports locations and manufacturing bases
  • Has the component had exposure at any motor shows?
  • Does the company continue to supply classic/heritage parts?
  • What changes in technology and materials have impacted on Lotus through its history?
  • How does component design impact on form and function
  • Does the supplier/specialist have aviation links? If so what?
  • What is the importance of ergonomics and how does it influence modern automobile design?
  • Does excessive safety/ and or ergonomics impact negatively on aesthetics
  • What is the impact of standardization of platforms through mark ranges and indeed shared with other manufacturers? Could uniformity ultimately impact on sales even if economies of scale improved?
  • Enumerate Lotus bought in components
  • How has mass production and proprietary parts assisted the specialist car market?
  • Produce an engineering drawing of a selected component and consider the specification of the materials and assembly process, costs and volume
  • Explore an enumerate supplier/specialists components used in other Industrial Design fields
  • How did the supplier/specialist extract value from their sponsorship/support?
  • Explore Graces Guide for further background detail
  • Study the economic geography of the British auto industry what factors determined locations?
  • What have been the causes of change and circumstance that have impacted on British motor industry?
  • What has been the role of F1 /motor sport valley based around Bicester?
  • What is the importance of outsourcing to the motor industry?
  • Study a British car specialist like Morgan, TVR, Ginetta or Lotus where do they source parts? What are the advantages?

Exhibitions, Education, Economics and Entertainment

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 this instance we suggest the following exhibition titles might be appropriate:-

Figure 5note the slightly science fiction iconography but this possibly intentional to engender imagination, invention etc.


Meccano Constructive Learning
Meccano Character Building
Meccano Model Engineer
Meccano Building budding Brunel’s
Meccano Structured Learning
Meccano All cranes great and small
Meccano I beams ,Invention,Imagination,Inspiration,Innovation
Meccano Building bridges to the Future


  • Lotus Parts: Past ,Present Future
  • Lotus Parts: The Winning Factor
  • The Principle Part
  • Act the Part
  • Assign the Part
  • Lotus Components
  • Lotus Components :Parts and Parcel
  • Lotus Sponsors, Specialist and Suppliers:Form,Function and Forte
  • Lotus Components:Parts and Partiality
  • Lotus Aesthetics : With little to spare
  • Lotus Cars: Spare and Slender
  • Product launch with title of dedicated specific relevance

Conclusion: “The whole is greater………”

Lotus to the 1990’s and early 21st. Century

The editors follow Taylor’s example and primarily trace Lotus development into the 1990’s.

We do so for the following reasons:

  • To study continuity and benchmarking between the eras of Chapman and note the evolutionary trends with changing technologies and related factors
  • We attempt to be comprehensive and inclusive attempting to avoid over concentration on this halcyon era
  • Although less equipped to discuss the advanced technologies we attempt to provide a coverage, thereby addressing generational perspectives

Japanese contribution

Meccano sponsored Lotus in the last stages of their linkages back to Chapman.

Taylor records their 37 seasons in the background context of the type 109 .In the 1990’s Lotus were not fully competitive and were suffering finance difficulties in the F1 programme.

It’s important to explore Honda‘s involvement in motorsport to the present day.

We suspect that the possibility many Japanese industries sponsored Lotus because of the Honda engine.They possibly did this from loyalty but also significant commercial advantage.National interests have played an important role in the history of motor sport and this ought be studied for its multi-faceted interactions.

Although our economic geography exercise tends to concentrate on the UK, it’s important to recognise changing manufacturing patterns and locations, the causes and effects.

There can be little doubt about the contribution made by Meccano.

Although in the last year of the work’s Team era, the Meccano sponsorship was totally sympathetic and symbiotic, full of potential for both parties.

What we might take away from the Meccano connection is:

  1. Although we have seen no published reference to Colin using Meccano it would seem to sit with him and the era.Meccano linked with engineering and aviation
  2. Meccano is something of a British institution and today continues to be relevant whilst adapting. Vintage Meccano is collected
  3. Meccano sought to tap the towering engineering achievements of the late 19 and early 20th century. Note the Heroic iconography of its magazine covers and the implications of engineering benefiting mankind
  4. Meccano offered special child development opportunities with regard to spatial awareness, building, designers, assembly, sequencing, patience invention and a mind expanding sense of potential and possibility
  5. Meccano was the subject of a patent and this is important with commercial protection involved and links with Chapman
  6. Meccano has suffered competition with the digital age and virtual reality etc., but it’s possible to see that it has adapted and it’s to be hoped that its particular brand of hands-on assembly and 3 D building develops young minds as there is a scope in intermediate technology links with sustainability

Chapman’s design and manufacturing methodology rather confirms the adage that “the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts”.

It’s an interesting an important study to consider deployment of components. It contributes to aesthetics, assembly economics and sales [attractive components/ known accepted performance and servicing ability etc.]

It is equally and mutually relevant and beneficial to the component manufacturer.

Chapman and his colleagues often took the best / most appropriate mass produced item and almost reinvented it in its service to design objectives. In this manner many components acquired a new status and indeed their aesthetic was enhanced surrounded by the Chapman conceptual whole.

It’s also extremely significant how many of these components were also used in Lotus competition cars. This created a powerful dynamic and interrelationship. Many components:-

  • Performed well in competition gaining beneficial publicity and sales
  • Both the component and racing reputation carried through to road cars and assisted sales
  • The component manufacturer gained disproportionate publicity and assisted products sell in other applications
  • All together a beneficial spiral was commenced. Publicity of the era often opted to highlight the Lotus dimension in publicity material. In fact there was a powerful synergy.

The relationship between Lotus and is sponsor specialist suppliers is significant and worthy of close study and has lessons for Engineering, Industrial Design and Manufacturing disciplines.

Along the way it’s possible too to study the wider British motor component industry and how it has helped foster the specialist car manufacturers.

Sponsorship is a worldwide phenomenon of immense commercial impotence. Both to host and sponsor organization.

With the Passage of time it’s likely to become more sophisticated and focused and the internet /multimedia technology will play greater role.

Sponsors have existed in motorsport before Chapman but he vigorously exploited the concept with Gold Leaf c 1967/68 and set a pattern for others to follow.

Sponsors of Lotus were likely to benefit financially and in terms of exposure to an extent greater than their investment. The benefits were, and remain essentially similar to present day:-

  • Access to mass international audience consistent with mass production distribution marketing branding etc.
  • Demographics of viewing audience and interest groups
  • Additional subsidiary /secondary advertising through media, news, magazines etc.
  • Identification with market /brand /marque leader in both F1 and road cars
  • Association with success and continuity evolving, developing technology, materials etc.
  • In period the identification with the charm ,charisma and ability to articulate that Chapman possessed
  • All the attendant glamour , drama ,danger ,and spectacle of F1
  • Ability to provide conducive hospitality to conduct business
  • Cost effectiveness of audience cost ratio
  • Possible further complex corporate benefits

Appendix 1: Context and operation of sponsorship from the net:-

  • Learn how sponsorship motives have evolved.
  • Be able to differentiate between advertising and sponsorship.
  • Learn the advantages of each of the key promotion tools.
  • Identify the six categories of sponsorship opportunities.
  • Distinguish between self-evident and strategic linkages.
  • Learn the trends in spending on sponsorships.
  • Gain insight as to how ambush marketing and leveraging play roles.
  • Develop a basic understanding of the three special cases of sponsorship.
  • Identify the five key sponsorship objectives.
  • Learn the importance of each sponsorship objective.
  • Understand the concept of matching.
  • Learn the potential components of a sponsorship plan.
  • View a comprehensive example of a sponsorship.

Gain an awareness of controversies regarding sponsorship.

Appendix 2 F1 and related racing results

Appendix 3: Meccano Magazine

Aside from Meccano related articles, it also featured Hornby trains, Dinky Toys and other products of Meccano Ltd, plus a wide variety of general interest articles, including, engineering, aircraft, trains, modelling, camping, photography and philately. Commonwealth countries always featured strongly in articles as Meccano Ltd exported its products to these countries.

The magazines today are an excellent source of historic information and an invaluable aid to collectors of toys from those years

Figure 6: Image from the net note the Heroic iconography linking engineering with economics and humanity


Marks of Excellence.P.Mollerup.Phaidon Press.1997.

ISBN: 0714838381

Graces Guides

Internet websites and local History

Aircraft of the Fighting Powers.Cooper&Thetford.Vol.1.Aircraft [Technical] Publications.1940.

An extensive bibliography is provided in A&R article on John Players Specials/Gold Leaf

Industrial Design A-Z.C&P Fiell.Taschen.

ISBN: 3822863106

Lotus Book.Taylor.Coterie.1998.

ISBN: 1902351002

Art of the Formula 1 Race Car. Mann, Codling.Motorbooks.2010


Lotus 24, 25, 28, 29, 33.Unique.

Lotus 49, 49B, 49C, 49F.Unique.

ISBN: 1842555185

International Corporate Identity.Olins.Laurence King.1995

ISBN: 1856690377

International Motor Racing 1978.Ed by B.Gill.Macdonald and Jane’s.1978

ISBN: 035409033X

The International Motor Show. Offical Catalogue.1966

Motor Racing Directory 1955-56 [Ed by staff of “Motor Racing”] Pearl Cooper.

Motor Racing Directory.Kettlewell.

ISBN: 0906556007

Autosport A-Z Motorsport Directory. [Annual editions] Haymarket

The Automobile.Reyat.Chand.2013.

ISBN: 8121902142

Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology.Hillier & Pittuck.Hutchinson.1967.

Lotus 49.Wagstaff.Haynes.2014.

ISBN: 9780858334121

Lotus 72.Wagstaff.Haynes.2012.


Colin Chapman.Lawrence Breedon.2002.


Colin Chapman.Ludvigsen.Haynes.2010.


Coventry Climax Racing Engine’s.Hammill.Veloce.2004.


Lotus, Coventry Climax and Cosworth Engine’s.Pitt.Unique.