Essex Petroleum Chapman’s refuelling strategy backfires

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

Essex Petroleum Chapman’s refuelling strategy backfires


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
  • Petrochemical sponsors in this series

Essex Company Profile /Abbreviated summary from the net etc.

“Young Thieme was interested in design of a rather different kind and won a place to study industrial design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and after graduating set up his own industrial design business, specialising in executive aircraft interiors, which one might plausibly suggest were assisted by his father’s connections in the industry.

The firm proved to be extremely successful and Thieme worked with car manufacturers and oil companies on their jets and then began designing other things for them as well. It was in this era that he became hooked on a racing as a fan of Parnelli Jones.

In the early 1970s, when Thieme was 30 and already wealthy, he decided to invest in oil trading and set up a firm called Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation, buying cheap oil at a time when OPEC had instigated an oil embargo, aimed at countries which supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The price of oil rose dramatically and would more than double again in 1979-1981. Independent oil traders leapt into the market, offering better terms to governments than were on offer from the multinationals, There were huge profits available for those with money enter the game and the overheads were low, with just a few staff needed to buy and sell the oil and arrange for transportation and refining. And thus it was that by the time he was 37, Thieme had so much money that F1 became a possibility. A deal with Credit Suisse to help finance more purchases led to a boom and he decided to get involved in motor racing, with the former F1 driver-turned-sponsorship agent François Mazet acting as his right-hand man. At the end of April 1979 the first Essex logos appeared on the Team Lotus 80s, driven by Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann. Thieme also put money into the Porsche factory entries for the Le Mans 24 Hours, with two 936s, driven by Jacky Ickx/Brian Redman and Bob Wollek/Hurley Haywood.

In December 1979 he launched Essex Team Lotus at the Paradis du Latin cabaret in Paris, with feather-clad dancers and a Lotus in Essex colours descending from the roof, with Mario Andretti, clad in a dinner jacket, descending with it. In 1980 Thieme took the title sponsorship of Team Lotus, with a flashy new red, blue and silver livery for Andretti, Elio de Angelis and later Nigel Mansell. Everything that Thieme did was extravagant, with the 1981 launch at the Royal Albert Hall, with 900 guests and his double-decker hospitality bus parked outside with Thieme’s helicopter (in Essex colours, of course) on top. Ray Charles and Barbara Dickson sang for the guests (including Margaret Thatcher) and an Essex-liveried Lotus Esprit was raffled and much Dom Perignon was drunk. The 1981 season proved to be difficult with the twin-chassised Lotus 88 causing controversy when it was introduced in Long Beach”

“David Thieme’s father was the designer of glider aircraft for the US Army during World War II and after moving to New York Thieme attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, studying industrial design. In the late 1960s he went into the business of industrial design and made a fortune, investing some of his profits in oil. In 1973 he closed down the business and moved into oil instead, establishing the Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation, buying oil when demand was low and then selling it at higher prices when there was a demand, usually caused by political instability. This enabled him to make large profits, particularly in the unstable Middle East. In 1977 he began working with funds from Credit Suisse which enabled him to make bigger trades. In 1979 Thieme was able to indulge his passion for motor racing, sponsoring the sidepods of World Champions Lotus with drivers Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann. That same year Thieme supported two Porsche 936s at Le Mans with drivers Bob Wollek, Hurley Haywood, Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman.

In 1980 Lotus built a series of 100 Turbo Esprit cars in Essex colours and Thieme announced that he was becoming the title sponsor of the team with Elio de Angelis and Mario Andretti and a third car on occasion for Nigel Mansell. Essex continued as the team’s principal sponsor in 1981 but by then the oil markets had taken a serious downturn following the revolution in Iran and the start and the Iran-Iraq war and a disagreement with backer Credit Suisse resulted in Thieme being arrested in Zurich on charges brought by the banking giant. He was released after a fortnight (with his bail being paid by Akram Ojjeh) but by the middle of the year Essex had disappeared from the cars.”

Lotus Connections


“During 1978 Colin became involved not only with Delorean but also another interesting business man, David Thieme., head of Essex Petroleum…Thieme was actually an oil broker… who bought and sold crude oil…

David Thieme had become very wealthy …and he liked conspicuous display of his wealth …sponsorship of F1 team appealed to Thieme for all manner of reasons, including the fact he liked motor racing.

He and Colin had known each other for only a short time, but they got on famously.

They were two of a kind and each admired the other, though for different reasons.

Essex Petroleum bought the space on the sidepods of the Martini Team Lotus ….”

Despite a very disappointing 1979 Essex Petroleum became title sponsor of Team Lotus in 1980, whole most of the team’s previous backers took their money elsewhere.

When the Type 82 was launched, David hired the Royal Albert Hall… the occasion was used to launch two special editions Lotus Esprit… the special editions came in the garish blue, silver and red livery of Essex Petroleum…”

From the net

“In July 1979. A radical American called David Thieme wanted to promote his Essex Petroleum interests to the audience of Formula One.   His presence at the 1979 Silverstone Grand Prix and subsequent encounter with Colin Chapman of Lotus gave rise to one of the most ambitious partnerships in the history of the sport. and changed the face of corporate hospitality as we now know it.    Until Essex Motorsport arrived on the scene. There was no celebration utilising the spectacle and thrills of F1 GPs to provide a backdrop to high-level entertaining.  It’s true that most teams had some form of standard American motorhome for the drivers to use. But Essex commissioned a triple decker with showers. A bar. And a briefing room – all firsts – and dining space for over 130. Including the panoramic open-air top deck for spectating.

Essex Petroleum sponsored

Lotus types 80/81/86/87 /88 (1979- 1981)

Lotus Sunbeam Talbot (Essex livery)

Lotus Esprit (Ditto)

Figure 1 .Essex Esprit, Archive and Resource collection

Figure 2 …Editors sketch of Lotus 81 Essex livery

Period Address for economic geography exercise

David Thieme was reputed to have an office base in Monaco.Possibly

Essex Europe Operation Centre,

Le Sporting D’hiver,

Place du Casino,

Monti Carlo

Principality of Monaco

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 Essex Petroleum

  • F1regulations frequently changed regarding fuel, tank capacities and refuelling, what have been the motives, consequences and controversy?
  • Has F1 set an example or provided technologies for sustainable motoring?
  • What were the pervading socio economic influences policy and theory through the 1980’s?
  • Did F1 reflect society and the world economy through the same period?
  • Outline the geo –political map of world oil production and consumption since the 1980’s (see appendix below etc.)
  • What is the size and value of the industry
  • How has it changed? And what is its future 2020 onwards?
  • Discuss the relationship with a multi-national mass-production brand/manufacturer and its links, how and why did it come into existence?


  • 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:-


Essex Petroleum Lotus stalls with petrol starvation
Essex Petroleum Speculation and hazardous substances
Essex Petroleum Toxic contamination in the fuel line
Essex Petroleum Chapman’s refuelling strategy backfires
Essex Petroleum From oil tankers to septic tank
Essex Petroleum Stock broker leaves Lotus stock still
Essex Man Mixes toxic cocktail
Essex Petroleum Crude and the obscene
Essex Man Quick cars and the quick buck
Essex Petroleum Britain’s Big Bang and Bigger Crash, cash for crash
Essex Petroleum Money,Money,Money,Loadsamoney and Monetarism
Essex Man Eighties free market fundamentalism and F1
Essex Petroleum The eighties era when Greed was Good or God?
Essex Petroleum Oil and the Eighties
Essex Man Oil broker goes for broke


  • 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………”

There can be little doubt about the significant contribution made by Essex

Chapman and Lotus hit a high point competitively and commercially in the late 1960’s.They went public but Chapman lost out in investment

The 1970’s were extremely difficult

  1. VAT applied, Chapman attempted to take brand up market to compensate
  2. The two world oil crisis impacted disproportionately on performance cars and sales
  3. The overall economy impacted
  4. His attempts at boats suffered under the same regime

Into the 1980’s F1 was changing and costs escalating.

Enter David Thieme.

Henry comments of the era 1977-1988

“the turbo era of GP motor racing spanned the years … and produced some of the most spectacular action – both on and off the track- that the sport had ever witnessed.It was a time of outstanding competition,unprecedented advances in technology and bitter political power struggles ….it was a time of relentless excitement and fascination “

From the net

“Colin Chapman might have been a giant in terms of leadership and innovation, but his judgement of character wasn’t always the best… And his head was certainly turned (not for the first time) by David Thieme and his grandly-named Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation.”

There is a saying that you are judged by the company you keep.Chapman was not the most ethical of business men but the sport of F1 was not squeaky clean.

Fred Bushell possibly kept Lotus alive and allowed Chapman to continue in F1 against all conventional economic laws.

The negative world economic events were not of his making.

When he linked up with De Lorean and Thieme the evidence suggests he was pretty much with his back to the wall. .He had soldiered on with the DFV innovating desperately to compensate (in ways and perhaps circumstances that had shaped Lotus destiny). He needed a massive capital injection to enter the next phase dictated by the turbo.

Critical as we might be Champion fought from a position of under dog.The culture of the 1980’s perhaps offered a glimmer of compensation and certainly encouraged and legitimised a short termism of speculation.

His links therefore might be seen partly in character but they were also partly imposed.

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-the second oil crisis from wiki

The 1979 Oil Crisis, also known as the 1979 Oil Shock or Second Oil Crisis, was an energy crisis caused by a drop in oil production in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. Although the global oil supply only decreased by approximately four percent,[2] the oil markets reaction raised the price of crude oil drastically over the next 12 months, more than doubling it to $39.50 per barrel. The spike in price caused fuel shortages and long lines at gas stations similar to the 1973 oil crisis.[3]

In 1980, following the onset of the Iran–Iraq War, oil production in Iran fell drastically. Iraq’s oil production also dropped significantly, triggering economic recessions worldwide. Oil prices did not return to pre-crisis levels until the mid-1980s.[4]

Oil prices after 1980 began a steady decline over the next 20 years, except for a brief uptick during the Gulf War, which then reached a 60% fall-off in the 1990s. Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela’s major oil exporters expanded their production during this time. The Soviet Union became the largest oil producer in the world, and oil from the North Sea and Alaska flooded the market.


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.


The Turbo era…Henry.Crowood.1990.