CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EDP Norfolk today CLICK HERE

Proud of Lotus’ Norfolk Heritage

PUBLISHED: 09:42 15 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:42 15 November 2016

Around the track at Hethel

Around the track at Hethel

Submitted

As one of East Anglia’s most famous companies, the connection between Lotus and our region goes back 50 years and is getting stronger each year

Dinstinctive and dynamic, the Lotus rangeDinstinctive and dynamic, the Lotus range

If you hear the name Lotus, you naturally think of the world-famous motorsports marque. Racing enthusiasts can tell you about the Formula One team’s glorious string of victories dating back to the sport’s golden years and its iconic heroes who are still household names today, while legendary sports cars like the Elan, the Europa, the Esprit and the Elise capture the public imagination and bring the excitement of a race to the road.

The first Lotus sports car was built in 1948, and for most of the 68 years since the company has had a strong connection to Norfolk, and the charming village of Hethel, 10 miles from Norwich, is now mentioned in the same sentences as Ferrari’s Maranello and Porsche’s Stuttgart. Today, Lotus is also one of Norfolk’s biggest employers and the relationship between the marque and the county is now entering its 50th year.

The Jim Clark Elan from LotusThe Jim Clark Elan from Lotus

The story begins in 1966 when the legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman was on the lookout for new premises. The young company was already outgrowing its original home in Cheshunt, so Colin started searching for a convenient location for a factory within 100 miles of London. With Lotus now a force to be reckoned with in Formula One, a test track suitable for the development of the company’s race cars and the production vehicles rolling off the line was essential too. That’s when he found Hethel airfield.

Originally a stretch of farmland, the airfield was first developed in 1942 to be used by the US Army Air Force as a bomber squadron base (Station 114) from which to launch attacks across Europe during the Second World War. After the end of the war in Europe and the departure of the Americans, the airfield was assigned to RAF Fighter Command and saw further service before its closure in 1948. That sounded very promising, so Colin flew up in his personal plane, circled the site to get a good look and landed for a personal inspection. The rest is history.

Louts founder Colin Chapman with his plane and one of his iconic carsLouts founder Colin Chapman with his plane and one of his iconic cars

Later that year, Lotus moved production to a purpose-built factory unit at Hethel and the two old runways were developed into a single two-and-a-half-mile test track, with the original primary runway becoming the main straight. Since then, the site has seen extensive development and modernisation and has become the advanced production and testing facility it is today. In addition to producing about 2,000 cars every year, Hethel has become a global icon in the production of light, fast and exciting sports cars thanks to Lotus.

The famous Hethel track has made history all by itself, and upcoming production cars and Formula One cars driven by some of the world’s most famous drivers – Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna to name but a few – have been regular sights there over the years. It was sometimes even pressed into service as a runway once again for the black and gold JPS liveried plane that Colin Chapman used to travel to and from Formula One races.

Today, it is used for testing and development of new Lotus cars, emergency services training and even by local cycling clubs for racing competitions. The company’s engineers can test potential design improvements on the track so fast that changes can be assessed and implemented the same day and, better yet, the engineering teams also have ready access to Norfolk’s country roads for real-time road testing too.

Today, Lotus employs 800 people in Norfolk, 22pc of its suppliers are within the wider East Anglia and it spends £7 million a year within the region. However, that 50-year legacy is still very much alive too and historic race cars from Classic Team Lotus also use Hethel for shakedown testing, so working at Lotus means that having a gorgeous Type 49 blasting round the track is just part of another day at the office!

More from Norfolk Magazine

Whatever your age, whatever your ambition, whatever your ability, Total Ensemble creates inclusive theatre with extraordinary results both on stage and off it

Read more
October 2018
Wed, 12:36

The new novel by Sarah Perry is out this month. It’s frighteningly good, writes Rowan Mantell

Read more
October 2018

Explorer, adventurer and UEA graduate Benedict Allen is set to reveal all about his controversial Papua New Guinea expedition when he appears in Norwich this month

Read more
October 2018
Wed, 12:16

“Remember remember the fifth of November!” It’s almost that time again, so break out your woolly hat and gather your loved ones up to enjoy a roaring bonfire and glittering fireworks

Read more
Wed, 10:24

Award-winning distiller Bullards has unveiled a new gin and a new look that harks back to its Norwich heritage

Read more
October 2018

We all know how to pronounce it properly. (Think win and you’re a winner, think why and you’re not.) But did you know all these winning facts about Wymondham?

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

With unusual presents, artisan crafts and local delights in abundance, we look at Norfolk’s fairs and markets that have Christmas gift-buying all wrapped up!

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

As Norwich Ghost Walks celebrates 20 spine-tingling years we discover its latest haunts

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Norfolk Ramblers guide us on a beautiful autumnal walk around Blickling Hall, near Aylsham

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Peach, pear, plum, quince, jostaberry and medlar too; we take a tour of our fruitful county

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search