Friday 26 October 2018

The Oliver Winterbottom Diaries – Lotus 70th Anniversary

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Lotus car company, and the occasion was marked with a huge celebration at its factory in Hethel on 29 September. If you have been following Oliver Winterbottom's diary here on the blog, you'll know that he was invited to attend this incredible event. In today's blog, we bring you his account of a truly historic day. Take it away, Oliver!

The day dawned sunny and bright, and I left my home at 8:50am for the five and a half mile drive to the Hethel Engineering Centre. This was the car park for VIP guests arriving in non-Lotus machines. My Google map showed a solid traffic jam from Wymondham so I was a bit pessimistic. The last mile was slow, but I was parked and in the minibus provided for the last half mile by my target time of 9:30am.

Patrick Peal, ex-Lotus and now Chief Executive of the East Anglia Air Ambulance service, was another passenger as we crept up Potash Lane, passing Martin Cliffe, ex-Lotus, now running Omicron Lancia services, who was arriving on foot. In front, Mike Kimberley was making his way in, despite agreeing to meet me at the car park! All is forgiven, Mike. On the way, we passed the beautiful new HQ for Classic Team Lotus, which I understand was finally occupied last week.

Upon arrival, my first call was to Club Lotus. The various Lotus clubs were located on the front factory car park, and a fine sight too. Rows of Lotus Sunbeam's, Carelton's and all varieties of pure Lotus shone in the morning sun.

Just a small fraction of the Lotus Club area
I was making for Club Lotus, as they exhibited my book, A Life in Car Design, taking orders on the day. The event rules prevented actual sales, so it will be dispatching the books over the next few days.

I supplied a sample book and poster to assist Jane Woollestone in her efforts. I understand very successfully.

Immediately I bumped into John Mountain, past electrical engineer who served for many years. We started to walk back towards the test track but stopped at the club site, where Woollaston's superb Lotus Elite shone in the sun. We learned that Angus Marshall, stalwart leader of the club, was unable to come due to an electrical fault on his Excel. Not John's fault after nearly 40 years!

Woollaston's Elite 

On my way to the VIP Reception Centre, I found Brian Angus and Geoff Davidson, with wives, filling the pathway. After a brief hello, I suggested trying to meet after the show. As yet, that hasn't happened, which is a shame, as both gentlemen played a significant role in my career.

Upon arrival at the VIP Lounge, close to the ex-wartime Control Tower/Clubhouse, the first person I saw was 'The Ginn'! Malcolm Ginsberg was the PRO in the early 1970s and we haven't met since. Amazingly, he has barely changed! Next was Russell Carr. Russell is the Head of Styling and Design at Lotus, and it was great to meet up again. It was cut short, so I hope we can catch up again in the future. He told me that he posted photographs of the Lotus designers in the studio, but sadly I did not have time to look at them myself!

Andy Tempest, ex-Financial Director, was my next meet, followed by instructions about my interview from Alastair Florance. I was to follow Clive Chapman in being asked questions by Guy Munday, the commentator. I managed a pretty decent plug for my book, and perhaps surprised some by answering the question, what made me most proud, with: Finishing the Opel Vauxhall safety project already 22 months shorter than GM Europe could manage – with the first car on the production line in Luton two weeks early. That was Lotus!

I then returned to the Club Lotus stand, as I promised to be there in person to support the book sales. (These, incidentally, were very good.) I love the enthusiasm of the Lotus followers; I signed a spoiler, an engine bay and had my name on the side of a fine example of the product. Various folk asked for me to pose by their cars, all of which I was very happy to do.

It was now getting past lunchtime, and I returned to the Hospitality Lounge. I was delighted to see Hazel Chapman arrive, 91-years-old, and I sat with her and had a good chat.

One interesting observation was that a number of Chinese attendees were amazed at the noise the Classic Team Lotus racing cars made. These days, Forumla 1 is somewhat quieter!

My next meet was with Van der Koi, the Lotus dealer in Kwinkweerd (love the street name), Lochen, The Netherlands. I was there in May 2011 with Bauke Kooistra, a great enthusiast, to give a talk after a great day at Appeldorn. Although Bauke was at Hethel, I failed to find him – hi Bauke!

My next task was to find the beautiful green Elite shown above. This car now has Mike Kimberley's and my signatures in the engine bay! While admiring this car, three retired ex-Pattern Shop lads came up. They told me that the old skills – and they were as good as any – have now been replaced by computer modelling equipment. Apparently, Lotus still have a traditional timber shaping workshop, but it is only used for production issues. Sad for me – but then I am from the pencil and paper, carve the wood, era.

Throughout the day, there were various demonstrations on the test rack. Geely Lotus had a large grandstand and the VIPs got to view from the old Clubhouse. Clive Chapman had a huge exhibition, but also had an amazing number of Formula 1 cars running. How they could prepare that many, I am amazed. They ranged throughout the whole history of Team Lotus, and were a joy to watch and hear.

Racing cars driving around Hethel – that brought back some memories!
I recall, back in the early 1970's, Formula 1 cars were tested on the old track, driven by the works drivers like Fittipaldi or Peterson. Everyone in the main office would be looking at their watches to time the car as it roared past the front door. If the lap time came down, there would be an audible murmur. Not very good for productivity, but superb for morale!

My next meeting was with Roger Pestle, who lives in the cottage at Ketteringham Hall that was my first daughter's birthplace. He told me he still did odd jobs for Clive's Classic Team Lotus.

Chris Dunster, one of Lotus' longest serving design engineers, was my next reunion. Chris spends most of his time sailing in his retirement, so it was nice to see him on dry land. A few minutes later and Anthony Kimberly, Mike's 'middle' son arrived. "My, how you have grown" seemed appropriate, as I hadn't seen him since he was about 7-years-old – he is now in his 50s.

I needed the toilet, and was surprised at the quality of the VIP temporary facilities. However, it summed up the quality of the whole day to read on a website that the 'ordinary folk' arrangements are way above the normal, flimsy Portaloo's used at open air events. The same website correspondences also praised the quality and price of the food and drink. I think that summed up the atmosphere of the day.

A very rewarding chat was held with Feng Qingfeng, the Chinese CEO of Lotus. I have great sympathy for him, as he does not speak English (but has an efficient interpreter) and is living in a completely new culture. I had sympathy, having experienced the same in reverse when I worked in China. I wished him every success, and have been so impressed with the future outlook for Lotus.

With 1500 Lotus cars and 7000 ticket holding people, it was a very fitting day to celebrate Lotus being in existence for 70 years. I believe that its new caretaker, Geely, will see it safely into the future.

The Chinese have a great respect for the company's history, and the day before the event, announced the creation of a new Heritage centre for Hethel's history and Lotus. This is an interesting reversal of the events back in 1998, when the historic collection of cars was sold.

The attempt to fill the whole 2.5 mile test track with cars nearly worked! What a sight!
This was a day to remember, and with talk of another gathering next year as a possibility, I cannot wait for it.

Thank you Geely, thank you Lotus, and thank you Lotus Forum. It was worth what must have been very hard work.

You can purchase your own copy of A Life in Car Design here, and make sure you keep checking the Veloce blog for the next instalment of Winterbottom's diary!

Wednesday 24 October 2018

The Oliver Winterbottom Diaries – August and September

The summer proved to have two major events for Oliver Winterbottom, which we covered in full on our blog previously. In today's entry, we see all that happens in the run up to the Hinckley Classic Show and Lotus' 70th Anniversary celebrations!

1 August – A long time acquaintance from the Larling Angel brings a copy of my book to the Barnham Broom Bell for signature. Unusually, it was owned and read by a friend who has passed it on to a young designer, and it was for him that I signed it. All in good humour, although I don't want too many books passed on, it affects sales!

Roger Kemp, Jaguar Drivers Club, sends the Hinckley Classic flyer to their Area 7 (Coventry area).

Nick Benton, Jaguar ex-apprentice, arranges for the Hinckley Classic flyer to be passed round at their August monthly gathering. Although it was a long time ago, many Jaguar ex-apprentices keep in touch with each other.

2 August – TVR Car Club Office say they have forwarded my message to Ralph Dodds, its PR officer.

4 August – Amazon UK £24.37, two left; it was £37.50 on 14 July. Amazon USA $47.18, with three left. They had it at $41.19 on 22 June.

A contact with a fine example of a Lotus Elite, Richard Woollaston, is (flatteringly) constructing badges featuring my signature. Emails me to say:

"After a period of messing about I have now a 'final' proposal for the badges, both for the original Elite and Eclat, and the Excel. The badges will be on a metallic silver background with dark grey colouring. This colouring should suit most car colours, and it will be printed leaving a narrow silver boarder around the image. This size will be 16.7cm w x 2.2cm h, so that people can, if they wish, affix it inside the oblong Elite/Eclat badge bezel.
"I'll book my car in for Hinckley; I meant to go last year but dates clashed, so look forward to seeing you there. With any luck, I'll be able to bring a few badges along." 

I look forward to it.

6 August – James Cox brings a book for me to sign – all the way from Inverness. It was a pleasure to catch up on nearly 20 years – and to sign it.

9 August – Two Jaguar books arrive from Veloce for my appraisal. This will be a first for me!

Autocar magazine announces that Geely are to invest £1.5 billion in Lotus. This looks like very good news to me.

10 August – Lotus' 70th Anniversary website opens (despite contacting Lotus direct, I did not know of this website). My Club Lotus contact tells me the Lotus owners tickets are all sold out, almost instantly. Guest tickets from your Lotus Dealer still available. Note my bulletin entry from 23 July: Lotus PR Dept tell me that the details for the Lotus Festival are not yet formally announced but they will let me know when they are. (They didn't.)

11 August – Lotus 70th Anniversary arrangements difficult to find. I contact a number of retired employees. We would like some recognition of our part of the company's history. I await further developments.

12 August – Create an advertising flyer for the Hinckley Classic Car Show to inform that I will have books for sale and/or signature. Propose to supply this to my club contacts after approval by Stuart Elliott a show organiser.

13 August – Submit my first book review of Jaguar From the Shop Floor by Brian Martin. I found this book most interesting as it describes the activities between 1949 and 1978. A superb read from an unusual viewpoint.

I see that both Jaguar books supplied for my review have full page advertisements for my book. Very much appreciated Veloce, thanks and lets hope they sell a few!

Response from Stuart Elliott:

"The (Hinckley) flyer looks great and look forward to seeing you at the car show; hopefully you will sell a few books. I am on holiday next week, so I'm looking forward to reading your book whilst I am away.
"The guys from Retro Power in Wykin, Hinckley we were talking to the other week are interested in brining some cars which they have ben working on, and buying your book at the same time."

14 August – Circulate my Hinckley Classic Motor Show flyer to a wide range of clubs. Hopefully it will bring folk along to see me there AND BUY A BOOK!

Veloce agree to publicise the event, thanks!

Jane Woollestone of Club Lotus agrees to publish my Hinckley flyer on its website.

Roger Kemp of the Jaguar Drivers Club will circulate the Hinckley flyer. Thanks Roger.

15 August – I submit my review of the second Jaguar title Veloce supplied, Jaguar E-Type Factory and Private Competition Cars by Peter Griffiths.

16 August – A quick check on Amazon UK shows the price of my book at £24.37 with 11 books in stock, the price unchanged but nine more book in stock since 4 August. We have gained another five star review with them. Amazon USA have the price at $48.60, $7.41 more expensive than 4 August and still with three left.

Mike Kimberley, retired Lotus CEO, visits me at home. He tells me he has a brother living in Hinckley, and will suggest he visit my stand at the Classic Motorshow. We may have met over 40 years ago, but I doubt I will recognise him.

I show Mike the book, Jaguar From the Shop Floor by Brian Martin (Veloce). Mike remembered him, and following my review, has ordered the book. This also follows my recommendation of it to Roger Kemp of the Jaguar Drivers Club.

17 August – Visit the Stratton Motor Company, my local Lotus dealer, attempting to get a ticket to the Lotus 70th Anniversary celebration at Hethel. Failed! None left. They have, however, put me on their waiting list for future tickets, but warned the list is very long!

21 August – Jane Woollestone of Club Lotus emails to say that Group Lotus are sending me (and Mike Kimberly) VIP invitations to the Lotus 70th Anniversary celebrations at Hethel, 29 September. Very well done, Jane and many, many thanks.

24 August – Good friend Terry says he will come to Hinckley Classic Motorshow. The Hinckley Show and Richard Woollaston of will launch badges with my (how embarrassing!) name on, suitable for Lotus Elite, Eclat and Excel cars. I also note that Angus Marshall has posted my recent flyer for Hinckley on the website. Thanks Angus.

25 August  – Amazon UK now have seven books in stock – thats two more gone since I last looked on 16 August.

28 August – Various organisational events for Hinckley Classic Show getting sorted out. I believe in trying to keep well ahead of the time on a project!

29 August – Personal transport into Hinckley Classic Show arranged as my vehicle, a 2015 Citroen Picasso 165hp is not yet a classic!

30 August – Sadly, the TVR Car Club have not responded to my request to publicise both the Hinckley Classic Show or my book on their website, despite sending three emails this month.

Open discussion with Club Lotus suggesting that I support the sale of my book at the Lotus Anniversary 29 September.

31 August – My copy of the weekly newspaper the Wymondham Mercury is delivered with he headline "We never dreamed Lotus would build 100,000 cars." Colin Chapman's widow, Hazel reviews the car at her home. The car, a Lotus Evora GT 410 Sport was commissioned in memory of Jim Clark and raffle tickets to win it are going on sale to help fund an expanded museum to the World Champion. yes, I have bought a ticket, fingers crossed!

1 September – From website for the Hinckley Show: Update – there are now two Elites attending, one is mine and one is a yellow S1 I haven't come across before owned by a gentleman called Colin. We will both be parked in the market square near to Oliver Winterbottom's market stall (!) – assuming we're there early enough!
Looking forward to seeing Oliver, meeting Colin and seeing his car, and to the event itself.
There's still time to book up to come along, I believe, although you won't get on the market square now.  It should be a good day if the weather holds. Signed: Richard Woollaston.

Bourne Motor racing Club confirm the date for my talk. It will be Thursday June 13 2019. This adds to the talk to Club Lotus Avon already committed on Tuesday 5 March 2019.

3 September – Amazon UK have the price back to £35.50 with seven in stock.

4 September – Amazon UK not have six in stock!

Below is the first picture of Richard Woollaston's Lotus Elite with my (embarrassing) signature badge behind the door.

5 September – All agreed with Club Lotus regarding the Lotus Anniversary arrangements. They will hold a book signing on its stand at the event. I have now bought adhesive for the posters, a Marker pen for messages on the stand, and an ingenious fold away blade to help remove the book shrink wrapping. 

6 September – Today Amazon UK have twelve in stock, thats 6 more than on 4 September.

Bad news about the Club Lotus stand at the Lotus 70th Anniversary Day. No merchandise sales are permitted by attending clubs, so the plan to sell and sign books is abandoned. 

8 September – Amazon UK now have 13 in stock. Perhaps they found one or worse, had one returned!

12 September – Everything packed and ready for the Hinckley Classic Car Show. Veloce arranged for a grand poster to be supplied – now elegantly rolled and placed in a waterproof bag. Meanwhile I see that Amazon UK have reverted to a price of £24.37 which it had one month ago. There are now seven reviews on its site, the latest a full five stars. 

14 September – Delighted to see my poster for the book at the Hinckley Classic Show on the wall in the bar of the Heathcote Arms. Thanks Hannah and Stuart. 

Me, Heathcote Arms bar and book poster

16 September – I arrived at Hinckley Market Square at 9:30 in the morning. There were 800 plus vehicles filling the town centre. Two Lotus Elites graced the middle of the area, with the organisers gazebo alongside. I agreed to bring some of my books, a pen, and a cheery smile – not sure about that – and support this massive event. It is possibly the largest town Classic show in the country. In advance, I had contacted various clubs. (Click here to read Oliver's full account of the Hinckley Classic Show.)

My poster and book supply in Hinckley Market Place

19 September – Amazon UK now have seven left – thats six gone since the 8 September.

20 September – Finalise arrangements to display the book at the Lotus 70th Anniversary at Hethel with Club Lotus.

Daughter Jane collects two books for friends.

21 September – Long time colleague and friend, Clive Roberts, contacts me to order a copy of my book – he is in it! As he lives in far off Thailand in a warm and happy retirement, I arrange for it to be send from Club Lotus.

22 September – The postman delivered my VIP ticket to the Lotus 70th Anniversary celebration at Hethel. Much appreciated.

24 September – Jane at Club Lotus agrees to advertise the availability of signed copies of the book on the club website – and she does (see below).

26 September – Visit Club Lotus in East Dereham to sign Clive Roberts' book and deliver the poster and sample book for the Lotus 70th Anniversary.

28 September – Invited to be interviewed at the Lotus 70th Anniversary and agree.

29 September – I arrive at the Lotus 70th Anniversary celebration as a privileged VIP guest. Club Lotus have the book on display and Jane Woollestone is taking advanced orders. She ends the day with eight sold. The whole event is a huge success, and I manage to advertise the book in an interview broadcast to the whole event plus streamed on the internet. Well done, and many thanks to Jane and Club Lotus.

My book on the Club Lotus stand

You can purchase your own copy of A Life in Car Design here, and make sure to keep checking the Veloce blog for the next instalment of Winterbottom's diary!