British sports carmaker Lotus has come a long way since the 1960s, when Americans first learned about the brand.
Before then, you needed to be one of the cognoscenti.
Through the 1950s, founder Colin Chapman built Lotus through racing. But you wouldn't have known Lotus unless you read the short articles about international motorsports that usually ran on the back pages of the local newspaper's sports section or subscribed to Competition Press, which was the early incarnation of AutoWeek.
Back then, the Lotus image was forged by Formula One racing and by the victories of drivers such as Jim Clark, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. Then Lotus came to America. Clark finished second in the 1963 Indianapolis 500 and two years later won the race.
Gave life to Lotus
But it was Emma Peel who brought Lotus to life for many of us in Middle America.
Mrs. Peel was a character in "The Avengers," an imported English TV series that arrived in the United States in the late 1960s. Mrs. Peel, strikingly played by Diana Rigg, tooled around the English countryside in a Lotus Elan.
That was just about the same time that engineer Mike Kimberley left Jaguar and hired in at Lotus for the first time.
I met Kimberley a decade later, in 1979, when I went to Hethel, England, to check up on the progress of the DeLorean car, which Lotus had been hired to develop.
Kimberley gave me a tour of the works. I also got a lesson in the brand's heritage by flogging a couple of hot cars on the Lotus test track, which included a straightaway that had been part of a runway for World War II bombers.
The DeLorean was one of the earliest significant contract engineering projects for Lotus. Since then, the consulting business has blossomed for the company.
Chapman died in 1982, but Lotus survived.
Owned by Proton
The car company was divorced from the racing venture, Team Lotus, and was purchased by General Motors in 1986 and sold in 1993. It's now Group Lotus PLC, which is owned by the Malaysian automaker Proton.
But the 68-year-old Kimberley is back as acting CEO, searching for a permanent CEO and trying to find business building sports cars for other automakers.
He also has hired another industry veteran, 67-year-old Robert Braner, as CEO of Lotus Cars USA Inc. Braner's job is to rebuild the dealership group and the brand.
That means bringing back some of that Lotus luster.
I wonder what Mrs. Peel is doing.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]