In January 2008 Lotus announced the Exige Sprint, to celebrate the Elan Sprint and 40 years of production at Hethel.
The press release included a paragraph on the Elan Sprint as well as how highly Mike Kimberley thought of the car.
Lotus has very recently introduced a limited edition Exige to celebrate 40 years of production at Hethel. Matthew Nice, the UK Sales & Marketing Manager contacted me having seen my web site to let me know that he had come up with this initiative. He told me Lotus was calling the car the Exige Sprint and that it would be finished to replicate the Elan Sprint paintwork. Each car would have a number, which would represent each year of manufacture at Hethel, with the exception of 1982, as a mark of respect for Colin Chapman’s year of death.
In further e-mail discussions with Matthew we compared notes and he sent me the press release and photograph they were using (see above). Lotus decided to use the yellow over white and blue over white colour schemes. The red over white scheme had previously been used for the Elise in 1999. The press photo had a yellow over white Exige Sprint with a similarly liveried Elan Sprint FHC in the background. It struck me that Lotus should also have available a similar shot with blue over white coloured models.
At this time I had also been contacted by Martin Birch, who now owns the ex Mick Miller Sprint/5, happily in blue over white livery. I asked Martin if he would be happy to drive up from Wiltshire to Hethel for a photo opportunity, which he readily agreed to. Thus we found ourselves at the factory gate for what were our first visits to Hethel. Having signed in at reception and handed over our cameras, we met up with Matthew in the main office building to discuss our programme. It had been a wet drive up to Norfolk and Martin’s Sprint was in need of a clean prior to the photo shoot, so Matthew took him off to the factory power wash. We then walked over to the car park next to the production facility, where both a yellow over white and blue over white Exige Sprint were parked up under the eye of the photographer. Martin was directed to park his Sprint between the two and the photographer happily snapped away.
Martin’s Sprint is perhaps the only original right hand drive Sprint/5. It was first registered to Moonraker Yachts, Chapman’s boat building business bought in the early 1970s. It was allegedly used by a “close confidant” of Colin’s before passing through two other owners and then being bought by an apparently eccentric fellow in Dorset. Mick Miller bought the car from him in 1978 and it stayed in his ownership until after his death. Susan Miller then sold the car to a collector, who subsequently sold it to Martin, in order to fund a Ferrari purchase. Martin now wishes to keep the Sprint in his family and clearly enjoys both the ownership and driving of this piece of Lotus history.
Once the photography session had finished, Matthew whisked us off the windswept car park and into the factory itself. He then escorted us around the entire facility, explaining the production process and allowing us to see the Elise, Exige, 2 Eleven and Europas being hand built by the dedicated and enthusiastic workforce. It is clear that Lotus have the ability to produce darned fine sports cars. Quality is clearly an important issue and it was interesting to see the efforts to which Lotus go to ensure a well constructed and well tested car leaves the factory. Another point that was made to us repeatedly was the Chapman mantra of building in lightness and ensuring that parts had more than one function.
Our visit finished with a quick discussion about Lotus heritage. It is obvious that the history and distinguished legacy of Lotus remain an important part of life at the factory and there exists a commitment to keep that alive. It is a pity that the car collection was sold off several years ago and I suspect that the enthusiasts at Lotus regret that commercial pressures impinge upon heritage on occasions. However I am sure that the spirit of Chapman is alive and well at Hethel today.
As a postscript, Martin’s Sprint missed not a beat on the journey to and from the factory. Almost as if the old girl was on it’s best behaviour!