Death of 'truly great' co-founder will keep the secret of Lotus' name

Hazel Chapman's family has described her as a “truly great woman”

Hazel Chapman's family has described her as a “truly great woman” - Credit: CHAPMAN FAMILY

It is one of the most famous brands in motorsport - but the secret behind the name, Lotus, is one which will forever remain a mystery. 

It comes following the death of Hazel Chapman, a co-founder of the British company, as her family paid tribute to her. 

They described her as a “truly great woman” who leaves behind a legacy for the history books.  

To mark its 70th anniversary, Lotus has launched a public search to find the elusive Mark I, hand-bu

To mark its 70th anniversary, Lotus has launched a public search to find the elusive Mark I, hand-built by the company's founder Colin Chapman. Pictured is his wife Hazel in the Lotus Mark I. Picture: Colin Chapman Foundation - Credit: Colin Chapman Foundation

Mrs Chapman’s death draws to an end the generation that founded the Lotus marque seven decades ago. And with her also goes the answer to why the name 'Lotus' was chosen for the firm, as she and her late husband, Colin Chapman, had always vowed to keep its origins a secret. 

Lotus has previously said the truth of the firm's name "died with [Mr] Chapman".

Her family said: “Hazel leaves a legacy of the many significant achievements she realised together with Colin, which survive to this day. A truly great woman of her time.  

“Co-founder of Lotus cars, she played a fundamental role in the success of Lotus and was a constant presence, from the very start to the present." 

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As well as paying tribute, her family has released more information about her life, explaining how she became one of the major faces behind the British company.  

In 1927, Hazel Patricia Williams was born on May 21 in north London to Vic and Annie Williams.   

She attended Queenswood School, Hatfield, but was evacuated briefly during the Second World War. She returned to London when her mother decided she would be better off at home, in spite of the risks. As a teenager, she helped her mother in her wool shop in Muswell Hill.   

Hazel and Colin Chapman

Hazel and Colin Chapman - Credit: THE COLIN CHAPMAN FOUNDATION

At the age of 17, she attended her first dance at Hornsey Town Hall in north London. Here she met Mr Chapman. Romance blossomed, despite initially not being welcomed by her parents, who moved house in an effort to discourage her suitor.  

Undaunted, Mr Chapman frequently gave her lifts to her secretarial college while he was studying nearby at University College. It is said that he would always try to break his record for the quickest time on the commute.   

Mrs Chapman went on to work for a theatrical impresario in the West End, before taking a job at the BBC at Alexandra Palace.  

Her family added: “Hazel’s contribution to motor racing and the motor industry was significant.  

“Under the direction of Colin, she was a fast and successful racing driver, a shrewd businesswoman, and the power behind the throne.”   

Her parents allowed her and Mr Chapman to build what became the first Lotus – the Mk I – in the garage behind their house in Alexandra Park Road, Muswell Hill. The rest, as they say, is history. 

The couple were married in October 1954 at Northaw church, and moved to Monken Hadley, north of Barnet.   

Hazel Chapman with the special edition Lotus Evora GT410 Sport, comissioned in memory of the late Ji

Hazel Chapman with the special edition Lotus Evora GT410 Sport, comissioned in memory of the late Jim Clarke. Photo: Lotus - Credit: Lotus

The family said: “It was very much a Lotus occasion, with many of the guests being work-related, and the Team Lotus transporter, in the form of a converted Bedford bus, served as the wedding vehicle. 

“Hazel matched Colin with her motivational spirit, and played a vital role in attracting the participation, enthusiasm, and extraordinary application and dedication of the growing workforce, which took on extremely ambitious projects in terms of both design and timescale, in the face of severely limited resources of time, facilities and money.”  

As the firm expanded, Mrs Chapman took a seat on the board of Lotus Cars, Team Lotus and Lotus Components, fulfilling many of the administrative demands of the flourishing business.  

“Nowadays, invoices raised by Hazel Chapman can be a valuable element of the provenance of the historic records for an early Lotus,” they added.  

Classic Team Lotus festival,snetterton Race Track; hazel Chapman; Photo: Jerry Daws; Copy:; ©Archan

Hazel Chapman pictured at Snetterton race track in 2010. - Credit: Jerry Daws

“Hazel was totally dedicated to her partnership with Colin, and also looked after all matters at home, in support of Colin’s now full-time career with Lotus.   

“Work was everything, with every hour, including at home, spent on planning, designing, and meeting with colleagues.”  

Together the couple had three children, Jane Susan in 1956, followed by Sarah Anne in 1959 and son Clive Kennedy in 1962.    

“Hazel was a strong and astute businesswoman who stood no nonsense. She took on a matriarchal role within the organisation, and prided herself on getting to know all of the Team Lotus racing drivers. 

“Along with Bette Hill, Hazel was a co-founder of The Dog House women’s motorsport club, while her involvement in the development of the Lotus business was extraordinary. 

“When Lotus moved to Norfolk in 1966, she still managed to find the time to be involved with the management of Team Lotus.” 

Lotus F1 launch in London 2010. Hazel ChapmanPhoto: Simon FinlayCopy: For: EDP NewsEDP pics

Hazel Chapman at the Lotus F1 launch in London in 2010. - Credit: Simon Finlay

Widowed in 1982, Mrs Chapman recognised that Lotus Cars needed new ownership to secure its future. Under the ever-watchful eye of long-time Lotus financial director and family consigliere Fred Bushell, the Lotus Cars managing director Mike Kimberley became Group Lotus chief executive to take care of the corporate side. Mrs Chapman chose to retain Team Lotus as a Chapman family company. 

In 1994, the Chapman family relinquished control of Team Lotus, establishing Classic Team Lotus in the process, run by the Chapman’s son Clive, with Mrs Chapman as a director. 

A “proud” grandmother of seven, she died at home on December 13 aged 94.  

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Hazel Chapman presented with Lotus's 100,000th car for the company's 70th anniversary. Photo: Lotus

Hazel Chapman presented with Lotus's 100,000th car for the company's 70th anniversary. Photo: Lotus - Credit: Lotus

The family home

In 1969, a new family home was built on the site of the former East Carleton Manor.   

The family explained its importance to Mrs Chapman.

“From muddy fields, she created one of the best private gardens in the country," they said.

“She gardened in much the same manner as Mr Chapman went motor racing - flat out."

Her interior design and exterior planning skills would also be employed in the renovation of the nearby Ketteringham Hall property that became the home of Team Lotus in the early 1970s, as well as in the interior design and fitting out of the range of Moonraker and Marauder boats that Mr Chapman pioneered in the mid-1970s.  

The family has described the family home as an “oasis of calm, comfort, exquisite taste, tranquil atmosphere and enjoyment of life which was refreshing”, due to it being a complete contrast with the everyday stresses of running Lotus and the maelstrom that often prevailed in the office at nearby Hethel.  

They added: “The magnificent gardens at East Carleton would remain Hazel’s pride and joy throughout her life and, to this very day, once a year would be opened for local horticulturalists to appreciate and enjoy.”  

In later life, she opened her garden in order to raise funds for charity by hosting fundraising visits by gardening groups and other associations. The principal charity was Care for Life at Home, which was established in memory of her daughter Sarah, who died from cancer at an early age.