Obituary: Hazel Chapman, behind Norfolk's Lotus, dies aged 94
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The woman behind the creation of one of the world's most iconic car manufacturers has died at the age of 94.
Hazel Chapman, who was married to Norfolk-based Lotus co-founder Colin Chapman, will be remembered for her remarkable contribution to motorsport and the industry during the latter half of the 20th century – both as a successful racing driver and a shrewd businesswoman.
Since 1948, when the very first Lotus car was made, her involvement in the development of the Hethel-based business was key, in a world often unrepresented by women.
Describing her as “the rock upon which the Lotus foundations were built”, the British car company paid tribute to Mrs Chapman and said it was “saddened" to learn of her death.
Matt Windle, managing director of Lotus Cars, said: “This is a very sad day for everyone around the world associated with Lotus.
“Without Hazel Chapman, there would be no Lotus. The entire Hethel team, and those working at our facilities around the world, send their sincere condolences and best wishes to the Chapman family.”
Born Hazel Williams on May 21, 1927, in north London, she met her future husband, an innkeeper's son, at a dance in 1944. The sweethearts were aged 16 at the time and as the couple’s relationship developed, Mrs Chapman’s parents allowed Mr Chapman to build what became the first Lotus – the Mark 1 – in the lock-up garage at the back of their house in Hornsey, London.
When Mr Chapman gained a commission into the Royal Air Force, Mrs Chapman continued with the building of the Lotus Mark 1 and then the Mark 2. Competition success in races entered by the couple resulted in new commissions for their automotive services.
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With Mrs Chapman's commercial acumen, their first Lotus business was formed on January 1, 1952. It became a limited company later in the year, funded by a payment of £25 from Mrs Chapman herself.
The couple married in 1954 and had two daughters and a son. As the business grew, Mrs Chapman took a seat on the board of a number of their companies, including Lotus Cars, Team Lotus and Lotus Components. Since 1966, the company has occupied its factory and road test facility at Hethel, near Wymondham.
As well as being an astute businesswoman, she took on a matriarchal role within the organisation, which said she epitomised the phrase “behind every strong man is a stronger woman”.
As well as priding herself on working with almost every Lotus Formula 1 driver - including iconic motorsport names such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna – she also founded The Dog House women’s motorsport club.
Mr Chapman died of a heart attack on December 16, 1982, at the age of 54.
During the same year, the newly-widowed Mrs Chapman recognised that Lotus Cars needed new ownership to secure its future and played an instrumental role in its sale.
She became a director of Classic Team Lotus, the arm of the Chapman family business which preserves the cars and legacy of the brand’s global racing success.
Mrs Chapman maintained a close interest in all things Lotus. She signed off the 100,000th Lotus road car in 2018 and tradition dictated that she was always shown the latest Lotus road car prior to it being unveiled to the public.
She viewed the Lotus Evija with her son, Clive, two weeks before its debut in July 2019.