In 1980 Team Lotus began construction of a Lotus type 81, as raced by Mario Andretti, Elio De Angelis and Nigel Mansell. In 2020 Classic Team Lotus completed the task.
The Lotus type 81 chassis number 5 was intended to be the sixth car of that type. The monocoque was constructed, the chassis plate affixed and components manufactured. However, the project was overtaken by the Team Lotus development of the first ever carbon composite monocoque, the success of which led to aluminium chassis becoming obsolete.
Although to the ‘B’ specification design – which featured a longer wheelbase – the chassis plate was stamped simply as 81/5 and was recorded as such by Team Lotus archivist Andrew Ferguson.
Together with a period DFV, gearbox, rear wing, wheels and suspension components, Classic Team Lotus has always had an eye on commissioning the car, which had sat in the stores since 1980.
Team Manager Chris Dinnage identified the opportunity to find time in the Raceshop at Hethel to build up the car, in between the core business of providing its historic motorsports service to owners, Worldwide. Lead mechanic Tim Gardner had the initial task of sifting through the parts to realise the correct ‘B’ specification. Meanwhile Composite Technician Nick Yallop worked on the bodywork, which was somewhat ironic as he was part of the team back in 1980 which realised the first Carbon composite monocoque, thereby leading to 81/5 not being completed, at the time.
81/5 is resplendent in its 1980 livery of Essex Petroleum, which created such a stir at the time, with wall to wall advertising at Grand Prix – especially Monaco – and extravagant promotional parties, including at the Royal Albert Hall.
On track the Lotus type 81 realised numerous podium finishes, but never quite made it to the top step. Closest was the 1980 Monaco Grand prix, where Team Lotus came within a whisker of a landmark 1-2 finish, only to be thwarted by the extreme good fortune of a competitor bump-starting their car after a spin on the last lap.
So, 40 years on, 81/5 is ready to take to the track. A zero miles 1980 Lotus Formula One car. It is a shame that Andretti, de Angelis and Mansell did not get to drive her, but 81/5 is a Lotus F1 car with a special history for another reason.
Article reproduced with thanks from Classic Team Lotus.