Hazel Chapman, the co-founder of legendary sports-car maker Lotus and the wife of Colin Chapman, has passed away aged 94. In a statement on its website, the Lotus team has paid tribute to an instrumental figure in the company’s history, with current managing director Matt Windle saying that “Without Hazel Chapman, there would be no Lotus.”
Born in London in 1927 as Hazel Williams, she met Colin Chapman at a dance in 1942. Both were only 16 years old at the time and as their relationship blossomed, Colin used the garage at the back of her family’s property in Hornsey, North London, to turn an Austin Seven into the first Lotus, the Mark I. When the car was finally completed in 1948, he entered it into competitive trials with his then girlfriend on the passenger seat. It didn’t take long for the two to achieve their first successes with this and the later Mark II. As a result, the couple attracted a lot of interest and orders for their cars. It was also around this time that Hazel loaned her boyfriend the £50 needed to establish his company, Lotus Engineering.
The two got married in 1954 and Hazel became actively involved in the running of Lotus. Filling the role of the stronger woman that is said to be standing behind every strong man, she sat on the boards of a number of companies in the group and also worked with almost every Grand Prix driver that ever competed for the team. They included world champions Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti, as well as Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.
Following Colin Chapman’s death in 1982, she helped to secure a sale of the brand, thereby guaranteeing its future under new ownership. She also became a director of Classic Team Lotus, the company that looks after many of the famous race cars created by the brand over the years. Right until the end, it was also a Lotus tradition that Hazel Chapman would “sign off” every new car created by the firm by being shown it before anyone else, and it was the electric Evija where she would carry out this duty for the very last time.