Lotus needs help finding its first car

The Mark I was last seen in 1950. What happened to it?

Call Lotus if you find a funny-looking Austin Seven stashed away in a British barn. You may have uncovered the very first car built by founder Colin Chapman.

The firm's archives department notes Chapman turned a used Seven into the Mark I, the model widely credited as Lotus' first car, with precious help from his girlfriend (and later wife) Hazel and some of his car-minded, tech-savvy friends. He built the Mark I by hand in a London garage in 1948.

The fairly extensive list of modifications included an upgraded suspension, a new body made with lighter panels, and a reinforced chassis. Chapman also extended the Seven's rear end in order to improve its weight distribution. Then, he went racing.

With Hazel as a co-driver, Chapman won two class awards in the first event he participated in behind the wheel of the Mark I. He learned a lot about what to do -- and, important, what not to do -- when designing a race car and applied the lessons to his second model, the logically-named Mark II. He sold the Mark I in 1950 for 135 British pounds to fund the second car's development. No one has seen it since.

The only information known about the buyer is that he lived in the north of England. The other details are lost to history. He may still have the car in his barn, or he may have destroyed it by driving it into a ditch during a race. He may have sold it and it may be in the hands of its 12th owner today. Your guess is as good as ours.

Lotus hopes enthusiasts, restorers, and car-spotters will help locate the car -- or at least elucidate the mystery behind it.

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