Colin Chapman, Warranties, and Ethics

In the book Illustrated Lotus Buyer's Guide, by Graham Arnold (who worked for Colin Chapman twice, 1963-71, and 1977-81), he provides (pg. 13) this wonderful anecdote which captures certain different engineering mindsets to perfection:

Chapman Ethics

I must now recall an incident from my many years as director of Lotus to explain one important factor. Chapman and I were discussing his public image objectives for 1970 and how we wanted to be viewed by the world (especially since I was trying to get his name changed to Sir Colin Chapman). He said "I want to be seen as Britain's Mr. Porsche." I said that was impossible and he frowned and asked why.

"Because you're a crook", I replied, staring straight back at him. He half smiled and asked why I felt that way.

"Right, Ferdinand Porsche is approached by two of his engineers with wheel bearings for a new car. Porsche says 'What is their expected road life?' And the engineers reveal that one costing $15 will last three years, and another costing $30 will run about five years. 'Find me a bearing that will last 10 years', he dictates."

"So?" asked Chapman.

I continued "Two engineers come to you with two possible bearings. One will cost $5 and last two years, and the other will cost $7 and last three years. You ask 'How long is our warranty?'"

Chapman smiled because he knew I was right.


In reading this, one should remember that cars in the 1970 were not as durable as cars of today (when 5-year mechanical warranties are pretty much standard). So the shorter warranties Colin is thinking of weren't too unreasonable.

And it's very ironic that Graham Arnold called him a "crook": Colin was later involved in the financial discrepancies surrounding the DeLorean car company; he died before it all unravelled, but at the trial of Lotus' accountant, Fred Bushell, the judge indicated that, had Chapman himself been there to be tried, he would have been sentenced to "at least 10 years" for his part in the affair.

None of all the above should, however, be taken as indicating that I am ignoring Colin's many engineering achievements, and the wonderful cars that came to life under his spell. You can find a small piece of my many 'travels with Lotus' here.

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© Copyright 2013 by J. Noel Chiappa

Last updated: 24/May/2013