The green and yellow livery long associated with one of the most famous marques in motor racing will be seen this May at the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in almost half a century.
Forty-five years after a brilliant English special builder and a fast Scottish sheep farmer set the North American racing establishment on its collective rocker panels by winning the iconic classic in a sleek little racer with the engine in the wrong end, Lotus will once again line up on the grid at the Brickyard.
Lotus Cars Ltd. - still based at its traditional home, Hethel in Norfolk, but with Malaysian ownership these days - is making a determined effort to re-establish its name in international competition with a return to Formula One and this month's announcement that it will compete in the Izod IndyCar Series. Lotus last raced in F1 16 years ago, but it's been more than four decades since it last ran in Indy-type cars.
Lotus played a key part in Ford's 1960s assault on motorsport that saw Cobras, Mustangs and GT40s claim winners' cups on road circuits and engines with "Ford" on the cam-boxes take drivers to the winner's circle at Indy and in Formula One.
Lotus is partnering with famed British engine-builder Cosworth, which built those early Ford engines, in its IndyCar effort, which will have its first outing this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. Recent F1 competitor Takuma Sato will be behind the wheel of the car, which is being fielded by the KV Racing Technologies team.
Lotus's U.S. spokesperson Kevin Smith says IndyCar racing is currently essentially a "spec" series in which competitors run Dallara chassis and Honda engines - which leaves little for Lotus to do but apply the green-and-yellow paint scheme. But he says Lotus and Cosworth are hopeful a different situation is developing.
"There's an initiative within IndyCar to change the formula to encourage multiple chassis manufacturers and engine suppliers. To get it back to what it should be," he says.
He envisions a more classic approach in which the best driver, car-and-engine combination win. And he says this year will provide Lotus and Cosworth with that all-important fast ride up the learning curve they can exploit in the future.
But back to that story about the Brit and the Scotsman and the funny little rear-engined racer.
Although the Indianapolis 500 has primarily been an all-American show, it has attracted foreign competitors and was actually included in the World Driving Championship between 1950 and 1960. But due to its unique challenges, few European racing teams bothered, although Ferrari turned up in 1952 and Cooper (chasing big prize money) in 1961, introducing the rear-engined concept to Indy.
The slim, lightweight, rear-engined racer was scoffed at and called a "funny" car by the Indy establishment - but the joke ended up being on it.
The 2.8-litre Cooper, driven to ninth place by two-time World Driving Champion Jack Brabham, was a wake-up call for an Indy race still dominated by big, brutal "roadsters" most often powered by alcohol-burning Offenhauser 4.2-litre four-cylinder engines.
Lotus creator Colin Chapman was hitting on all cylinders about this time after launching his company with home-made "specials" a decade earlier and entering Formula One in 1958.
Driver James "Jim" Clark came from a Scottish farming family and, against parental wishes, went racing. He finished second to Chapman in a 1958 event, which led to his later becoming part of the Lotus Formula One team. He went on to become force in the sport and World Driving Champion in 1963 and 1966.
Among the first to react to rear-engined potential was American racer Dan Gurney, who turned up at Indy in 1962 in a Mickey Thompson-built car with the engine behind the seat. He failed to finish, but was responsible for getting Chapman interested and involved with Ford.
Lotus arrived at Indy in 1963 with Type 29 racers for Gurney and Clark powered by a race-prepped pushrod Fairlane V-8. Clark finished a close second to Parnelli Jones in a Watson/Offy roadster. The finish was controversial, as Jones car had developed a serious oil leak and Clark supporters, including Chapman of course, felt he should have been black-flagged.
In 1964, a dozen of the 33 cars entered for the 500 were rear-engined. Clark was in the cockpit of a Lotus-Ford 34 equipped with a twin-cam, four-valve Ford racing V8. He won the pole but dropped out with tire problems and a roadster driven by A.J. Foyt won the day - for the last time.
In 1965, Clark's Lotus-Ford 38 was one of 27 rear-engined cars, but set a record qualifying time of 159 mph (256 km/h) and went on to win the event handily, two laps up on second-place Jones, also in a Lotus-Ford.
It was the first rear-engined car and the first British car to win the race. Clark became the first non-American to win since 1916.
"I almost didn't go," he wrote later. The Monaco Grand Prix was set for the same date and its championship points were a prime consideration although, as it turned out, he won the championship that year anyway.
"But there was a touch of the pioneering spirit in our participation at Indy, for both Colin and I had the urge to break the tradition of American domination there. It didn't become an obsession, but it got infectious."
He was also thinking about the should-have-been results of 1963 and 1964. "Having missed the carrot both times, so to speak, I felt that we could do it and finally win." Which he did.
Clark was killed in a crash in 1968. Lotus continued to race at Indy until 1969, but never won again.
Clark's winning Lotus-Ford 38 is owned by the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., and is undergoing a restoration at Classic Team Lotus, a division which maintains Lotus's own collection and provides restoration and other services to Lotus owners. It's run by Clive Chapman, son of Colin, and occupies what used to be the old Formula One race shop at Hethel.
The car will likely be shown first at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and then possibly the British Grand Prix and later at the Monterey Historic Races.