Completing The Vision: The Birth Of Racing Simulators

The Lotus Simulator as it sits in the World of Speed Museum today

One of our main attractions at the World of Speed are our racing simulators. Guests from around the world can try their hand in a real converted NASCAR Cup Car or real IndyCar. The third of the three available is much more special however, the Lotus. The history and purpose of this racing simulator makes it quite significant.

In the mid 1960’s prominent figure in Formula 1 racing, Colin Chapman came up with a completely new idea to market racing. “Today millions of young people of both sexes wish to be more closely identified with the world of speed and racing.” states the original manual for the Lotus Simulator. By putting anyone in the driver’s seat, more people could identify with racing. Credited with making the first-ever purpose- built racing simulator, Colin Chapman started something that still exists today both theoretically and physically. Being a representative for Lotus racers, Chapman designed and built a handful of these marketing contraptions. The manual states: “the racing car is a faithful static reproduction of the successful Lotus 31 Formula car fitted with all of the normal controls and instrumentation.” An image was then projected onto a screen of a little model car on a rotating disc going through the same movements as the driver.

Original schematics from the manual- with original misspelling of ‘view’

The idea went over well and the simulators were used mainly for marketing and amusement. They were purchased by dealerships and companies such as British Petroleum (BP) and other companies. One was even used for a 1967 Avengers television episode: “Dead Man’s Treasure”. In full TV hokiness, the woman behind the steering wheel had to keep driving or would be shocked with a deadly amount of electricity.

Few of these simulators have survived the test of time. Especially as none were proven race cars, they were often overlooked and became separated from their parts and pieces. As far as we know, our authentic 1960’s Lotus Racing Simulator is not only one of the few in the United States, but one of the few left in the world. The brainchild from one of racing’s most notable characters, this piece needed a home.

Enter Keith Maher, racing simulator designer. When the World of Speed came to him asking for real racecars to be converted into simulators, he jumped at the chance. When we brought up the Chapman Lotus Racing Simulator, it was like a dream come true. “That was my favorite era and style of racing” he said, “It was really satisfying to finish what Colin Chapman started. This was his vision.” What a vision indeed. Undergoing surgery for six months Maher was able to use 21st century technology to bring the Lotus to life. “Everything was there really, it just needed to be put together. For the 1960’s it was very low tech but very effective. The concept is the same but the technology is different” Maher commented. Even though this is the first of this kind of project that Maher has attempted, he is an avid believer and constructor of Chapman’s racing simulator vision. In Maher’s business drivers can not only come and practice on specialized machines, but teams and special interest groups can license Maher to construct a simulator to their needs, like the World of Speed has done. Racing simulators have become more than just a novelty, “drivers can use these programs to work out like they would on a treadmill” he says.

Chapman’s prophecy of simulated driving became real and refined thanks to people like Keith Maher. Simulators have become world-class, realistic training utensils. Chapman’s idea has only expanded with ever-changing technology.  It is a true honor to display and utilize one of the original Chapman Lotus Racing Simulators. It has found a home at the World of Speed, and thanks to Keith Maher, the vision has become realized.

Come test out the Lotus during our regular hours at World of Speed: 10 AM-5PM Tuesday through Sunday.

To learn more about Maher simulators, check out his website at: 

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