The Lotus 49 was designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe for the 1967 F1 season. It was designed around the Cosworth DFV engine that would power most of the grid through the 1970s. It used its drivetrain as a stressed member, being not the first car to do so but the first to apply the technique so well that everyone copied it.
Jim Clark won on the car’s debut in 1967, and it would also provide him with the last win of his career in 1968. Graham Hill went on to win that year’s title and the car continued winning races until 1970.
After a difficult first year for Lotus in the 3-litre formula, Chapman went back to the drawing board and came up with a design that was both back to basics, and a leap ahead. Taking inspiration from earlier designs, particularly the Lotus 43 and Lotus 38 Indycar, the 49 was the first car to be powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV engine after Chapman convinced Ford to build a power-plant.
The 49 was an advanced design for a Grand Prix vehicle because of its chassis configuration. The specially-designed engine became a stress-bearing structural member bolted to the monocoque at one end and the suspension and gearbox at the other. Since then virtually all Grand Prix cars have been built this way.
The 49 was a test bed for several new pieces of race car technology and presentation. Lotus was the first team to use aerofoil wings, which appeared partway through 1968. Originally these wings were bolted directly to the suspension and were supported by slender struts. The wings were mounted several feet above the chassis of the car for effective use in clean air, however after several breakages which led to near fatal accidents, the high wings were banned and Lotus was forced to mount the wings directly to the bodywork.
In testing, Graham Hill found the Lotus 49 easy to drive and responsive, but the power of the Ford engine difficult to handle at first. The V8 would give sudden bursts of power that Hill had reservations about. However, Jim Clark won its debut race at Zandvoort with ease and took another 3 wins during the season, but early unreliability with the DFV ended his championship hopes. It had teething problems in its first race for Graham Hill, and it had spark plug trouble at the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the 8.76 mile (14.73 kilometer) Spa-Francorchamps. Jim Clark and Graham Hill fell victim to the reliability issues at the French Grand Prix, held at the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit (a smaller circuit using only part of the track used for the Le Mans 24 Hours), and lost to Jack Brabham. Jim Clark then ran out of fuel at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix. Mechanical failures cost Lotus the championship that year, but it was felt that 1968 would be a better year after Cosworth and Lotus perfected their designs, which were clearly the way forward.
Clark won the first race of the 1968 season, the South African Grand Prix and the Tasman Series in Australia, but was killed in an F2 race at Hockenheim. Graham Hill took over as team leader and won his second World Championship title, after clinching three Grand Prix wins – including the fourth of his five Monaco Grands Prix. Jo Siffert also drove a 49 owned by Rob Walker to win the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch that year, the last time a car entered by a genuine privateer won a championship Formula 1 race. The 49 also took Jochen Rindt to his first victory in 1969 at Watkins Glen, New York, before he drove the type to its last win in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix.
The 49 was intended to be replaced by the Lotus 63 midway through 1969, but when that car proved to be a failure, an improved version of the 49, the 49C, was pressed into service until a suitable car could be built. The 49 took 12 wins, contributed to 2 driver and constructors’ world championships, before it was replaced by the Lotus 72 during 1970. The final appearances of the 49C were in 1971, with Wilson Fittipaldi finishing ninth in the 1971 Argentine Grand Prix, and Tony Trimmer finishing sixth in the Spring Cup at Oulton Park.
From its introduction in 1967 works Lotus 49s were painted in Lotus’s traditional British racing green with yellow centre-stripe. Over the following 16 months the design gained increasing numbers of sponsor patches and large driver name strips, while retaining the traditional base scheme. However, for the 1967-1968 Tasman Series races Team Lotus’s 2.5 litre engined 49s were painted red, cream and gold — the colours of Gold Leaf cigarettes — after Chapman signed a lucrative sponsorship deal. This colour scheme was introduced for the 1968 World Championship at the second race of the season, in Spain.
Lotus 49s were also run by the privateer Rob Walker Racing Team, who painted their car in Walker’s traditional dark blue with white nose band, and American Pete Lovely, whose car was painted in the American national racing colours of white with a blue centre-stripe.