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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1978
Numbers built:5
Designed by:Colin Chapman with Martin Ogilvie and Geoff Aldridge for Lotus
Predecessor:Lotus 78 Cosworth
Successor:Lotus 80 Cosworth
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:March 15, 2010
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Click here to download printer friendly versionFrom the second half of the 1960s aerodynamics became increasingly more important for racing car designers. In the years before reducing drag had top priority until spoilers and wings were attached to create downforce and increase high speed stability. The newly found levels of grip in the corners more than made up for the increased drag. In 1970 aerodynamics pioneer Jim Hall came up with a novel idea to create downforce without a drag penalty. On his Chaparral 2J 'sucker car' he had fitted two snowmobile engine driven fans to suck the air from underneath the car and with the help of lexan skirts created a vacuum. This so called 'ground effects' proved to be highly effective, but the system was quickly banned as it was deemed a moveable aerodynamic device and as such illegal.

A few years later Lotus' founder and chief designer Colin Chapman figured out a way to create 'ground effects' without using a fan. By giving the floor a wing profile, the air under the car was accelerated resulting in a low pressure area. Chapman first used this novel design on the 78, Lotus' Formula 1 contender for the 1977 season. The car featured an ultra slim monocoque, constructed from an aluminium honeycomb. On both sides of the driver's compartment the Lotus 78 sported full length side pods, which housed the radiators and created the 'ground effects'. The low pressure area was sealed off on both sides by skirts that could slide up and down, which kept in contact with the track at all times. Conventional wings were fitted both front and rear for high-speed stability.

Powered by the familiar Cosworth DFV engine, the 78 was first shown to the public late in 1976. In the hands of Gunnar Nilsson and Mario Andretti, the new Lotus had a rocky start to its career. It had captured the imagination of the competition and they were quickly working on their own 'ground effects' cars even though they did not quite understand how the 78 worked. Andretti scored the first victory of the season in his home Grand Prix at Long Beach. He won another three races and Nilsson also added one to 78's tally. Even though Andretti was the most victorious driver and the Lotus 78 was the most victorious car, both titles eluded Team Lotus due to the poor reliability. One of the problems was that the very light monocoque was not quite up to the task of handling the increased stress created by the 'ground effects.'

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  Article Image gallery (75) Chassis (3) Specifications User Comments (1)