The speed demon of cars is best known for its appearance in the James Bond films “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “For Your Eyes Only.” Off the screen, racecar driver Mario Andretti clinched his Formula One World Championship in 1979 thanks to the lightweight vehicle.
It took just one spin round the block for Kaulback to get hooked on the car he believes has worked behind the scenes for too long.
It was about two years ago, after regular visits to the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey that Kaulback suggested a Lotus exhibit. After hours of calling on Lotus club members to dust off their collectibles, the AACA Museum last month opened its doors for “Lotus: The Art of Lightness,” which runs through April 26.
It was 1992 when Kaulback sat behind the wheel of his first Lotus. He had been car browsing for some time and was weighing his options between a Mercedes X1, a classic Mustang and a Mazda CX-7. He was leaning pretty close to purchasing a CX-7 when he saw an ad for a Lotus Elan M100.
“I hadn’t actually been able to drive the Mazda out of the lot, so, when I pulled the Lotus out onto the street, it just felt like an exotic ride,” Kaulback said.
At first, it was just a fun car to have, he said. But it was the start of a collection that today includes hundreds of brochures and books on the carmaker, as well as nine vehicles, including one he bought as a restoration project to work on with his 5-year-old son.
“I can’t really pick a favorite because it’s like trying to say which child is your favorite,” he said. “It’s just an icon.”
Mark Lizewskie, executive director at AACA Museum, said he’s excited for the museum to feature its first Lotus exhibit.
“Lotus is like the David versus Goliath of car engineering,” he said. “You don’t think much of David when he comes out to contend, but he blows you away. For the size of the company, it’s been able to do huge amounts of work.”
But Lotus is about more than cars. Also on display will be design items, such as bicycles and airplanes. Many of the items expand beyond the antique limit of 25 years and older. While Lotus had a hand in historic car-making, the company has continued to develop new methods for lightweight transportation on and off the racetrack.
“We’re very fortunate to have a guest curator who owns a large collection and was able to reach out to a lot of Lotus people for all sorts of unique items,” Lizewskie said. “The automobile is so intertwined with life here in America. So many people know Mustangs and Corvettes, but there are so many other factions out there, and it’s our job to educate people.”
The exhibit will take visitors through the 66-year history of Lotus, with more than 15 models from the 1956 Mark VI to the 2014 Evora. Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, is best known for his research in creating a lightweight vehicle that still embodied an elegant design.
Chapman released his first car in 1948, when he transformed an Austin Seven “Chummy” into his first competition vehicle. Lotus Engineering would emerge in 1954. His designs would invade British Club racing and international competitions.
Chapman’s philosophy of lightweight, small engines soon were translated into the famous “racing cards of the road,” including the Seven, Elite, Elan, Cortina, Europa, Esprit, Elise, Exige and Evora.
Some of the pieces included in the exhibit come from collectors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Alabama—even as far away as Texas.
“Lotus is a car that so many people might not have seen up close or in person,” said Nancy Gates, director of marketing and publicity for the museum. “Sometimes, people don’t want to just see thing in magazines—they want to see it in real life.”
For collectors like Kaulback, Lotus’ history of innovation and alternative methods makes it different from any other vehicle. People with technical and engineering interests also might enjoy the wide range of transportation methods in which Lotus had a hand.
If you plan to visit the exhibit, Kaulback said, make sure you don’t miss anything. Items will be set up throughout the museum and are worth the walk through to find each one.
“It’s a classic car for classic collectors,” Kaulback said. “It doesn’t matter if you prefer street or race cars—or those that pull double duty. Lotus is one of a kind in its industry.”
“Lotus: The Art of Lightness” runs through April 26 at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, 161 Museum Dr., Hershey. For more information, call 717-566-7100 or visit www.aacamuseum.org.