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on 25 October 2002
First, let me say that this is the best Chapman biography available. It is an honest, adult, biography. Adult in the sense that most biographies of sports or entertainment figures are one dimesional puff pieces written at the high school level.
Chapman was a remarkable man, and he certainly has had his share of that sort of nonsense written about him. This book goes way beyond that. It cuts through the BS and half truths that have become part of the Chapman/Lotus myth. So in that sense its well worth the money, and certainly it is the best motorsports book of this year.
But to be honest it misses the mark as a definitive biography. Lawrence treats the text like a fleshed out essay. He straightens out the facts, and is damn proud of his ability to do so. But as a biographer he tells us next to nothing about his wife, children and close friends. Even claims of substance abuse and chronic infidelity are skimmed over. Where is the human being?
As a magazine article/essay this is magnificent. As a biography it is about half done. Buy it anyway though, its as good as you'll get a man who may be the single most significant figure in 20th century motorsport.
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on 11 October 2002
It's rare that I'm still awake at 3am these days -- takes a very good
book to do it. Assume, then, that the bags under my eyes today are
entirely down to Mike Lawrence's new masterpiece.
Colin Chapman has been at the centre of a lot of myth, a fair degree of
scandal, a lot of hagiography, and a fair amount of bullshit in
both life and death. There have been books that tried to paint
Chunky as a misunderstood saint - Jabby Crombac's authorised
biography, for example - and a lot of tabloid journalism that's
tried to tag him as nothing more than a crook.
Mike Lawrence does neither of these.
The subtitle of the book makes it obvious where his feelings lie -
Chapman was frequently manipulative, often dishonest, never slow to
claim the credit for the work of others, and ended his life in disgrace
that would've seen him serving a long prison sentence. Yet Chapman
was in many respects the catalyst that brought about British domination of
the world's racing industry, an iconoclastic, original thinker who
energised a strange band of volunteers into building his dreams.
Lawrence is at his best describing Lotus in the Fifties and Sixties - as
Chapman isolated himself from the road car side of the company and
became more focussed on racing and his personal projects (boats, microlights
etc) he becomes a more remote figure. Lawrence shows how he harnessed
the skills and enthusiasm (and took credit for the work) of a lot
of often unsung people - the Allen brothers, the Costins, Mac
Macintosh, Ron Hickman, Williams and Pritchard, John Teychenne and
many others - to build the legend of Lotus on the road and the
The description of the De Lorean fiasco is factual and balanced, and
Lawrence saves the conspiracy theories on Chapman's death for an
Appendix (and debunks most of them). He shows that Lotus's financial
structure was never straightforward and that diversion of funds between
various legal entities had been going on long before Chapman ever
met De Lorean - the implication seems to be that at some point Chapman
would've got caught; his downfall was hastened by getting involved with
shady characters higher up the food chain (David Thieme's painted as no
hero either).
There's some fascinating "what might've beens" mentioned there - Jaguar
possibly buying Lotus to put the Daimler V8 in the Elan +2 (now that
sounds like a good car!) - the prospect of Emerson Fittipaldi in a
Marlboro-backed Tyrrell or Brabham in '74 - the whole Lotus-Honda mess
in the mid Sixties....
This is a thoroughly-researched book about an extraordinary man, told by a
writer to whom the usual "...and then they went to Monza" tedium of most
racing hacks is completely alien. Perhaps not quite as funny as Mike's
book on March or as penetrating a portrait of the background deals in
the world of racing as his Reynard and Ron Tauranac books, this is a
mixture of perceptive character study, demythologisation without
character assassination and a balanced survey of what it was Chapman
*really* achieved.
Quite simply superb.
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on 2 November 2002
Mike Lawrence's biography of Colin Chapman has been touted as a warts and all expose but while it goes a long way to describing this wayward genius it ultimately fails because he was obviously unable to extract any information from the Chapman family and Fred Bushell the infamous Group Lotus accountant.
The book is not a hagiography which is where Jabby Crombac so conspicuously failed but one cannot help but feel that Lawrence lost interest in the project after Lotus moved to Norfolk - the story becomes bland ( Lawrence's own description ) and this shows in the story, what we get is a regurgitation of boring race results and facts culled from other sources, with very little original research.
The early years of Lotus are particularly interesting and Lawrence has unearthed a lot of worthwile information from the individuals who helped Chapman make Lotus a success, what a pity this standard could not have been maintained throughout the whole book.
The latter part of the book is badly written, and it would appear no one took the trouble to proof read the original manuscript. It is worth repeating that the overall impression is that Lawrence lost interest in what promised to be the definitive biography of Colin Chapman but instead ended up as a bit of a dog's breakfast.
An author of his undoubted ability should have produced a far better article.
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on 30 January 2009
'Colin Chapman - The Wayward Genius' is about Colin Chapman in his role as founder and leader of Lotus: there is almost nothing of the private family man, husband, father or friend, except for their part in the Lotus story. Tellingly, Chapman's family and friends outside Lotus contributed little to the book, and we hardly learn anything of his personal relationships, not even with his "best friend" Jim Clark. Lawrence's Chapman is the "spiv" who ducked and weaved in his professional life, and he is not described in particularly flattering or sympathetic terms: he is a man to be grudgingly admired, but not necessarily liked.

The early years up to the mid 1960s occupy roughly the first half of the book. Lawrence's account could probably be considered to be definitive: it is meticulously researched and carefully presented as he ruthlessly, and almost sadistically, explodes the myths that arose around Chapman, and sets his legend into its true context. Many of Chapman's early associates contributed willingly and in great detail to create a solid chronology and to set the record straight.

Later years become increasingly less satisfactory: Chapman recedes as Lawrence trots out a more conventional history of Lotus with seemingly very little original input from the major players and with very few insights. Chapter 22 is entitled "Losing The Plot", but by then the author has certainly lost his! The watershed is around the period that Lotus moved to Norfolk and even Lawrence admits his story becomes less interesting from that point until winding it up with the infamous Delorean affair.

On several occasions Lawrence is disparaging of Norfolk (we are not all Turnip growers!), and is inaccurate in his geography (Snetterton is not in north-east Norfolk). Indeed, his questionable accuracy in other known areas (eg John Surtees was not the last motorcycle racer to move to cars) reduces the reader's confidence in his writing, which, together with his opinionated and confrontational style (eg he doesn't believe Jim Clark had a 'natural talent'), are factors that add to a sense of unease.

Overall, this is a good book within it's limited scope, but you will need to look elsewhere to find an intimate portrait of the man's complex character. Despite his obvious failings, so gleefully revealed by Lawrence, Chapman was clearly an inspiration and motivator to those around him and perhaps that was his true genius.

'Colin Chapman - The Wayward Genius' is an essential addition to the corpus of material on the early years of Lotus, but is otherwise fairly disposable. Presentation is simple but acceptable with a few monochrome photos, though a number of printing errors are a frequent irritation.
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on 29 November 2002
Dr. Lawrence is owner of such powerful irony, intelligence and vast culture that even a book written by him on cooking, or native south American Indian arts craft would be worth its weight in gold.
His knowledge about auto racing is scary. Far from being as boring as a star trek geek fan spitting numbers and stories no one could care less, his knowledge of facts [whether public or behind the scenes ones], polemics, history, may wrap the reader to a non-stopping reading adventure.
For real car racing fans, this book is a must have.
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on 21 April 2003
This is a terrific book. I'm sure Mike Lawrence knows even more than he is telling for fear of libel.
The only reservation I have is that I recognized factual errors in Mike's stories of Indianapolis. The errors do not directly involve Lotus and Chapman, but they are easily checked, so they are not easily excused. For a book that trades in new stories, finding errors in easily checked facts reduces my faith in the new information.
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on 4 April 2015
Looks great have not read it yet
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