IT WAS MORE FUN THEN….
As a one-time Lotus employee I was shocked to hear of the death of Graham
Arnold on Monday 10 November, the result of a massive heart attack. Graham was
Sales Director of Lotus Cars for nearly ten years up until 1971 and subsequently
went on to run Club Lotus, of which he was Chairman and President, up until the
time he died at the age of 71. His passing was all the more of a shock to me as I
spent a lively hour or two in his company at the NEC International Classic Car
Show just two days before, where he was manning the Club Lotus stand.
Graham was a big man in every sense of the word with the most amazing sense
of humour. He belonged to an era in business which has sadly passed by;
corporate speak and political correctness is all now. Graham joined Lotus in
around 1963 from Ford where he ran marketing training courses. Prior to that he
was a pet food salesman and apparently racing the company Ford Anglia at
Lotus in the early days very much reflected the flying-by-the-seat-of–your–pants
style of founder Colin Chapman, a scenario in which Graham fitted perfectly.
Stories of Graham’s schemes and methods of promoting the Lotus brand are
legion. He was master of the art of ducking and diving. However, I only joined
Lotus in 1970, working in the Purchasing Department (my first-ever job). Amongst
those who knew Graham well, and indeed claims he wouldn’t be where he is
today if it hadn’t have been for Graham is Roger Putnam, Chairman of Ford of
Britain. Roger joined Lotus in 1966 whilst the company was still based in
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and he recounted this amusing little story to me the other
day whilst we were reminiscing about Graham.
“One day Graham invited me down to Brands Hatch the following weekend, where
he was going to race an Elan in a six-hour race, together with Keith St John of
Radio London fame” recalls Roger. “When I arrived at the track Graham pressed a
pair of tin-snips in my hand and asked me to cut-out a set of wheel arch
extensions and fit them to the Elan.”
“I thought the Elan looked remarkably standard apart from having Dunlop D5 tyres
fitted, hence the need for the wheel arch extensions. Then I noticed that the
standard twin-cam engine had been replaced by a BRM Phase 4, 180bhp unit.
Anyway, the race got under way and all went well until the heavens opened whilst
St John was driving. He went off in a big way and reduced the Elan to about half its
“After the race, when we spotted the breakdown truck dragging the wreck back
Graham grabbed me by the arm with the words ‘quick mate, we’ve got to get to the
car and get the chassis plate off.’ Turned out the Elan was actually the factory
demonstrator and shouldn’t have been racing at all!
No doubt that chassis plate found its way onto another car on Monday morning
before the original car was even missed. That’s how it was then – much more fun!
Over the last year or two, Graham has put a lot of effort into forming an Ex Lotus
Association for former employees culminating in a highly successful get-together
in Norwich last December. Some 60 of us had an extremely enjoyable evening – it
went on well into the small hours – with former colleagues we had perhaps not
seen for 20 years. When can we do it again, was the resounding request. Well,
Graham told me the other week he was organising something to take place in
Cheshunt early in the New Year. Hopefully the momentum will not be lost and the
event goes ahead, for it would be a fitting tribute and he will be there in spirit
All those whose lives he brightened up will sadly miss Graham. We offer our
sincere condolences to his wife, Margaret, and the rest of his family.