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.
The Cosworth DFV engine as installed into an early-1968 spec Lotus 49
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 F1 car to be powered by the now-famous Ford Cosworth DFV engine after Chapman convinced Ford to build an F1 powerplant.
View of Lotus 49B showing high rear wing fixed directly to suspension
The 49 was an advanced design in Formula 1 because of its chassis configuration. The specially-designed engine became a stress-bearing structural member (seen first with the H16 engine in the Lotus 43 and BRM P83), bolted to the monocoque at one end and the suspension and gearbox at the other. Since then virtually all Formula 1 cars have been built this way.
The 49 was a testbed for several new pieces of racecar 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 on 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 MansBugatti 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.
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.
Of the twelve 49s built only seven remain. Chassis R3 (driven by Graham Hill, then sold to privateer John Love) is the only example of the original 1967 cars still in existence, and is on display at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire.
† Points were awarded on a 9-6-4-3-2-1 basis to the first six finishers at each round, but only the best placed car for each make was eligible to score points. The best five results from the first six rounds and the best four results from the last five rounds were retained in 1967 and 1969, five from the first six and five from the last six in 1968, and the best six results from the first seven rounds and the best five from the last six rounds were retained in 1970.
‡ Formula Two cars occupied fifth to tenth positions in the 1969 German Grand Prix, but were not eligible for championship points. The points for fifth and sixth were awarded to the drivers of the eleventh and twelfth placed cars.
^ Total points scored by all Lotus-Ford cars, including 45 points scored by drivers of Lotus 72 variants.
A Lotus 49 presented as it would have appeared in the early part of the 1968 season, just prior to the introduction of Gold Leaf Team Lotus colours
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 (chassis R11) was painted in the American national racing colours of white with a blue centre-stripe.