The Lotus 16 was designed for both Formula One and Formula Two racing categories. It was designed by Colin Chapman and was the second single-seat racing car designed by Mr. Chapman. It was the first Lotus car to be constructed specifically for F1 competition. Using the technology and lessons-learned from the Lotus 12, the Lotus 16 incorporated many ideas Chapman had been developing while working on the Vanwall racing cars. Although the Lotus 16 would score only five Formula One World Championship points during three seasons of racing, it did pave the way for the more successful successor, the Lotus 18 and 21.
The 16 had a conventional tubular frame with an independent suspension at both the front and the rear. In the back was the 'Chapman strut' first featured on the Lotus 12. There were eight examples of the Lotus 16 created, with one being constructed to full F1 specifications, fitted with a 2.5-liter FPF engine. Initially, the cars were given a 2-liter Coventry Climax FPF four-cylinder powerplant. The FPF was later stretched to 2.2, then finally to 2.5-liters. The engine was mated to Lotus's own 5-speed sequential manual transmission. The gearbox was designed by Lotus but built by ZF in Germany. Unfortunately, it proved troublesome to use. The shortcomings were later resolved when Chapman hired Keith Duckworth in 1957 to rework the gearbox.
The Lotus 16 had disc brakes at all four corners, mounted inboard at the rear. The wheels were of cast-alloy design which was borrowed from the aviation industry.
The body was designed by automotive aerodynamicist Frank Costin. Aluminum was used to construct the bodywork. The hood of the ultra-low 16 barely reached the height of the tops of the front wheels. The driver sat in a slightly reclined position; behind the driver was a stubby rear fin which incorporated the fuel tank.
The Lotus 16 was used in Formula One competition from 1958 through 1960. It had been intended for use at the beginning of the 1958 season, but additional time was needed to get it ready for competition. After the car was properly prepared and tested, it made its debut at the 1958 French Grand Prix mid-season. The sole Lotus 16 entered in the race was driven by Works driver Graham Hill. Unfortunately, the car posted the second slowest time in qualifying. The under-powered 2-liter engine eventually overheated on lap 19, retiring Hill and the Lotus 16 from the race.
The Lotus 16 raced in the remaining rounds of the 1958 World Championship season, sometimes in Formula Two configuration. Most of the outings were met with DNF's, with engine overheating being the Achilles' heal. When the Lotus 16 did manage to finish the races, they often had completed too few laps to justify an official finishing classification. At the 1958 Nürburgring GP, a Lotus 16 driven by Cliff Allison showed promise, but was forced to retire due to a ruptured radiator. The best outing for the Lotus 16 during the 1958 season was at the Italian Grand Prix where it finished 6th.
For the 1959 season, the Lotus 16 was given an upgraded 2.5-liter engine, and many of the mechanical issues throughout the vehicle were addressed, improved, or upgraded. Work would continue on the Lotus 16 throughout the season. Again, reliability was still an issue, and too often the cars failed to complete a full race distance. Hill failed to finish even a single race during the season, but team-mate Innes Ireland's car earned five World Championship points, with a fourth place in the Dutch Grand Prix and fifth in the season finale in the United States.
The Lotus Works team fielded Lotus 16s for Alan Stacey and Alberto Rodriguez Larreta for the opening round of the 1960 Formula One season. Sadly, the Lotus 16s saw another early retirement and a non-points finish. Team Lotus abandoned the 16 entirely. The Lotus 16 had a final chance in the World Championship when David Piper entered a Lotus 16 in the 1960 French and British Grand Prix.By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2012