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Friday
May032013

Sometimes Your Dreams Come True… for Someone Else

By Christopher A. Sawyer

I was going to run a story about the latest M12C McLaren if for no other reason than it provides an excuse to run a photo of a McLaren M8D Can-Am car. However, as I looked over the press release on the McLaren 12C GT Can-Am Edition, I noticed a link to a YouTube video (below). Curious, I went to the site to see what it contained.

I expected rolling footage of the new car — which has an unrestricted version of the engine in the 12C GT3 race car, as well as a passenger seat and an optimized aero package — and maybe some film of the Can-Am car. Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any video of the race car, but the beginning segment reminded me of a program I had forgotten; my idea for a series of commercial-like videos for Lotus.

We were in the midst of one of our eternal arguments over bringing the Elise to the U.S. The management in Hethel wanted nothing to do with it, fearing that the car would be a huge success and the “tail would wag the dog” as the U.S. gained importance. Others, including those who had been with Lotus during the Chapman years and the folks who created the Elise, knew the importance of the car to the company’s long-term future. Finding the right powertrain was always going to be a problem (the Rover K-Series four used in Britain would have been expensive for Lotus to take on), and it wasn’t until Roger Becker and Lotus Cars USA CEO Arnie Johnson went rogue with a Toyota powerplant that the S2 version made it here.

We had come close earlier by tapping my brother Jim’s contacts at Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, where he was the PR guy, to get Lotus and Ford talking. The Elise GT, a longer wheelbase, upmarket, coupe version of the Elise S1, was in need of an engine and transmission. Rover’s KV6 was a no-brainer but, like the inline four, it would have been too costly to support in markets like the U.S. where Rover products were not sold. With a few telephone calls, SVT agreed in principle to supply the engine and gearbox from the SVT Contour (Mondeo) for a very reasonable price through Ford’s Power Products division. If everything worked as planned, we might even have been able to get the proposed 3.0-liter version of the 24-valve V6 to offer as an option to the standard 2.5-liter SVT engine.

Unfortunately, that program was cancelled before pen could be set to paper, though a Lotus engineer told me that a computer model showed the Ford-powered Elise GT would traverse 0–60 mph in less than five seconds and top out at just over 155 mph. With something like 70% new parts in the Elise GT, however, the CEO at the time felt it made more sense to design a new car from scratch. This was the beginning of the M250 Concept; a beautiful V6-powered (Renault, not Ford) two-seater that never came close to production.

While this was going on in England, I was working with a struggling would-be documentary writer/producer on a series tentatively entitled The Making of a Dream. He wasn’t Spielberg, but he also wasn’t Anthony Sullivan selling Oxy Clean on late-night TV. This fella’s greatest positive was that he didn’t want any money, he just wanted help getting interviews, archival footage, etc. for his project. As the PR guy for the U.S., I wanted to make certain this film told the story Lotus wanted told, but without glossing over the rough spots. At the documentarian’s suggestion, I outlined how I would like the film to play out. What he got in return, he later told me, was a shooting script; not a real surprise considering how much television I have watched over my lifetime.

As part of our agreement (a handshake up to this point) I asked for some special footage to be shot that Lotus Cars USA would own. This would be used for a direct-marketing program and, if money was available, for commercials on the Speed Channel as it was called back then.

The footage included a number of detail shots of the Elise, including some simple “fly-overs” done with a camera boom. The film would be shot in a field as the sun rose, and overlaid with audio from Jim Clark’s Indy 500 victory, Mario Andretti’s F1 World Championship, etc. Had we the money, I also would have liked to insert the videos that went with these events, so it looked like they were projected on the car as the camera glided down its flanks. To re-establish Lotus’s road car heritage, running footage of classic Lotus cars would be used in the same manner. To reach new markets, another short film would include audio and projected video of a son’s breathless excitement as his dad opens the door to a garage containing a new Elise. Each would end with a two-word tag line derived from the very words I had uttered in 1995 when I first saw the Elise while on a visit to Hethel: Simply Brilliant.

This was a play on the Lotus ethos of doing the most with the least, and the way in which a little car maker/engineering firm in England had built an aluminum-intensive sports car with composite body panels that mere mortals could afford. Ferrari hadn’t done that, neither had Porsche. Plus, in a blatant case of plagiarism, I wanted to create an ad campaign that shamelessly stole from the Mel Gibson movie What Women Want. If you remember the scene where he presents the agency’s work to the women from Nike, you’ll have a very good idea of what I wanted to do. This series of ads would have included a full-page black-and-white photo of an uphill S-curve at dawn. The right side of the page would contain the text under the heading, “The road doesn’t care…” Like I said, a blatant rip-off, and one that probably would have required a rewrite to keep Lotus out of the courts. At the bottom would be the Lotus badge (in full color) and the two-word tag line. It also would have made for a cheap, simple and effective video.

As you might expect, the documentary series never got off the ground. Also, the “leadership” in Hethel dragged its feet on exporting the Elise to the U.S. until forced to act by Becker and Johnson. And I eventually left the agency at which I was employed to preserve what little sanity I had left.

McLaren’s video, by comparison, has all of the grittiness of a germophobe’s dwelling, and none of the granularity and passion I envisioned. Still, it’s nice to see that someone had a similar idea, and was able to get it produced.

 

Reader Comments (2)

Whoulda, coulda, shoulda...

This seems to be the recurring theme of Sawyer's musings of late. His industry insight seems to be on par with his ability to launch programs to revive/revitalize ailing cottage car manufacturers, and in this case, Lotus. At first, his industry observations, reflections and reporting seems to have some basis in reality. I've been a reader for the last six months, and everything he pens seems convincing. So this morning, I am greeted with a whiny, self-serving stroke-fest that's sad at best, pathetic at worst.

Clearly Sawyer put a plan together, and it wasn't adopted. Guess what? This happens daily (or more) in the real world, and we dust ourselves off and go about our lives. But read this closely. Anyone who has read the weepy pablum written by middle age failures will instantly recognize this. It's obvious self-loathing with a healthy dose of self-importance.

"See! Lotus didn't know what was best for them when they had my accumemn (while I was at a tier-three ad agency)."

Sawyer, you pitched an idea and it was rejected. Get over it!

And as for reducing the number of "publication" dates that you put in on this blog? Follow those "more lucrative" dreams and heed the calls of the capitalism that ooze from your stoic pores. Give the blogosphere to people to write like they actually care.

Dev - Former Reader

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDevin Buckleye

Devin:

"Weepy pablum written by middle-aged failures"? It's easy to criticize and disparage others from the the anonymity of a computer screen. You are not the first nor, I am afraid, will you be the last critic with whom I shall have to deal. Despite what you may think, I am proud of what I have accomplished, including my ability to properly spell the word "acumen".

The McLaren video offered the opportunity to tell a story that encompassed a broader tale of the things that were happening at Lotus at the time. Perhaps it was too subtle? It certainly wasn't a "stroke-fest", as you so crassly state it. If this piece suffers from anything, it was, perhaps, a lack of time in editing that might have softened the tone just a bit. However, that is all to which I will admit.

As for the comment on the company that employed me at the time being being "a tier-three agency", I can only say that we were called upon to do things the larger agencies could not, and employed a number of extremely bright and creative people. From running Ford's motorsport PR and marketing; launching vehicles; redirecting the focus of the Visteon launch; acting as integral partners in the design, development and engineering of the Mazdaspeed Miata, etc., that little agency had more firepower than many of its (much) larger competitors. In denigrating me, you disparage the work of those involved in these and other projects; many of whom were later hired by the companies involved and rose through the ranks. Say what you will about me, but to them you owe a sincere apology.

Nevertheless I am sorry to see that this single, small item has driven you from the ranks of readers.

May 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterChris Sawyer

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