Check out this funny-lookin' little guy, all positive camber, cartoonish grin, and spindly motorcycle fenders. You'd probably guess it was built in a shed by some enterprising do-it-yourselfer, and you'd be correct.
But you probably wouldn't guess that this was the first car to wear the vaunted Lotus badge.
Yes, this garden tractor with a hot rod stance is the very first car built and sold by Colin Chapman, though as the name Mark IIIB indicates, it wasn't the first car Chapman constructed.
In 1951, Chapman partnered with brothers Michael and Nigel Allen to build their own Austin Seven-based racers for the 750 Formula class. The design they came up with, a boxed Austin Seven frame on a split I-beam front axle from a Ford sedan, was dubbed the Mark III—making Chapman's previous two homebrew racers the Mark I and II, respectively.
The Mark III ran away with victory after victory, and not long thereafter Chapman had his first interested customer, a Dunlop Tyre employee and racer named Adam Currie. Currie convinced Chapman to build him a similar Mark III—Chapman and the Allen brothers had intended to build three such vehicles, one for each of them, but they'd only completed one. So Chapman assembled the amassed parts into a complete vehicle, dubbed it the Mark IIIB owing to its upgraded 1172-cc Ford flathead four-banger, and sold it to Currie, wearing the now-famous Lotus badge.
You know the rest, basically: Chapman's car-building career took off, with Lotus becoming a major name in both street cars and racing chassis, all wearing the famed badge that first appeared on this spindly first-gen racer.
As for the Mark IIIB? Affectionately known as "ONK" after its license plate—ONK 408—it made its on-track debut at Silverstone in October 1952, putting in stellar performances in 1952 and 1953 with both Currie and Chapman behind the wheel. It changed hands in 1953, and again in 1958, before being located by a collector and restored to its original condition in 1994.
When ONK goes across the auction block at Amelia Island on March 3rd, . That's a far cry from the roughly $700 Currie sold it for in 1953. But it's the price to pay if you want to have the absolute original Lotus.