One person’s retirement from a car company can rarely be described as the end of an era, but it is hard to think how else to describe Roger Becker’s departure from Lotus.
All the great sports car companies have their great test drivers and the only reason Roger’s name is perhaps not quite so well known as Ferrari’s Dario Benuzzi or Lamborghini’s Valentino Balboni is that Roger is a considered kind of chap who’d always rather let his product do the talking.
He started on the shop floor in 1966 when barely out of his teens, but moved swiftly to the vehicle development team where he stayed for over 40 years. All Lotuses from the Europa Twin Cam forward – that’s Elite, Eclat, Excel, Elan, Elise, Exige and Evora – are his cars.
Probably more than anyone else, it is Roger who is responsible for preserving Lotus’ unrivalled reputation for handling genius over the last four decades.
Roger is now 64, but as you will see if you go onto YouTube and watch him drifting the Evora around Hethel he has lost none of his touch. It’s worth bearing in mind too that last year the Evora won our annual handling contest by an unprecedented margin.
But the best Becker story concerns his impromptu participation in 007’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.’ Back in 1976 Roger had delivered an Esprit to Sardinia to take part in the now legendary car chase, which the official stunt driver then entirely failed to master.
After one useless run the by now rather irate director summoned the car and because no one else was around to deliver it, Roger drove it up the hill to him at considerable speed and highly unorthodox angles. He was to drive it for the next seven weeks of shooting.
That is why when you see the chase, which has been voted the best of all time, the Roger behind the wheel is Becker, not Moore and certainly not any trained stuntman.
So enjoy your retirement Roger, but please don’t slow down. The only good news in all of this is that Roger’s son Matt is now Lotus’ chief vehicle dynamics engineer and a chip off the old block if ever there were one.