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Mythology begins with Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman (his four initials are incorporated into the Lotus badge), who founded the company in 1952 in a London horse barn. By 1963 Lotus had soundly beaten Ferrari, Porsche, Cooper and BRM to secure its first of six Formula One World Drivers and seven Constructors championships. Lotus also introduced rear-engine design to the Indy 500, eventually winning in 1965, forever changing American motor sports.

With the engineers revving, Gales shook the financials. “It required painful decisions,” he admits. “It does not take 1,250 employees to produce 1,296 cars–an unsustainable condition.” He let go of 25% of the workforce.

Gales then put on his salesman’s hat. “The dealer network was extremely spotty. We had no dealer in Paris, no dealer in London, no dealer in Cannes or Milan, Abu Dhabi–no dealers where there are people with the money to buy our cars.”

He signed up 25 new dealers and by year’s end will have another 50. Voting with their own money, dealers have agreed to buy vehicles and spare parts for cash, and self-fund build-out of their dealerships, boosting Lotus’ cash flow. “The dealers are so confident that they are carrying the investment themselves,” Gales explains. “Dealer network expansion is essential for driving volume above 3000 cars a year. The average Lotus dealer, and it is prudent to stick with an average here, sells 20 new Lotus cars and around $80,000 in spare parts a year.”

Why are dealers willing to put up cash for a brand few people beyond sports car enthusiasts recognize or understand? A brand that has swayed from one financial disaster to another most of its existence? The power of mythology, the promise of new products, a changing regulatory landscape that demands more efficient vehicles, and a no-nonsense CEO.

Jean-Marc Gales, the newly recruited CEO of Group Lotus Plc., arrived in Norfolk, England last May with a simple but daunting mission: to restore the once mighty British automaker as a supercar superpower.

For the past few decades Lotus has been seriously stalled while its main rivals–Ferrari, Porsche, McLaren–have shot past them in auto racing, production vehicles, engineering services and profit. The past two years alone Lotus has seen nearly $400 million in losses. Since 1998, Lotus has had only four profitable years.

The 52-year-old Gales began his career leading Volkswagen fleet sales, followed by a stint managing Mercedes global marketing before he claimed the presidency of Peugeot in 2009. An acute technocrat steeped in the hard business of selling large numbers of vehicles, at midcareer Gales has a surprising sense for the entrepreneurial. And apparently a fearless heart.

Walking the Lotus facility last May, Gales performed combat triage, asking his engineers for products to execute and market within a year. His goal: to unveil the next generation of Lotus vehicles at the Geneva auto show in March of 2015.

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