The car was intended to be a more advanced version of the Lotus 72, powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV and featuring modified aerodynamics, a lighter chassis, longer wheelbase and a narrower, lower monocoque.
The car also featured a bi-plane rear wing, designed to increase rear downforce and stability.
In addition to an electronically operated clutch, which was the precursor to the modern semi automatic gearboxes seen on today's F1 cars, with the control mounted into the gearstick which theoretically speeded up gearchanges, the Lotus 76 was seen as a major technological breakthrough by Team Lotus.
Outwardly, the car looked sleek and impressive. Internally, the suspension set up and inboard brake positioning were carried over from the Lotus 72. The car's development had been paid for by title sponsor John Player Special, so the 76 was given the chassis number 'John Player Special Mk I.'
After initial tests by Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx, both drivers complained that the car lacked 'feel' and that the electronic clutch was giving problems. The gearchange was modified, but both drivers persisted in claiming it was no better than the conventional clutch setup.
Other problems with the engine installation were encountered, which led to mechanical failures and the car's weight bias being out of sync. After the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, Peterson and Ickx insisted on going back to the Lotus 72, which Peterson promptly used to challenge for the world championship.
Chapman responded by upgrading the 76 to 'B' spec, with enlarge sidepods and better cooling, but the team eventually had to accept that the 76 was a step in the wrong direction, and the whole project was scrapped in favour of keeping the 72s competitive.