The Elite caused so many difficulties for Lotus in the 1950s and 1960s that the business lost money on every single one they sold. Lotus is one of the best when it comes to developing outstanding sports cars. Okay, that’s a personal opinion, but Lotus makes some very amazing automobiles.
While they will never be the fastest or most powerful, they do have incredible agility that allows them to be thrown into corners with confidence that they will be able to handle anything is thrown at them.
The greatest part is that Lotus is still very much in the game, having manufactured famous cars like the Esprit, Exige, and Elise.
The Elite Lotus is one of the most underappreciated Lotuses. And you’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of this vehicle.
The Elite caused a lot of problems for Lotus in the 1950s and early 1960s, to the point where the business lost money on every single one sold, and only a few thousand were ever constructed.
Despite all of this, this automobile eventually led to the incredibly successful Elan, and it has a fascinating narrative to tell. This is the tale of the Lotus Elite, a sports car that is all too often overlooked.
World’s First Composite Monocoque
Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, was a racing fanatic. Indeed, it is widely assumed that the sole reason he created road vehicles was to provide much-needed cash flow for his racing team.
But Chapman would put in every effort to develop a good automobile, and the Elite would prove to be one of the world’s most advanced road cars at the time, as well as Lotus’ first road car.
It gained a lot of attention when it debuted at the 1957 London Motor Show, and it had a lot of distinguishing features as well.
The car’s fiberglass monocoque design was undoubtedly the most creative and distinguishing feature. This was revealed to be a stressed-skin glass-reinforced unibody that replaced the formerly distinct body and chassis components.
The Lotus Elite had the world’s first composite monocoque as a result of this. Internally, the Type 14 was an advanced machine, even more so when you consider that it was Chapman and Lotus’ first road car, and the improvements didn’t end there.
Coventry Climax FWE inline-four Engine
The Elite had independent suspension throughout, as well as the legendary Chapman Struts in the back, which were so long that the tops could be seen through the rear windshield.
The car had surprisingly sophisticated aerodynamics for the period, with Lotus putting their motorsport prowess to good use, and the front suspension had been removed from the Lotus Formula II car. As a result, racing was in the car’s DNA, and it would unavoidably race.
The Elite was powered by a Coventry Climax FWE inline-four engine that produced 75 horsepower. That may not seem like much, but because of the lightweight body, the Elite was not only stiffer but also lighter than a regular car, giving it outstanding sports car-like acceleration and handling.
It was a fantastic vehicle to drive and a stunning sight to behold. In 1960, a higher-performance SE variant with dual SU carburetors and a custom exhaust manifold was launched, increasing the engine power to 85 hp. Overall, it appeared that Lotus had a winner with the Super 95, 100, and 105 models.
The vehicle did, however, have a few flaws. The early body units were built by Maximar Mouldings, but the first 250 examples all had issues, therefore the Bristol Aeroplane Company took over the body unit manufacture.
Then there was the grating vibration at 4,000 rpm, as well as some shoddy quality control, though it was probably still better than Tesla.
Then there was the matter of the price. It wasn’t too costly. However, it was far too inexpensive.
As a result, Lotus lost money on each and everyone sold. It was simply too advanced for its own good, and by the time production ended in 1963, only 1,000 units had been built.
The Inevitable Legacy
So, what do we know about the Lotus Elite now? To be honest, it’s one of the best sports cars in the UK. It’s true, it’s true.
Because the Elite’s unusual build structure cleared the path for more vehicles like it, and the lessons Lotus acquired from the Elite meant they knew what they were doing when they produced the amazing Elan, without a doubt the company’s greatest-ever car.
The Elite is now one of the most valuable Lotus cars, and its tale deserves to be told more often than it is. Lotus is still very strong today, manufacturing road vehicles. And it all began with the phenomenal Elite.