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Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite Published: 1st Feb 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elite
Lotus Elite
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The original Lotus Elite is one of the most advanced cars ever made. The world’s first genuine glassfibre monocoque, Colin Chapman’s first production car was cutting-edge before the term was even thought of; disc brakes all round, a drag co-efficient of just 0.29 and both 40mpg and 115mph available from a tiny 1.2-litre overhead cam Coventry Climax engine, it would still create a bit of a stir if unveiled in 2016.


The Elite was a circuit car for the road, not the other way round – and it shows with the driving experience that’s totally different to an Elan. The balance between ride and handling is just as spot on with the long-travel suspension and soft damping giving the car an amazingly comfortable ride, yet a good Elite doesn’t roll too much in the bends – typical old school Lotus. Also impressive are the all disc brakes. Speed isn’t what the Elite is about however. With only 71bhp to play with the 1261cc engine gives what now can only be described as fairly lively pace although the velocity doesn’t taper off as quickly as you might think, thanks to that amazingly aerodynamic bodyshell. If there’s a downside it’s a lack of refinement. One road test at the time described the Lotus as “nice but noisy”.


Although the Elite made its début in 1957 production didn’t get fully underway until October 1959, yet from 1960 there was a Series 2 with better made bodyshells and some suspension tweaks. Special Equipment (SE) cars sport twin SU carbs, a better manifold (for 83bhp) plus the option of a Stage II powerplant, offering up to 90bhp. Lotus also built 23 examples of the twin-Webered Super 95 with 95bhp), plus half a dozen Super 100s and six Super 105s.


With so few cars made, and a survival rate that isn’t as high as you might think, demand has always exceeded supply by a huge margin and as a result you’ll pay heavily for any Elite that’s in good condition, but you’re unlikely to lose any money unless you pay really daft sums. A project will cost at least £45,000, something nice – rather than just running – is closer to £65,000, while the best cars can fetch £80,000. If an Elite has some period racing provenance it can make quite a difference to how much it’s worth, but if the car has been campaigned more recently that won’t affect its value significantly.


It’s the bodyshell that you should pay the closest attention to as repairs need professional attention (especially suspension turret damage) and be especially wary of freshly painted cars. New bodyshells are being made at around £14,000. The engine also needs close inspection, because rebuilding it can be fiendishly costly. Parts availability for the Coventry Climax unit is good, but you’ll pay heavily for some bits. Despite the engine’s large thirst for oil, there shouldn’t be any blue smoke from the exhaust. Standard Elites used an MGA gearbox but the ZF units are frail and dear to fix. Damp may well have led to the seat runners seizing solid; The answer is to obtain some Triumph Herald replacements and modify them. Wolseley 1500/Riley 1.5 supplied much of the switchgear, door handles are Triumph while the exterior handles were taken from the Commer Cob or Hillman Husky – pretty rare stuff in other words.

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