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Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite Published: 9th Jul 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elite
Lotus Elite
Lotus Elite
Lotus Elite
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With the world’s first genuine glassfibre monocoque, Colin Chapman’s first production car would still create a stir if unveiled today let alone over 60 years ago because the Elite was cutting-edge long before the term was even thought of; disc brakes all round, a drag co-efficient of just 0.29 and 40mpg with 115mph available all from a tiny 1.2-litre overhead cam Coventry Climax engine. Be warned, it is different as chalk and cheese to drive and own compared to an Elan though.


The Elite was a circuit car for the road, not the other way round – and it shows with the experience totally different to an Elan. The ride and handling is typical old school Lotus. Also impressive are the all round disc brakes. With only 71bhp to play with speed isn’t what the Elite is about however; that 1261cc engine giving 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 its amazingly aerodynamic body shell. If there’s a downside it’s a lack of refinement.

One road test at the time described the Lotus as “nice but noisy” and the Elan is like a Rolls- Royce by comparison. Well almost.


With so few made, and a survival rate that isn’t as high as you might expect, demand has always exceeded supply by a large margin and as a result you’ll pay heavily for any Elite that’s in good original condition, but you’re unlikely to lose money unless you pay really daft sums. Projects cost £40,000, something nice – rather than just running – is closer to £50,000, while dealer Trevor Farrington has a matching numbers fully restored Super for sale at £119,950.

Period racing provenance can make quite a difference to how much it’s worth, as will a paper trail of famous previous owners.


1956 Colin Chapman hatches a plan to build a lightweight sports car that could take on the Porsche 356 and Alfa Romeo Giulietta, both on the circuit as well as in the showroom. As a steel-bodied car would prove too heavy and costly, resorted to fully glassfibre instead

1957 Car finally débuts at the Earls Court motor show although the first customer cars weren’t delivered until the last day of 1958 due to racing orders

1960 Hasty revamp due to numerous defects, a Series 2 is introduced with improved build. From October there was a Special Equipment (SE) option, with twin SU carbs, a four-branch manifold (to boost power to 83bhp) plus the option of a pokier Stage II Climax powerplant, offering up to 90bhp

1962 Twin-Webered 95bhp Super 95, plus half a dozen Super 100s and six Super 105s. These latter cars featured fully balanced engines, a high-lift camshaft and an 11.5:1 compression ratio

Best models

Series 2

Although it débuted in 1957 production didn’t get fully underway until late 1959, yet from ’60 a Series 2 had better made bodyshells and some suspension tweaks

Special equipment

Special Equipment (SE) cars sport twin SUs, (for 83bhp) plus the option of a Stage II engine, offering up to 90bhp. There’s a ZF five-speed ’box as well


The most elitist of Elites are the Supers; Lotus also built 23 examples of the twin- Webered Super 95 with 95bhp, plus half a dozen Super 100s and six Super 105s

Top five faults


Most have been restored. Rebuild standards vary so find out who did the work. Beware of any cars that have already had work started on them, but have been left unfinished. The glassfibre may have been damaged by poor preparation and may take more work to put right than if it was in its original state


Elite’s structure consists of double-skinned glassfibre, which should be as smooth on the underside as it is on the outer. If it isn’t, the car has been bodged


Parts availability for the Coventry Climax unit is good, but you’ll pay heavily for some bits and full rebuild and don’t expect one of these engines to last much longer than 35,000 miles between rebuilds

Running gear MGA

gearbox shouldn’t pose any problems, but that’s not the case for the ZF unit that was optionally fitted to the S2


Damp may have led to the seat runners seizing. The answer is to obtain some Triumph Herald replacements and modify them accordingly. Plexiglass side windows don’t seal very well

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