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by Jay Traugott
Like many other Lotus models, the Elite was way ahead of its time when it first launched.
Now that Lotus's new parent company, DRB-Hicom showed now former CEO Dany Bahar the door, we've been left wondering how the so-called multi-model development plan is going to pan out. If you don't recall, Lotus debuted five all-new concepts at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. It was a complete sports car lineup with each model designed to compete against specific rivals from other automakers. While the Esprit was the flagship, other famous nameplates from the past were also revived, among them was the Elite.
While chances for a reborn Elite aren't good at the moment, we wanted to take a look back at the original Elite coupe and its racing past. It made its first debut at the 1957 London Motor Show after it had spent a year in development. What was interesting about the Elite was its lightweight fiberglass monocoque construction. With the clear goal of "adding lightness" to all of his cars, Colin Chapman and his team designed the Elite so that fiberglass was used as the entire load-bearing structure, the only exception being a steel subframe used in order to support the engine and front suspension.
Not only did this decrease overall weight, but this early fiberglass construction technology provided decent safety for drivers. In other words, the Elite was ahead of its time - it also had all around independent suspension. Power came from an all-aluminum 1.2-liter Coventry Climax FWE straight-four with just 75hp mated to a four-speed manual. Power was later upgraded to 85hp, but performance was always solid due to the Elite's lightweight and advanced aerodynamics. Remarkably, it had a drag coefficient of 0.29, still low by today's standards, and was done without the use of modern computers or even wind tunnel testing.
1960 saw the introduction of the 85hp Elite SE, which ditched the original MG-built gearbox with one from ZF. The Elite also took part in motorsport events such as Le Mans and the Nurburgring. At the former, Elites actually won their class a total of six times. This 1960 Lotus Elite, up for sale on eBay Motors, is unquestionably one of the best examples out there. Not only does it have just 33,000 miles on the odometer, but the fiberglass, original paint and interior are all in amazing condition. It was originally sold by Lotus to a guy named Jay Chamberlain, a race car driver and the West Coast Lotus distributor.
He then sold it to its owner of more than 50 years who thoroughly maintained the car both mechanically and cosmetically. The engine starts easily and idles consistently, and the transmission still shifts crisply and the brakes handle with that typical Lotus precision. As of the time of this writing, the reserve price hadn't been met, but the top bid was $95,100. The seller also points out that at Gooding and Co.'s Amelia Island auction last March, a similar 1962 example sold for $140,000. Although that car had been restored as well, the seller believes that this 1960 Elite is actually in better condition.
Whether someone is looking at this as an investment or an addition to their collection, this Elite is a great example of the engineering brilliance of Lotus. Let's hope that Lotus will continue to be around for that brilliance to continue into a new generation of great sports cars. Photos courtesy of sb_vintagecars.