If ever a car was a brand landmark, this is it. The Elite was the first Lotus designed for road use rather than outright racing, paving the way for a string of stunning sports and GT cars that, at the least, were always innovative. But the first Elite was much more than that. Its all-fiberglass construction—chassis as well as body—was a bold departure that, coupled with many other innovations, marked the Elite as truly exceptional, and all the more so considering the small-scale operation that created it.
What’s more, its built-in Lotus race-breeding gave it phenomenal handling and this, together with an unparalleled power-to-weight ratio, brought an almost unbroken run of racing successes. It also happens to be one of the prettiest cars of its era; in short, a superb GT in miniature.
The Elite was the brainchild of company founder and great racing innovator, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. The elegant coupe was a remarkable departure for the small company—and, to most, a complete surprise when it appeared at the London Motor Show in October 1957.
Quick-release fuel cap was an option many chose.
Concealed steel hoop around windshield added stiffness and gave some rollover protection.
Elites were uncatchable in their class, claiming Le Mans class wins six years in a row from 1959 to 1964.
48-spoke center-lock Dunlop wire wheels were standard.
Low frontal area, with air intake below the bumper lip, helped Elite speed and economy. Drag coefficient was 0.29, a figure most other manufacturers would not match for 20 years.
Tiny door handle was little more than a hook.
The Elite’s aerodynamic makeup is remarkable considering there were no full-scale wind-tunnel tests, only low-speed air-flow experiments. The height of just 46 in (1.17 m) helped, as did the fully enclosed undertray below.
Contemporary road tests recorded a remarkable 25 mpg (8.8 km/l) at a steady 100 mph (161 km/h).
Suspension was derived from the Lotus Formula 2 car of 1956.
Both front and rear bumpers hid body molding seams.
SE (Special Equipment) models had silver roof as a “delete option.”
Even tall owners were universal in their praise for driving comfort. The award winning interior was crisp and neat, with light, modern materials.
The roof was part of the Elite’s stressed structure, which meant that popular calls for a convertible—especially from America—could not be answered. The solution came when the Elan was launched in 1962.
The lightweight 1216cc four-cylinder engine was developed by Coventry Climax from their successful racing units. The unit’s power rose from an initial 75 bhp to 83 bhp in the Elite’s second series, but it was possible to extract over 100 bhp with options.
Engine was developed from a wartime fire-pump engine.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Lotus Elite (1957–63)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seater sports coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Fiberglass monocoque.
ENGINE Four-cylinder single ohc Coventry Climax, 1216cc.
POWER OUTPUT 75–105 bhp at 6100–6800 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed MG or ZF gearbox.
SUSPENSION Independent all around by wishbones and coil springs at front and MacPherson-type “Chapman strut” at rear.
BRAKES Discs all around (inboard at rear).
MAXIMUM SPEED 118 mph (190 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11.1 sec
A.F.C. 35 mpg (12.5 km/l)