The Lotus Elite was Lotus’s first ever GT car and was what really launched Lotus into the forefront of racing. When it debuted in 1958, no one had seen anything like it. The Elite boasted a paltry curb weight, thanks to its unit-body construction that was 100 percent fiberglass, instead of the more typical fiberglass body-on-steel frame construction.
The powerplant was manufactured for Lotus by Coventry Climax, and varied in power, depending on the Elite’s options. This 1,216 cc engine pumped out between 75 and 105 horsepower, and threw power to the rear wheels via an MG -built 4-speed early on or a 4-speed ZF trans in their later years. That may not seem like much by today’s standard, but for a 4-cylinder of the late-50s and early-60s, that was amazing. Plus its lightweight body created a weight ratio ranging from about 10 pounds per horsepower to 20 pounds per horsepower.
The Elite’s body was a thing of beauty, as it looked very quirky, but boasted a 0.29 drag coefficient, which is better than even the 2002 Acura NSX with its 0.30. Its long nose and rounded cabin just added the the car’s character, but its backside just didn’t fit in with the rest of the car.
Regardless of the super-skinny wire wheels and tires, the Elite Series II actually handled pretty well. It can attribute this to its 4-wheel independent suspension, which was unheard of at the time, with dual wishbones upfront and Chapman struts on the rear. These are similar to MacPherson struts in construction, except that they use a drive shaft and light radius rod in place of a lower control arm.
Also revolutionary for the era was its use of 4-wheel disc brakes and inboard brakes on the rear. These inboard brakes help reduce the vehicle’s unsprung weight, keeping the spring and strut movement more stable.
Click past the jump to read about the Elite Series II’s pricing.
Pricing of classic and collectible cars is really a subjective deal and it is worth whatever someone will pay you for it. For the matter of price control, the NADA releases its estimated pricing guide on a yearly basis and according to that publication, the Elite Series II is worth about $85,000 in mint condition.
Gooding & Company is offering the above-pictured Elite Series II without a reserve. Gooding & Company does, however, anticipate a gavel price between $120,000 and $150,000, which is significantly higher than the NADA high retail value of $85,000. As we said before, with classic and collectible cars, they are worth whatever someone will pay you for them, so Gooding & Company may be looking to drive up demand with the high estimated price.
- The low aerodynamic drag is fantastic
- Good power-to-weight balance for the era
- Very modern braking and suspension
- That rear end is a little funny looking
- Very basic interior with few features
- Auction prices are estimated well above retail worth
Gallery Lotus Elite Series II
US-Delivered, Left-Hand-Drive Series II Elite
Professional 2012 Restoration
Just Two Owners for the Past 35 Years
Eligible for the Finest Rallies and Tours
The Original Lotus GT Car
1,216 CC SOHC Coventry Climax Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
Twin Weber 40 DCOE Carburetors
Estimated 95 BHP at 5,100 RPM
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Disc Brakes, Inboard Rear
4-Wheel Fully Independent Suspension
The Lotus Elite, also known as the Type 14, was Colin Chapman’s first foray into the manufacture of a GT car. Based on a groundbreaking and highly innovative fiberglass monocoque construction, the Elite was both lighter and stiffer than most conventionally built cars of the era, and featured fabulous aerodynamics. Designed to compete against the highly successful Alfa Romeos, Abarths and Simcas of the period, the Elite embodied the same innovative philosophy as the firm’s giant- killing sports racing and grand prix machines. In total, just 1,015 Elites were completed between 1957 and 1963.
Chassis 1296 was delivered new to the US Lotus distributor Chamberlain of Burbank, Cal- ifornia. Owner Jay Chamberlain had secured the US Lotus import franchise after his successful international racing career, notably topped by a class win at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Lotus Eleven.
Invoiced on August 8, 1960, 1296 is a sec- ond series Elite, benefitting from the higher-qual- ity coachwork constructed by the Bristol Aircraft Company. It was fitted with Coventry Climax engine no. 8863, the same unit in the car today, and finished in a racy white exterior over a red vinyl interior. The car’s early history after arriving on US shores remains unknown, but when acquired by Maryland resident Harold Allen in the mid-1970s, the Elite is said to have been in good, well-kept condition, although in need of some restoration work. Mr. Allen kept the car until 2011, when it was purchased by the consignor. The consignor embarked on a full restoration soon after his new acquisition, which was still in remarkably solid condition. The body was stripped and refinished in the car’s original white, and the interior was covered in black vinyl. Engine work was performed by Coventry Climax specialist Bill Hutton Engineering in Clarksville, Tennessee, while the remaining mechanical aspects were attended to in the consignor’s own Southern California-based restoration shop.
Today, the sporty Lotus Elite presents remarkably well and should be a very capable companion on twisty roads or short racetracks. With exceptional engineering and hallowed road manners, it is no surprise the Lotus Elite has become one of Chapman’s most sought- after cars.