The Elite really is all about the driving experience, with handling that will come as something of a revelation to those used to competitors of the day. With just 75bhp to play with in original form you could hardly expect road-burning performance, but when it came to the twisty bits the Elite was almost unrivalled. The sharp steering and good ride quality combine to make it a terrific car on the right road, and there is a sublime balance to the handling. And just in case you do over-cook things, the brakes provide plenty of stopping power aided by the light weight construction.
The low slung interior just adds to the sensation of speed, and while it is somewhat noisy – not to mention a bit cramped for taller drivers – the cabin is a great place to be. In fact, just being able to grip that delicate alloy and wood-rimmed steering wheel is probably reason enough to buy one of these cars. The Elite really does define what Lotus was all about and is likely to prove hard to resist.
Power (bhp@rpm) 75bhp@6100rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 77lb ft@4900rpm
Top speed 112mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The lack of a separate chassis means you don’t have to worry about rust, which is something of a relief with a British classic. The GRP body does bring its own problems, however, and with it the potential for huge restoration costs; it pays to give this area plenty of attention when it comes to a used purchase. Cracking or delamination of the monocoque shell are the major worries, and with repairs for specialists only, you should steer well clear of any cars that are damaged or exhibit signs of a bodged restoration. Look closely at the paintwork too as getting a smooth finish isn’t easy, and a top-notch re-spray won’t be cheap.
Another area that demands close scrutiny is where the front subframe and differential mount to the bodyshell. The mountings are bonded in place and can pull away from the body, with disastrous consequences. New shells are available, but at a cost of around £12,500 including bonnet, boot, and door panels.
Despite the Elite’s reputation for fragility, the Climax engine (based on a fire-engine pump unit) is very durable, but it does require careful, professional maintenance if it’s to remain that way. Many are damaged by owners who are unfamiliar with the all-aluminium unit over-torqueing nuts and bolts, so a record of specialist care is vital. With large production tolerances, original engines could suffer from high oil consumption – as much as 300 miles per pint – but most will have been rebuilt by now with modern materials and techniques all but eradicating the problem. If the car you are looking at has twin SU carburettors, it is likely to be an ‘SE’ model introduced in 1960, and with 85bhp on tap.
The gearbox and differential are fundamentally strong, so it is a case of listening for any rumbling or whines that point to an impending rebuild. While checking the rear axle, watch for signs of leaks from the differential oil seals as these can deposit oil on the inboard rear brake discs. And make sure the alloy casting itself is undamaged as problems here will be very bad news for the wallet.
The Elite is a light car, so serious problems with the suspension are rare unless neglected. Corrosion of the front subframe can be an issue, as can the previously mentioned mounting points, but the suspension itself can benefit from upgraded polyurethane bushes which are a popular modification. At the rear is a ‘Chapman Strut’ arrangement (a long strut with a coil spring with the driveshaft forming the lower link) which is generally trouble free, though is very sensitive to proper alignment so watch for signs of kerbing such as uneven tyre wear. Series 2 cars received tweaks to the rear suspension design, adding a radius arm arrangement for improved handling. The wheel bearings and various suspension parts need regular greasing – a fastidious previous owner should have kept on top of this.
The interior of an Elite is a pretty simple place so there is little to be concerned about here. A tatty and neglected cabin will be immediately obvious and should cast doubt on the overall condition of the car. Water leaks can damage carpets and trim so check thoroughly, as a complete re-trim is unlikely to be cheap. Check too for any unsympathetic modifications as these will affect the value.
It is very tempting to say: "because it’s a Lotus". However, a more detailed reason is that you’ll be buying the ultimate embodiment of Colin Chapman’s ‘simplify and add lightness’ philosophy.
The Elite was light years ahead of its closest competitors when it came to design and construction, features that would make it one of the finest handling sports cars of its generation.
A fully load-bearing GRP monocoque body was mated to a simple Climax engine and all-round independent suspension. And while the Elite may not have been the fastest car around in a straight line, it could out-handle many more powerful machines. And that made it pretty special.
It wasn’t a cheap car in its day – at just under £2000, it was on a par with Jaguars – and Lotus allegedly lost money on every one of the 1030 or so examples sold due to the high production costs. But for sublime looks and a wonderful driving experience, there is little to touch a well-sorted Elite.
To borrow a phrase it really is about condition, condition, condition with the Elite.
Most of the cars currently for sale have been very well looked after by respected marque specialists – find one of these and you are unlikely to be disappointed.