The Lotus Elite name has been used for two production vehicles and one concept vehicle from Lotus Cars. The first generation Elite Type 14 was produced from 1957 to 1963 and the second generation model (Type 75 and later Type 83) from 1974 to 1982. The Elite name was also applied to a concept vehicle revealed in 2010.
The Elite's most distinctive feature was its highly innovative fibreglassmonocoque construction, in which a stressed-skin GRP unibody replaced the previously separate chassis and body components. Unlike the contemporary Chevrolet Corvette, which used fibreglass for only exterior bodywork, the Elite used glass-reinforced plastic for the entire load-bearing structure of the car, although a steel subframe for supporting the engine and front suspension was bonded into the front of the monocoque, as was a square-section windscreen-hoop that provided mounting points for door hinges, jacking point for lifting the car and roll-over protection. The first 250 body units were made by Maximar Mouldings at Pulborough, Sussex. The body construction caused numerous early problems, until manufacture was handed over to Bristol Aeroplane Company.
The resultant body was lighter, stiffer, and provided better driver protection in the event of a crash. Still, a full understanding of the engineering qualities of fibreglass-reinforced plastic was still several years off and the suspension attachment points were regularly observed to pull out of the fibreglass structure. The weight savings allowed the Elite to achieve sports car performance from a 75 hp (55 kW) 1216 cc Coventry ClimaxFWE all-aluminium straight-4 engine while returning fuel consumption of 35 mpg‑imp (8.1 L/100 km; 29 mpg‑US). All production Lotus Elites were powered by the FWE engine, except for one that was fitted with the newly developed Lotus-Ford Twin Cam engine. The FWE engine, derived from a water pump engine usually found bolted to a fire truck, was used by Lucas Electric for electrical component life testing in the presence of intense vibration.
The car had independent suspension all round with transverse wishbones at the front and Chapman struts at the rear. The rear struts were so long, that they poked up in the back and the tops could be seen through the rear window. The Series 2 cars, with Bristol-built bodies, had triangulated trailing radius arms for improved toe-in control. Girling disc brakes, usually without servo assistance, of 241 mm (9.5 in) diameter were used, inboard at the rear. When leaving the factory the Elite originally fitted Pirelli Cinturato 155HR15 tyres (CA67)
The SE was introduced in 1960 as a higher-performance variant, featuring twin SU carburettors and fabricated exhaust manifold resulting in 85 bhp, ZF gearboxes in place of the standard "cheap and nasty" MG ones, Lucas PL700 headlamps, and a silver coloured roof. The Super 95 spec, with more power, from a higher tuned engine with raised compression and a fiercer camshaft with five bearings. A very few Super 100 and Super 105 cars were made with Weber carburettors, for racing use.
Among its few faults was a resonant vibration at 4000 rpm (where few drivers remained, on either street or track) and poor quality control, handicapped by overly low price (thus losing money on every car produced) and, "perhaps the greatest mistake of all", offering it as a kit, exactly the opposite of the ideal for a quality manufacturer. Many drive-train parts were highly stressed and required re-greasing at frequent intervals.
When production ended in 1963, 1030 had been built. Other sources indicate 1,047 were produced.
A road car tested by The Motor magazine in 1960 had a top speed of 111.8 mph (179.9 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 11.4 seconds. A fuel consumption of 40.5 mpg‑imp (6.97 L/100 km; 33.7 mpg‑US) was recorded. The test car cost £1966 including taxes.
The ownership and history of the more than 1000 Lotus Elites is maintained by the Lotus Elite World Register. There are several active clubs devoted to the Lotus Elite.
A Lotus Elite in racing trim
Like its siblings, the Elite was run in numerous formulae, with particular success at Le Mans and the Nürburgring. Elites won their class six times at the 24 hour Le Mans race as well as two Index of Thermal Efficiency wins. Les Leston, driving DAD10, and Graham Warner, driving LOV1, were noted UK Elite racers. In 1961, David Hobbs fitted a Hobbs Mecha-Matic 4-speed automatic transmission to an Elite, and became almost unbeatable in two years' racing – he won 15 times from 18 starts. New South Wales driver Leo Geoghegan won the 1960 Australian GT Championship at the wheel of a Lotus Elite. After winning Index of Thermal Efficiency prize, Lotus decided to go for an outright win at Le Mans in 1960. They built a one off Elite, called the LX, with a 1,964 cc FPF engine, larger wheels, and other modifications. In testing, it proved capable of going 174 mph. Unfortunately, the lead driver withdrew the night before the race, so the car did not have a chance to prove itself.
From 1974 to 1982, Lotus produced the considerably larger four-seat Type 75 and later Type 83 Elite. With this design Lotus sought to position itself upmarket and move away from its kit-car past. The Elite was announced in May 1974. It replaced the ageing Lotus Elan Plus 2.
The Elite was configured as a small shooting brake with a glass rear hatch opening into the luggage compartment. It was front-engined with rear wheel drive. The Elite's fibreglass bodyshell was mounted on a steel backbone chassis evolved from the Elan and Europa. It had 4-wheel independent suspension using coil springs. The Elite was Lotus' first car to use the 907 aluminium-block4-valve, DOHC, four-cylinder engine that displaced 1,973 cc (120.4 cu in) and developed 115.6 kW (155 hp). (The 907 engine had previously been used in Jensen-Healeys.) The 907 engine ultimately became the foundation for the 2.0 L and 2.2 L Lotus Esprit power-plants, the naturally aspirated 912 and the turbocharged 910. The Elite was fitted with a 4 or 5-speed gearbox. Beginning in January 1976 an automatic transmission was optional.
The Elite had a claimed drag co-efficient of 0.30 and at the time of launch it was the world's most expensive four-cylinder car. The Elite's striking shape was designed by Oliver Winterbottom. He is quoted as saying that the basic chassis and suspension layout were designed by Colin Chapman, making the Elite and its sister design the Eclat the last Lotus road cars to have significant design input from Chapman himself.
Elites were available in 4 main specification variations, 501, 502, 503, and later on 504.
501 - `Base' version.
502 - Added air-conditioning to the base model.
503 - Added air-conditioning and power-steering.
504 - Added air-conditioning, power-steering and automatic transmission.
The Elite was the basis for the Eclat, and the later Excel 2+2 coupés.
Although larger and more luxurious than previous Lotus road cars, the Elite and Éclat are relatively light, with kerb weights not much over 1,043 kg (2,300 lb).
In 1980 the Type 75 was replaced by the Elite Mark 2 Type 83. This version received a larger 2,174 cc (132.7 cu in) Lotus 912 engine. The chassis was now galvanised steel and the five speed BMC gearbox was replaced by a Getrag Type 265 unit. The vacuum-operated headlights of the earlier model were replaced with electrically-operated units and the Elite was now fitted with a front spoiler, a new rear bumper and brake lights from the Rover SD1.
1978 Lotus Elite Type 75
1981 Lotus Elite Type 83
On 20 September 2010 Lotus unveiled photos of an Elite concept that was exhibited at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. The vehicle was expected to go into production in 2014 and was to have cost in excess of £100,000.
The car was to feature a 5.0-litre V8 sourced from Lexus, delivering over 447.4 kW (600 hp). The installation was to be a front-mid engine layout to distribute weight evenly at all four wheels. An optional hybrid kinetic-energy recovery system would augment the V8 by feeding electricity generated by braking to motors in the transmission. The 0–100 km/h time was reported to be as low as 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 315 km/h.
The concept vehicle featured a GT body with a 2+2 seating configuration.