Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite 1950s British classic sports car

The Lotus Elite is widely regarded as one of the most stylish cars the firm made. Primarily, that was down to Peter Kirwan Taylor. Though not a leading light in the automotive design field at the time, Lotus put their faith in him - and it paid off. Launched in '59, the Elite remained in production for four years. In the course of that time, it became an iconic British sports car. As always - with Colin Chapman at the helm - light weight was key. The Elite was the first car to be built on a glass-fibre monocoque chassis. That helped it reach a top speed of 130mph. Supremely aerodynamic lines also helped. The Elite was agile, too. Few cars could hold a candle to it through corners.

Power was provided by an overhead-cam 'Coventry Climax' engine. When kitted out with one carburettor, it delivered 71bhp. A twin-carb set-up increased that to 83bhp. The 4-speed gearbox came courtesy of BMC. The SE version would be fitted with a close-ratio, 5-speed ZF 'box. Power went up to 105bhp. The Elite was always economical, though - in large part because of its light weight. As impressive as the Elite's straight-line speed was its handling. The car was suspended by coil-spring dampers at the front - and Chapman struts (modified MacPherson struts) at the rear. Steering was by rack-and-pinion. A full complement of high-grade disc brakes came as standard. Of slightly more questionable quality were the windows. While pleasing on the eye, their unusual profile meant they would not wind down fully. Not what you wanted on a hot summer's day!

In most other respects, though, the Elite did full justice to its name. Certainly, it was out of the top drawer styling-wise. For example, the dash was designed to echo the car's chic low profile. The Elite did have its faults, however. Apart from the wind-down window problem, the monocoque was prone to noisy vibration. And interior decor was somewhat sparse. In a lesser car, such flaws might have been an 'issue'. In the case of the Elite, though, the blemishes merely 'added character'. Taken in the round, the Lotus Elite was a fine - and quintessentially British - sports car.

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