This "barn discovery" Lotus Elite was first registered on December 14, 1961, according to the duplicate green logbook in its history file. It was owned by Mr. Peter John Gillett of Cobham in 1971 before it was sold to the last owner, Mr. Che Keng Saw, in August 1972. The Lotus was extricated from a garden in Essex by the executors of his estate and delivered for sale.

According to the Elite Club records, it would seem to be a car that was "lost" to them until now, but was first registered under the number 208DLL. Upon examination, it seems to be complete and still has the 1216-cc Coventry Climax engine with the four-branch manifold fitted, which was covered by newspapers dating from 1981 to 1983. We can therefore assume that this was the time it was placed into storage.
As it has twin SU carburetors, it may be a special equipment model. The engine seems to be free, though the generator is seized. It has the MG gearbox fitted and there is a spare gearbox in the car, as well as various other spares.

This exciting project, which could become a wonderful historic racer or concours road car, comes complete with the aforementioned green logbook and a copy of the Lotus Elite Profile publications.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Lotus Elite S2
Years Produced:1958-63
Number Produced:1,030
Original List Price:$4,780 for Elite, $5,310 for SE (special equipment with dual SUs), $6,780 for Super 100
SCM Valuation:$27,500-$37,500
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$15 for standard Sprite cap, $60 for original Lucas
Chassis Number Location:Scribed on metal plate screwed to bulkhead in engine compartment next to right-side hood hinge
Engine Number Location:Punched on right side of block, on flat next to fuel pump boss. Also scribed on chassis number plate
Club Info:Club Elite, Mike Ostrov, 6238 Ralston Avenue, Richmond, CA 94805, 510/232-7764
Alternatives:Lotus Elan, 356A Cabriolet, AC Aceca

The car shown here sold for $19,500, including buyer’s commission, at H&H Classic Auctions in Derbyshire, England, December 6, 2000.

Finding a Lotus Elite in a barn is indeed a rare occasion. Only 1,030 Elite chassis are known to have been manufactured. More surprising, the Club Elite register, maintained by Mike Ostrov in Richmond, California, currently lists 744 known cars with the addition of this one. That is a phenomenal survival rate, and underscores specialist Dennis Ortenburger’s statement that there is no reason ever to write off an Elite. With parts available and a strong network of enthusiasts, virtually any Elite can be restored.

This is an extraordinary statement for a car considered to be somewhat less than robust in build quality. After all, among the knowledgeable, the Elite is known for being “designed by an accountant, powered by a fire-pump engine, and fabricated by a boat builder.” Lotus founder Colin Chapman didn’t want to build a road car but, perennially short on cash, he thought he could use the reputation of his race cars to sell road cars and the profits from the road cars to finance his racing.

The Elite was designed at the same time Chapman was designing his first Formula One cars and benefited from innovations he had proven in the Lotus 9s, 10s, and 11s, including the eponymous Chapman strut, a coil-over-shock that dramatically reduced suspension weight and complexity. The Elite is also identified by a design number-Type 14-because it was the thirteenth car designed by Colin Chapman (13 not being used for obvious reasons).

The most radical aspect of the Elite, though, is that it relies on its fiberglass body as its chassis. Not surprisingly, simplicity and lightness were always Chapman’s watchwords. On the Elite, suspension parts and the front sub-frame that supported the engine bolted directly to box sections molded into the fiberglass body. The result was a car that weighed less than 1,500 pounds. (Later cars may have weighed a bit more since Bristol Aircraft, which took over fabrication from Maximar Mouldings, added extra material when its early products experienced problems.)

The Elite had just over 100 horsepower from its 1216-cc Coventry Climax engine with dual SUs, and the drag coefficient of the sleek body, refined by Frank Costin, was less than .30. In racing trim, the car could reach 130 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans, allowing it to win the 1300-cc class five years in a row.

Of course, these innovations came with some drawbacks. Even in road trim, the fiberglass coupe (a roadster version was never contemplated) is noisy inside. With no way to design glass to fit the compound curves, the car relies on plastic side curtains that can be removed but can’t be opened. Nevertheless, the Elite is a delight to drive-agile and responsive to a sensitive touch, especially when compared to the hairy-chested Healey 100-4s of the same period. The racing-inspired independent suspension and disc brakes give the car near-unbelievable handling, especially when fitted with today’s sticky-compound tires.

Even as a basket case, $19,500 wasn’t too much for an enthusiast to pay for one of these rare cars, as long as the engine is present, since many owners prefer to do their own restorations. Further, having bragging rights as the owner of a “barn find” is certainly worth something. There always seem to be a few Elites for sale, and, with the very best percolating in the $40,000-$50,000 range, the new owner of this car can spend another $20,000 – $30,000 before his total investment draws even with current market values.-Gary Anderson

(Historical data and photo courtesy of auction company.)

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