With the Lotus 14 of 1959-better known as the Elite-Colin Chapman demonstrated that his skills as a racing car designer and constructor could just as easily be applied to production road cars. The Elite was, nevertheless, conceived with competition in mind, as Chapman had his sights set on class wins at Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rally. Just as innovative as Lotus's outright competition cars, the Elite featured a fiberglass monocoque body tub, independent suspension at each corner, and four-wheel disc brakes, the rears mounted inboard. Its engine was the 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax FWE, a single-overhead-cam unit of 1,216 cc producing 75 hp, while the gearbox, an MG A unit fitted with an alloy casing and modified bellhousing, was sourced from BMC. Some later cars ran a ZF gearbox from Germany, instead of the "cheap and nasty" MG A item. The classically styled body-the work of Peter Kirwan-Taylor and aerodynamicist Frank Costin-although possessing an admirably low coefficient of drag, made few concessions to comfort or noise suppression, not that that is likely to have bothered the Elite's customers, for whom its 112 mph top speed and superlative handling were of far greater importance. This Elite Series II was raced before being completely rebuilt in the 1990s in Germany by Horst Auer, a well-known Elite specialist. Acquired by the current vendor in 2001, chassis number 1628 has a good racing record driven by Andrew Colley and Chris Snowden, with many class wins in the U.K. and at Spa Francorchamps and Porto. The vendor advises us that the car has proved totally reliable and that the engine has not been run since a recent rebuild by Horst Auer, while the gearbox also has been overhauled and fitted with new synchros.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Lotus Elise Series II
Number Produced:1,050
Original List Price:$3,199 approx.
Tune Up Cost:$800 ($2,250 if valve clearances need adjusting)
Distributor Caps:$225 (original type)
Chassis Number Location:Plate riveted to right of firewall
Engine Number Location:On right of block behind dynamo
Club Info:Club Elite; Historic Lotus Register

This car sold for $68,774, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’s RAF Museum auction in Hendon, London, on April 19, 2010, against a pre-sale estimate of $31,000-$38,000.

On the racetrack the Elite lived up to Colin Chapman’s expectations, scoring its first major international success with an up-to-1,300-cc class victory at the Nürburgring 1000 Km in 1959. Elites won their class at Le Mans for six consecutive years, from 1959 to 1964, as well as the coveted Index of Thermal Efficiency twice. It remained a mainstay of GT class racing in the U.K. and North America until the Elan arrived.

Climax was a real screamer for a firepump

Little more than 1,000 Elites were built between 1957 and 1963, the first 280 of them Series Is, whose bodies were built by Maximar, the rest by Bristol Aeroplane Plastics; around three-quarters of the total left are known to the register held by Club Elite North America.

This is a Series II car, with improved rear suspension fore-and-aft location by a slim wishbone, rather than a simple cranked link connected by a tiny rubber-insulated ball joint; the wheel is held in the other two planes by a long strut and the driveshaft, as Colin Chapman liked to make components do more than one job. The front suspension is conventional wishbones.

In U.K. historic racing, Elites have been slightly overshadowed by the Elan, which runs in the Appendix K period F (up to 1966) group, but there are still pre-’63 (period E) grids where the smaller car remains ultra-competitive in capacity class. The vagaries of the Elite’s construction-however brilliantly featherweight and low drag-mean it’s expensive to prepare. The all-fiberglass monocoque means it is not straightforward to mount a roll cage-essentially, you have to pick up on the suspension mountings, which are the “strong points” of the body. Costs are about the same as running an Elan, with a full engine rebuild for racing easily clocking up $15,000 (of which parts could be $9k-$10k alone), and getting at the differential is a particular nightmare. Luckily, this car has been prepared by an acknowledged expert and is a proven strong runner, so let’s look at the condition and prevailing market conditions to see why it might have pulled more than twice its estimate.

For a racer, it was in pretty good shape, with a few stress cracks in the body, and a small chunk of fiberglass torn out of the back of the driver’s door, either by careless handling or an accidental whack in the paddock. There are no carpets, as you’d expect, just a big Kevlar-weave racing seat. The dash had been left standard, though of course there were the usual electrical cut-outs and plumbed extinguisher, and there were no bumpers. The car didn’t make Bonhams’s Oxford sale in March, as the engine failed before it could get there, and it is now freshly rebuilt and in good health.

Too difficult to road-register in the U.K.

One thing that counted against it for some U.K. buyers was that is not road registered, and apparently would not be easy to put on the road in the U.K. Gone are the days when you could turn up at your local registration office with a fresh MoT and obtain a V5. According to our sources, several potential buyers, including a well-known Lotus dealer, looked at the paperwork and concluded, “Too difficult.” Registering it in another country might be a different story, but road registration would be essential if it were to be able to compete in events such as Tour Britannia or Tour Espana, which intersperse road miles with races at various circuits. Otherwise, it’s a small and light enough car to move easily by trailer.

Which is what will be happening. Rather than being sold into mainland Europe, as expected, because the euro goes further in the U.K. than the other way around, it was secured by an English owner who intends to race the car both in its home country and abroad, and the price was set by the market, with many bidders in the room against several phones. Road registration is therefore not an issue, and the buyer has entrusted its care to a well-known historic race specialist who looks after four other racing Elites, and who confirms that the car will continue to be “used and abused.” As well as a few grids ideally suited to Elites in the U.K., with “Classic K” races run by the Classic Sports Car Club, there is a thriving racing scene for these cars in mainland Europe, such as the Anglo-French Equipe GTS series.

Race appeal helped it jump the estimate

So did the money really look strong in the U.K., when $31k-$38k was the price range expected for the condition of the car? No, says the specialist, who claims auction prices don’t reflect what’s been happening in the private market for the past two years, and that the auction estimate was way too low. The big picture would seem to bear this out. Currently, good road cars cost up to $65,000 in the U.K. (around what this one cost), with rough, running cars available in the high $30s (what this one was expected to sell for), and with race cars going for $50k-plus in the U.S. Values of racers of all marques with all the prep often correlate to the price of top road cars (i.e., usually quite a bit less than they’ve cost to do), and that’s the case here.

Though the price here raised a few eyebrows in U.K. terms, all the indications are that it can be considered market-correct in a wider European racing context.

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