Launched at the 1957 London Motor Show - when metal panel work was the sports car norm and all-independent suspension the domain of racing cars - the strikingly pretty Lotus Elite boasted a fiberglass monocoque bodyshell with rear suspension first seen on the Lotus 12 Formula 2 single-seater. A steel front subframe, bonded into the shell, carried wishbone/coil-spring suspension with the anti-roll bar doubling as half the top wishbones, while at the rear there were Chapman struts, lower wishbones and radius arms. Naturally, disc brakes were fitted all around. Notably, too, the 0.29 Cd of the Elite, with aerodynamics by Frank Costin, has rarely been bettered since.

Power came from a 1,216 cc Coventry-Climax FEW, overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine which, allied to a BMC four-speed gearbox and producing 80 bhp at 6,100 rpm via a single SU carburetor, could propel the diminutive Lotus from 0-60 mph in 11.8 seconds and on to 115 mph. The Elite was a major step forward for Lotus, an innovative concept offering both amazing performance from 1.2 litres and superb roadholding; assets highlighted by fabulous success in GT racing, including class wins at every Le Mans 24 Hours race from 1959 to 1964.

Revised rear suspension, triangulated wishbones replacing the two radius arms, was the major change on the Series II model of 1961. At the same time, the Elite became available in 12 mph Special Equipment form with 85 bhp and a ZF gearbox. The following year it could be bought in kit form, and in May 1962 the Super 95, 100 and 105 models - the numbers reflecting bhp and now with twin SEs and the previously optional ZF five-speed gearbox standard equipment - were introduced; only a handful of the 100 and 105 models, however, complete with five-bearing crankshaft, were ever sold. When Elite production ceased in September 1963, under 1,000 of all types had been built.

Manufactured in August/September 1962, the Series II Special Equipment model picture here is the actual car used by John Bolster for a contemporary road test in Autosport magazine, in which he compared it to the newer Elan, declaring the Elite to be the better car. After road test duties, it was consigned to the Lotus Museum, where it has resided ever since, without further use.

Having covered only 3,573 miles, this has to be the most original and unused Elite in the world, and thus its importance as a collectors' car cannot be overstated. It is finished in primrose yellow with a silver roof.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1962 Lotus Elite Series II SE

This car sold at the Coys Silverstone auction on July 25, [1998] for $37,640 (converted U.S. $1.60 per pound sterling and including buyer’s commission). Easily one of the prettiest Grand Touring cars of all time, the Elite will always hold a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts who can appreciate Chapman’s innovation and forgive him his (many) flaws.

The “SE” specification, aside from the two-tone paintwork, usually includes one of the higher horsepower specifications (100 or 105) and close-ratio gears in either the BMC gearbox or a ZF unit. Exactly how much SE equipment is fitted to this car is difficult to assess.

Although it has low mileage, the car has been sitting in a museum since the ’60s. It is unknown if there has been any attempt to start the engine or inspect the hydraulics.

The selling price was $10,000 more than an original, unrestored, low-mileage Elite would fetch in the United States. This illustrates that either the car was as well-equipped as any SE built (doubtful, or the auction company probably would have made mention of the fact), was in much better condition than is evident in the photos (loose weatherstripping can be seen around the grille trim), or there was a buyer in the crowd willing to pay a high price for a very low-mileage Lotus out of the factory museum. The new owner may have to wait some time for the market to catch up to him.

Photo and data courtesy of the auction company. Market opinions in italics by Michael Duffey.

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