Highly innovative and ultralight weight, the Lotus Elite Type 14 is a quintessential British roadster.
Back in the late 1950s, Lotus was already making a name for itself as a producer of serious, lightweight racecars. The Lotus Elite Type 14 debuted at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in London in 1957 alongside the Lotus Seven. The Elite was truly a racecar for the road with a cutting-edge design that seamlessly blends form and function into a machine as beautiful as it is athletic.
Colin Chapman’s manta of “Simplify, and then add lightness,” might sound like just another a pithy quote, but the man behind Lotus really did walk the walk when it came to the Lotus Elite Type 14. As the first fiberglass monocoque production car, the Elite weighed in at just 1,484-lbs. Without a traditional chassis, the Elite featured two “skis” for mounting the engine, transmission, and suspension to the monocoque. Weigh savings and balance were such a priority that the fuel tanks are located in the front wings while the windows don’t roll down but instead can be removed. The thinner doors both saved on weight and cabin space.
Thanks to its light weight, the Lotus Elite could achieve racing speeds even with a small engine. The Elite ran a Coventry Climax FWE (Feather Weight Elite) 1,216 cc OHV inline-four (with an aluminum block of course). The engine had originally been designed for use as part of a water pump in fire engines. It put out just 75 horsepower and 75 lb.-ft. of torque in the Elite. That might not sound like a lot, but the Elite could achieve an impressive top speed of 112 mph, such is the power of lightness.
Other technical specs include car’s four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and a suspension consisting of Chapman’s personally designed independent rear struts and front lower wishbones paired with an upper anti-roll bar.
The monocoque chassis was designed not only to be light in weight but also be aerodynamic. Even without the benefit of modern wind tunnel testing, engineers were able to achieve a .29 drag coefficient for the Elite. The initial manufacture of the monocoque was done by English boat maker Maximar Moudlings, who produced approximately 250. But these first monocoque chassis proved to be too flimsy and the contract was given to Bristol Aeroplane Co. who produced the next 750 or so. The Maximar version are known among collectors as Series 1 cars while the later Bristol versions are known as Series 2 cars.
Approximately 1,015 Lotus Elites were produced between 1958 and 1963.
It’s been said that Lotus’s road cars were purely intended to fund Chapman’s racing aspirations. In proper form, the Elite ended up being a successful race car, winning its 1,300 cc calls at the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times as well as two “Index of Thermal Efficiency” prizes at Le Mans and an Australian GT Championship win in 1960.
Lotus would revive the Elite name for the Elite Type 75 and Type 83 (in 1975 and 1980 respectively). The 2+2 shooting brake coupe was, along with the Lotus Eclat, the last Lotus car Chapman helped design prior to his passing in 1982.