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A Lotus Family 60th Birthday Celebration

The theme of this year’s Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show is Family Ties and on the stand of the Lotus Historic Register, you will find a quartet of vehicles that are celebrating their sixtieth birthdays.

1957 was a key year in the history of the marque, one in which Lotus constructed the 12, their first Formula One racer, while an Eleven, with that jaw-droppingly elegant body created by Frank Costin, won the Index of Performance at Le Mans.

And for the weekday professionals and weekend eventer there was the new Lotus that was equally suited to ‘Touring, Rallying, Racing or Shopping’; just dial FITzroy 1777 for more details.

In autumn 1957 one of the stellar attractions of the Earls Court Motor Show was the Elite Type 14 - and it would be fair to say that it caused somewhat of a sensation.

Lotus Elite 

The first volume-produced Lotus coupe was also the first vehicle in the world with a self-supporting GRP body that was not just light, the Elite weighed a mere 1,510lbs, but with a drag coefficient of an incredible 0.29.

Power was from an alloy Coventry Climax 1,216cc OHC unit. A price of £1,951 7s made it more expensive than a Jaguar 3.4 saloon with a heater still costing another £29 15s 6d and a further £3 10s 1d for windscreen washers but in terms of British sports cars, it had, as Autocar magazine put it, ‘the right specification at the right moment’.

In 1960 the same publication went so far as to say that ‘the road manners of the Elite come as near to those of a racing car as the ordinary motorist would ever experience’ and such performance was combined with the Peter Kirwan-Taylor styling which seamlessly blended aesthetics and function; one of the most graceful touches was how the fascia was styled to mirror the Elite’s profile.

Even today the Type 14 does not appear dated and it is near impossible to believe that it dates from the era of Wally Whyton & The Vipers and The Billy Cotton Band Show.

This Pathe Pictorial short film captures the class-winning Lotus of John Wagstaff and Pat Fergusson in glorious Technicolor:

The Elite was available in factory-built or kit forms and for the determined chap could have made in his own workshop, between breaks for pipe smoking, there was also the new Seven.

Lotus Seven

Simple aluminium coachwork cloaked a tubular spaceframe chassis, there were drum brakes all round, a live rear axle from the Metropolitan 1500 while power was from a 1,172cc Ford side valve engine more associated with the decidedly non-sporting 100E Anglia and Prefect.

Lotus did not take an example to the London show, as their efforts were centred on the preparation of the Elite prototype for public display but the Seven proved to be a car in the marque’s tradition of affordable machinery.

For just £526, the self-build engineer could have an 80-mph vehicle for off-duty racing and for commuting to work.

It should be observed that the latter would have inevitably been less than comfortable if you were any taller than Chapman, the cabin was designed around his measurements, and to quote Sports Car Illustrated, the Seven was ‘as Spartan and as unadorned as a rowboat’.

But these trifling issues mattered not to the sort of hardy individuals who regarded heaters and thickly padded seats as further examples of the decadence that was afflicting the UK.

In 1966, they certainly did not deter Britain’s highest paid television star when he was looking for on-screen transport for his latest project, one that would be partially filmed in North Wales.

Be seeing you (at the NEC)

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