Today’s Rare Ride is the inaugural post for Lotus in this series. We did have a brief British brush with the brand in the Isuzu I-Mark RS, which featured a suspension tuned by the then GM-owned Lotus engineering experts.
Let’s see the sort of car Lotus produced when it wasn’t under the influence of The General.
The sloping wedge we see here was the second time Lotus used the Elite name in its lineup. The first was back in the late 1950s, when the Elite was a super-light coupe weighing just 1,110 pounds. This original Elite remained in production from 1958 to 1963, when it was replaced by the entirely more famous Elan.
Lotus would leave the Elite name dormant for some time, until it was ready to use it on an entirely different sort of vehicle. Debuting for 1974, the Elite shed its light, compact coupe body for a wedge design with a hatchback. It was the sort of thing the British and select other humans call a shooting brake.
Though it was still considered a sports car, the Elite’s new persona no longer focused on being light and bare bones. Much more a luxurious grand tourer, the Elite paired its 2.0-liter inline-four engine to a manual transmission of four or five speeds, or an optional three-speed automatic. The 2.0 was a more modern engine than Lotus used in previous vehicles, featuring dual overhead cams, an aluminum block, and producing 155 horsepower. This engine would go on (with modifications) to power the Esprit.
The original, simple little Elite was turning in its grave — but that was the plan. All Elites had four comfortable seats, room for cargo, and wood on the dash. Lotus was in the middle of a product revamp and image revitalization; the goal being competition with bigger and more serious manufacturers. And those manufacturers didn’t just offer tiny composite coupes. Lotus’ rivals had larger, more serious cars with buttons embedded in their wood panel dashes.
Lotus continued with a fiberglass shell for the Elite, mounting the whole thing to a steel chassis from the predecessor Elan and Europa. The slick (though blocky) shape made for an impressive drag coefficient of just .30.
The Elite’s design had considerable input from Lotus founder Colin Chapman, and along with the similar Eclat, would become the last two roadgoing cars with significant Chapman influence.
All this design and luxury didn’t come cheap, and the Elite was the most expensive four-cylinder car available upon its introduction. Some buyers were still interested in the Elite’s funky nature, and between ’74 and its cancellation after 1982, Lotus sold 2,535 examples, and followed up the Elite with the more traditionally shaped Excel from ’82 onward.
Today’s Rare Ride is in great shape, with a bumper that looks like the texture of wet Band-Aids. It’s located south of Charlotte, which is in the United States. The owner notes just 24,000 miles on his Elite, and is willing to entertain reasonable cash offers.
What’s it worth?