Please note that the cars or exhibit items shown in this database are part of our collection but may not be on display when you visit.
The Elite was Lotus’ first attempt at a mainstream four-seat road car, succeeding the Elan Plus 2, but using much of that car’s underpinnings. Even though it was a large car by Lotus standards, almost a foot longer and wider than anything offered before, it was still only the size and weight of a Chevy Vega! Lotus touted the controversial design to be “The Shape of Things to Come.” A fastback version, the Elcat, shared the Elite’s architecture, perhaps a bit more successfully.
Announced in May 1974, the fiberglass-bodied Elite was, at the time of introduction, the world’s most expensive four-cylinder car at £6496. The styling was polarizing – one loved it or hated it – and it was underpowered – original designs called for a 4-liter V8 – but the handling and roadholding was every bit Lotus. The planned V8, essentially two Lotus Type 907 four-cylinder engines on a common crank, would have transformed the Elite into what it really wanted to be – a supercar. Said Motorcar, Mar. 1975: “…one of the finest handling production cars in the world, better than a Porsche…What a tragedy Lotus did not give it more power to exploit those magnificent virtues.”
Penned in-house by Oliver Winterbottom, with an interior by Giugiaro at ItalDesign, the Elite was built in upper and lower halves, joined by a functional rubstrip all the way ‘round. While some joked that it looked like a Gremlin, it did, in fact, use AMC Gremlin exterior door handles! The sturdy-looking B-pillar not only aided in ventilation, but it also concealed the “Ring of Steel” rollover-protection hoop. Paired with some of the first door-intrusion beams ever seen, the Elite was twice as strong as US collision requirements of the time, and was a World Car – compliant with all potential markets.
The example seen here is a “502” – a base model plus air conditioning. Other options included power steering (503), rear wiper, and upgraded stereo systems. The top-of-the-line 504 included all this plus an automatic transmission – seen as heresy by the Lotus faithful, but this was to be a breakthrough, mainstream car for Lotus. Sadly, only 2536 were built in total; the car was not the success that Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s involvement and four years of development should have brought.
Manufacturer: Lotus Cars
Country of Origin: England
Drivetrain Configuration: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: Water-cooled 1973cc DOHC inline-4, 155 HP
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Top Speed: 119 mph
Years Produced: 1974-82
Number Produced: 2536
Cost: $15,500 East coast, $16,050 West coast