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Lotus Elite Type 75- 1974


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 Eclat, 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