1959 LOTUS ELITE SPORTS COUPÉ
Registration No. MSU 727
Chassis No. 1110
Engine No. FWE400/15 7607
Yellow with grey and black interior
Engine: four cylinder, overhead camshaft, 1,216cc, 75bhp at 4,100rpm; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: independent, front, independent by double wishbones and coil springs, rear, by coil springs with Chapman designed strut system; Brakes: four wheel hydraulically assisted disc. Right hand drive
The Elite, was Colin Chapman's first foray into production car manufacture - the eventual destination of the company we know today. As people had come to expect from Chapman, it was extremely innovative, most notably for being the first all glassfibre monocoque car to be built - this when most manufacturers had only just come round to the idea of a steel monocoque! It was constructed in three main sections, a flat floor pan, central superstructure of engine bay, transmission tunnel, wheel arches and boot, and an outer bodyshell. The latter was the work of Peter Kirwin-Taylor and Frank Costin who conspired to develop the flowing coupé bodyshell, which not only looked good, but proved exceptionally efficient in its purpose, giving a mere 0.29 drag co-efficient. With mechanics that drew much from the Lotus single seaters in engine specification, suspension, and brakes, the combined package made an exceptional sports car.
Journalists heaped praised on the new Chapman venture, one of many favourable contemporary quotes, the British digest, Autocar in May 1960 wrote: The road manners of the Elite come as near to those of a racing car as the ordinary motorist would ever experience. By this it is meant that an outstanding performance is obtained from a relatively small engine, and the controllability and safety in handling are as high as in any car tested by this journal. In fact its only downside was cost relative to retail price which eventually would cause its demise in 1963 after around 1,000 had been built.
This beautifully presented Series 1 Lotus Elite, was purchased in the late 1980s by Mill Lane Engineering, who were by then known as the foremost exponents of Jaguar E type restoration, as evidenced elsewhere in this catalogue. It has been suggested, but not confirmed, that they were also thinking of building a similar reputation for Lotus restoration, or else simply wished to prove how their approach stretched further than just the Jaguar marque. With this in mind they purchased the example on offer today from the America, where it had been found in poor but eminently restorable order. It still wears a USA Racing Drivers Club sticker in its rear windscreen, which may allude to competitive use, although no details of this are noted.
On its return to the UK, an incredible 735 man hours were invested by Mill Lane in the rebuild of the car. Work carried out is itemised on their own schedule, which records complete stripping of the bodyshell back to its gel coat; restoration and subsequent re-gelling and repainting to the current livery; entire engine rebuild with fitting of new liners, reground crankshaft, new pistons, new valve seats and guides and refaced head; the gearbox was entirely rebuilt, as were the brakes and suspension, using new parts as and where necessary. Alongside the considerable labour costs involved, at a time when labour was a mere £16.50 per hour, nearly £8,000 of parts and materials were used. On its completion in Spring 1990, the Lotus was featured in an article in Classic Cars magazine and shortly after purchased by the current owner.
Since acquisition, the Lotus has not been used by the vendor, so its condition has not deteriorated in any way. It has always been garaged respectfully of its condition, and although not on the road in recent years, will have a new MoT and road fund licence at the time of sale.
In our opinion there can be very few Lotus Elites which exist today in such superb order, and this is the finest that Christie's have had the pleasure to offer for sale.