When the prototype Lotus Elite was introduced at the Earls Court Motor Show in October 1957 it created a real stir, for not only was it as pretty a two-seater coupe as anyone could wish for, it broke new ground in many technical ways. There was no chassis by the conventional sports car ideas of the time, the car being built as a body/chassis unit in one piece made of glass-reinforced epoxide and polyester resin, or as it became more loosely known, glass-fibre. Suspension was independent on all four wheels, there were disc brakes all round and the power unit was a single overhead camshaft Coventry-Climax all-aluminium four-cylinder of 1,220 c.c. There were many problems in getting the car into production and it was over a year before the first ones began to appear.
At the Brands Hatch race meeting on Boxing Day 1958 there were five production Lotus Elites entered for the Production Sports and Grand Touring Cars event and a memorable battle took place between Colin Chapman in a works car and Jimmy Clark in the Border Reivers car, with a narrow victory going to the founder of Lotus Cars. In third place in another Lotus Elite was Mike Costin, the Cos of Cosworth Engineering and key man on the production of the Cosworth DFV in later years. That Brands Hatch race was indeed significant in the history of British motor racing. By rnid-1959 the Lotus firm had moved from Hornsey in North London, to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire and production of the Lotus Elite really got under way, with the bodyshell being made by Bristol Aeroplane Plastics Ltd.
When Doug Nye wrote bis book “The Story of Lotus 1961-1971” Colin Chapman told him “The Elite was really a road-going car, and used many of the racing components. We didn’t have much experience of road-car economics when we designed it, and without long-range tooling, long-range buying and strict cost-saving it was finally just uneconomic to build. I believe we lost over £100 on each car we built.” Nonetheless they built 285 of the Series I cars and by October 1960 the Series II was introduced, which had revised rear suspension, and 703 of these were built in the ensuing years, making a total of 988 altogether. When Colin Chapman described the Elite as a road-going racing car he was not far wrong for once production was under way they were raced in every type of event from Mallory Park club meetings to the Le Mans 24 Hour race and Nurburgring 1,000 kilometre races and were highly successful in the small GT category. Many of them became famous and many of them were registered with special number plates, like CB 23 for Chris Barbour, the jazz-man, WUU 2 for Peter Lumsden and LOV 1 for Graham Warner, but the one being featured in this series is DAD 10, not because it is the most famous, or the most successful but because it was symptomatic of the “swinging-sixties”. This Lotus Elite was owned by Les Leston who was running a very successful motoring accessory business in London and he was also into the London jazz and rock music scene. In the early Swing days the name “Daddy” was given to old men with money to burn on living it up with wine, women and song and any young girl who picked up a rich “Daddy” was known to have a “Sugar Daddy”. When Rock took over from Swing the principles were unchanged and “Daddy” was changed into “Dadio”. Leston’s racing Elite was registered DAD 10, which easily changed itself into DADIO and the car soon became called “Dadio”. All of which fitted neatly into the life and business style of Les Leston Accessories.
Apart from all that “Dadio” was a very quick car and Leston was one of the club “aces” of the time, racing it extensively in the early sixties and having some memorable battles with Graham Warner in LOV 1. Leston’s best effort with the red Elite with the white stripes was to finish 7th overall in the RAC Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood in 1961, only six laps behind the winning Ferrari. Its 1,220 c.c. Coventry-Climax engine used two twin-choke Weber carburetters, which developed 105 b.h.p. and drove through a ZF gearbox to a 4.87 to 1 differential unit. The car weighed 9 3/4 cwt. and accelerated from 0-100 m.p.h. in 17.6 sec. and at Goodwood it clocked 128 m.p.h. on the Lavant Straight.
After Les Leston stopped racing it, the car passed through two new owners’ hands but they did not race it, and then it disappeared into the murk of the second-hand car-dealer world and was lost about 1966. At one point it was thought to have emerged in Australia, but it was a false alarm. In conversation with Miles Wilkins, the chairman of Club Elite, he told me that they have 600 Elites on their register, of which 115 are in the United Kingdom, the rest being scattered around the world. During its production run 500 went to the United States of America and no doubt there are many over there still unaccounted for. – D.S.J.
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