Test Report On The Lotus Eleven Sports

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On the eve of the petrol famine Motor Sport was loaned for test a bright yellow Mk. XI Lotus two-seater. The Lotus ranks today where Amilcar and Bugatti stood in the eyes of enthusiasts in the gay ‘twenties and any version is an exciting proposition. A year ago we sampled the joy of driving a Lotus-Climax, but the car which forms the subject of the present test is a tamed version, powered by a tuned Ford Ten engine. This is not to say that there is anything particularly docile about the Lotus Sports, for it provides spartan accommodation for two sans luggage, weather protection is present rather than adequate, and equipment and creature-comforts are reduced to a minimum in the praiseworthy interest of weight reduction.

Although this yellow Lotus is equipped for road work and is perfectly tractable and reliable in heavy traffic, its primary purpose in life is obviously club racing, only the more rabid enthusiasts being likely to crave everyday travel in it. The multi-tube spaceframe is common to all Lotus models. It is formed of 1 in. and ¾ in. square and round tubing of 18 and 20-gauge steel. The propeller-shaft tunnel and floor are stressed members integral with this frame, and the tunnel carries the rear engine mounting and a torque reaction member from the final-drive housing. Front suspension is by swing-axles and coil-spring damper units, and at the back a rigid axle of B.M.C. manufacture is located by parallel trailing-arms and a diagonal member and sprung on coil-spring damper units. Cast-iron brake drums, 9 in.at the front and 8 in. at the back, are used, with separate master cylinders fed from a common fluid reservoir having individual front and back compartments.

Naturally, on a hand-built car like a Lotus details and even the power unit will vary considerably depending on customer requirements. In the car we had for test the engine was an old-type Ford Ten 100E with two 1½-in. S.U. carburetters. These were mounted 5¼ in, away from the block by inlet pipes with hose connections and each carburetter had a 4 ⅞ in. long fluted air intake. The engine retained its cast-iron head and coil ignition but had four separate exhaust pipes running into a larger-bore exhaust pipe and silencer terminating just in front of the near-side back wheel. Enlarged inlet ports and valves were used. The power output was in the neighbourhood of 40 b.h.p. and its safe speed in the region of 5,250 r.p.m. A Ford Eight head gave a compression-ratio of 8.0 to 1 and the engine normally prefers 100-octane fuel, but with the Suez Canal blocked we compromised with National Benzole; no pinking or running-on resulted. The usual low-set, fully-ducted, cross-flow radiator was used, in conjunction with an export-type water pump, a right-angle off-take pipe on the centre of the cylinder head being connected to a remote header tank on the off side of the car behind the engine. The radiator provided ample cooling, the temperature only exceeding 80 deg. C. when partial blanking was used, and then only in town driving.

A Ford three-speed gearbox was retained, but with Buckler close-ratio gears and a remote-control gear-lever with exposed pivot and substantial push-pull rod, set on the propeller-shaft tunnel. The ratios were 9.9, 5.6 and 4.2 to 1.

That is the specification of the Lotus Eleven Sports, least-expensive car in the Chapman repertoire. As most people know, it differs from the Le Mans and Club models in its Ford (instead of Coventry-Climax) engine and normal in place of the de Dion rear-end employed for the Le Mans car—although ready replacement by this more expensive unit is arranged for. The body is of the famous Lotus aerodynamic form but has a normal (non-folding) windscreen instead of the Le Mans wrap-round screen and head fairing. Indeed, a hard-top, to form a Lotus coupe can be supplied for the fragile. Incidentally, disc brakes are used on the Le Mans Lotus, whereas those previously referred to are naturally drum brakes.

A dry November changed to a damp December before our test commenced and if was deemed advisable to call at Dunlop’s London depot and have the racing covers on the front wheels changed for road tyres. While this was done under the watchful eye of ever-young “Dunlop Mac” we had visual proof of the excellence of Chapman’s frame, because when a jack was raised under one side of the car the opposite front wheel rose in sympathy—rigidity par excellence.

Driving away through the night, we were delighted to find that the inbuilt, faired-over 7-in. Lucas Le Mans headlamps gave excellent vision and were easily dipped by a flick-switch on the dash. These powerful lamps and the fact that the Lotus Sports is not at all a noisy car made negotiation of London and its environs light work, although next day we felt rather embarrassed by the vivid colour of the car, racing-number discs on the tail fins doing nothing to mitigate the rippling laughter from the trolley-bus queues!

Colour is of little moment, though, in a sports car as delectable as this Lotus. Simple to drive, this is a very fast little car indeed, in terms of average speed or circuit lap times in the hands of a determined driver. Its absolute performance is obviously governed by the engine, but from the handling aspect then are few cars to match a Lotus. Corners can be taken faster than most drivers are prepared to negotiate them, at all events on early acquaintance, and the brakes are entirely adequate for such driving methods.

The dash equipment is simple in the extreme. Before the driver is a small Jaeger 8,000-r.p.m. rev.-counter, flanked by no oil gauge and a water thermometer. Over on the left of the dash is an ammeter and in the centre the lamps switch (with lettered indicator for side or headlamps incorporated)-cum-ignition key. There is an electrical junction-box on the extreme left before the passenger, the horn push (the horn has a usefully loud note) is set in the centre of the dipper-switch, and the only other switches are a fuel-pump pull-out switch, dash-light ditto, and the starter button. Two excellent rear-view mirrors are provided, both of which swivel to prevent dazzle from cars behind.

The gear-lever is short and stiff, with a good grip. It is placed exactly right for the left hand, which drops straight onto it from the steering wheel. The action is rather stiff, which causes the ham-handed (or those in a hurry) to crash reverse when coming out of bottom gear, as happens with the normal Ford change, and the lateral movement is short, so that care is needed at first to make sure top isn’t selected for bottom, coming out of neutral. After a few miles, however, the Lotus gear-change is a joyful possession.

The driver sits on the low floor, the seat cushion hard and wafer-thin. It is adequate, however, although on the test car it was loose and should have been secured to the floor. Here it must again be emphasised that a Lotus is likely to be largely “made to measure,” so that in matters of seating, the substitution of a speedometer for the rev.-counter, etc., the customer would have final choice.

The seating position is reclining, with arms at full-stretch to a steering wheel which is adjustable but normally set within inches of the dash. Seated thus the arrangement is comfortable. Drivers with short legs may need to put a cushion behind them to enable them to fully depress the pedals, and then the top of the screen-frame will be liable to impair forward vision and the elbows, bent, will foul the propeller-shaft tunnel and door. Chapman has chosen a seating position which makes the cramped quarters in a Lotus acceptable to the majority of drivers.

Inside the car there is surprisingly good protection from the wind, in spite of the screen not being as wide as the body, so that a coat is needed as protection from rain, not cold, and a cap stays on the head satisfactorily unless a gale-force wind is blowing into the cockpit. However, drain-holes permit the ingress of rain from the road, so that the floor soon swims in water. While we are not so staid as to be unable to regard this shortcoming philosophically in a car of this nature, in view of the provision of a hood and normal screen, and the high price of the Lotus Sports, the fact that mackintosh trousers are almost a necessity when driving it will be regarded in some quarters as a major disadvantage. Another snag is a single screenwiper (the motor set well under the dash, where it is necessary to fumble for the switch) that goes about its task half-heartedly and soon ceased to function. Incidentally, although the hood has a good back window it is of simple construction, seriously impedes entry and egress, and there is no provision for stowing it, or its two pull-out alloy hoops.

The hand-brake is also set well under the dash and across the car but it is quite convenient to use, having a short travel, except that the ratchet-release button is very close to the gear-lever push-pull rod, scarcely permitting insertion of the thumb. This brake holds the car admirably.

Qualifying the previous remarks about comfort, although small hinged side panels serve as doors, to attain the driving seat it is necessary to step onto the seat; in dirty weather a suit from Petticoat Lane is more appropriate for Lotus-motoring than one from Savile Row. There is, of course, no luggage stowage apart from metal pockets in the doors, inspection of the recesses of the tail, by lifting forward the thin seat squab, merely revealing the horizontally-mounted spare wheel and the back axle! In the case of many cars this would be damning criticism indeed, but as present-day sportsmen buy Lotus for the same reasons that their fathers bought Bugatti there is really no cause for alarm and despondency.

Press the starter, accelerate away to the howl of gears behind the astonishingly willing Ford engine, and commence to fling the car at corners, and little miseries like sodden trouser-legs evaporate.

The suspension is soft enough to subdue rattles from the body, gives a very comfortable ride, yet the “know-how” built into the Lotus enables corners to be taken exceedingly fast without pronounced over- or understeer and under full control. As there is insufficient power to spin the wheels the absence of a de Dion axle is not felt, except when cornering on a rough road. The 15-in. spring-spoke, leather-rimmed steering wheel is set very close to the dash and calls for 1 turns, lock-to-lock. Actually, there is scarcely any lock to speak of. This rack-and-pinion steering is very light and considerable kick-back is transmitted to the wheel. Over bad surfaces the action of the swing-axle i.f.s. is very pronounced, but if the wheel is allowed to play through the fingers the lightness, high-gearing and kick-back are not objectionable. There is very faint castor action. Steering the Lotus is really a matter of wrist-movement, and slides can be easily corrected.

The brakes are very powerful for a firm pedal pressure and need to be applied discreetly on slippery roads. The clutch calls for care, being either in or out, and it is desirable to keep the revs. well up when starting from rest. One’s clutch foot is somewhat restricted when at rest by the prop.-shaft tunnel.

The engine started promptly from cold and displayed absolutely no temperament over warming-up, being ready for play literally at a moment’s notice. Water temperature was only 60-70 deg. C. until the radiator was blanked off. Oil pressure (the sump contained Esso 20/30 multigrade oil) varied with engine speed, from 20-70 lb./sq. in. Naturally, in view of the high gearing it paid to make liberal use of all three forward gears, but the engine was extremely docile, pulling away from a mere 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear with very little hesitation. On the overrun there was a good deal of transmission clank, probably magnified by the aerodynamic body.

Before attempting to assess performance we took the Lotus to a measured  ¼ -mile to check road speed against rev.-counter readings and also paced a Porsche on which the speedometer had been accurately checked and calibrated. These researches showed that an indicated 3,000 r.p.m. in top gear represents 54 m.p.h., and as the rev.-counter was 5 per cent. slow with the tyres fitted, the true speed at 1,000 r.p.m. in top is 17.1 m.p.h. A straight of considerable length is needed for the rev.-counter needle to attain the red mark in top gear and normally the limit is reached at about 5,250 r.p.m., equal to a maximum speed of fractionally under 90 m.p.h. Given a really long run under favourable conditions about 95 m.p.h. is attainable, and if the screen is discarded and the red mark on the rev.-counter ignored this remarkable Ford engine, which runs up to some 6,000 r.p.m., will propel the Lotus at comfortably above 100 m.p.h. Peak revs. in first and second represent, respectively, 35 and 69 m.p.h. Cruising at 4,000 r.p.m., or approximately 68½ m.p.h., the engine is extremely contented. On a wet road, one-up, a standing-start ¼ -mile was covered in an average for two-way runs of 19.7 sec., with a best run in 19.4 sec. The engine felt “unburstable” when taken up to peak revs. on these runs, and the very quick gear-change assists rapid accelerating. Dunlop 5.60-15 G.T. tyres were in use on the back wheels, with Dunlop “Gold Seal” 4.00/4.25-15 tyres on the front wheels, the wheels being centre-lock wire type.

We took the car to the usual weighbridge and, with approximately 2 gall. of fuel, it weighed exactly 9 cwt., slightly lighter than the Climax-engined Mk. IX tested a year earlier. The petrol situation did not permit a fuel-consumption check, but better than 30 m.p.g. should be possible even when using the performance to the full. Fuel is carried in a pannier tank, with quick-action filler, on the near side of the car. This tank, on the car in question, held 7 ¾ gall., which does not provide a very large range for a car of such long-distance potentialities; the solution would be to have the alternative 9½-gall., plus the additional 11-gall. tank, installed.

Accessibility is a highlight of the Lotus. Merely by unclipping a spring-loaded catch on each aide, the entire front of the car hinges forward, to be retained by a cord. This lays bare the whole of the vital chassis parts in this area, as well as the engine, with its Lodge plugs under waterproof covers, high-set distributor (with h.t. leads to match the yellow body) and Lucas coil placed below the coolant header tank. A similar arrangement, with the addition of one Dzus fastener, enables the tail of the body to hinge rearwards.

That, then, is the Lotus in its most “bread-and-butter” form and, whether it is being used for club racing, is poodling through traffic at 1,500 r.p.m., or is being accelerated to beyond 5,000 r.p.m. in that extremely usable 5.6-to-1 second gear, it lives up fully to its enviable reputation of being one of our outstanding small sports cars, whose capabilities are restricted in this case by the use of a very docile side-valve power unit. The Lotus Eleven Sports costs £872. or £1,308 inclusive of p.t., and those who can pay this have access to a car which will provide exhilarating motoring and is capable of opening the door to success in club racing.—W. B.