The rain came in biblical proportions. On March 21, 1959, Sebring was soaked, and it featured the US race debut for Colin Chapman’s first production car, the Type 14 Elite. Sebring rarely drains well, and Chapman’s featherweight cars skimmed uselessly over the standing water.
Sebring was the opening round of the 1959 World Sportscar Championship. American road racing had taken off during the 1950s, and the 40,000-strong crowd was anticipating a battle between the Aston Martin and Ferrari works teams for overall victory. Lotus sports racers had performed well there, with three Lotus Elevens finishing in the top 10 at the 1957 race, and that year they also had the Elite competing for production GT class honours against the Alfa Giuliettas and Austin-Healey Sprites in GT1.3, as well as the Porsche 356 Carrera GTs and AC Aces in the classes above.
Lotus brought over two pre-production prototypes of the Elite from England for the race. The car we feature, chassis number 1015-P, was for Chapman himself, and 1013-P was for Lotus’s American importer Jay Chamberlain, who was teamed with Sam Weiss. The Elite was Chapman’s first attempt to capitalise on the success of his race cars with a production road car, so a good result would help sales.